Like them or loathe them (and let’s face it, most of us find them intimidating), job interviews are still one of the most effective ways of assessing applicants. The more we learn about human psychology and social science, the more important it becomes to ensure that any interview process is up to date, effective, and inclusive.
This matters not only because a well structured and considered interview makes for a smoother experience for everyone involved – it also helps reduce the chances of hiring the wrong person. Given that a bad hire can cost an organisation over £100K, on average, for a mid-level role, it’s crucial to get things right the first time.
It’s also important to recognise that a one size fits all approach to interviewing won’t always work. In fact, what we consider as traditional interviews might even be counterproductive in some cases (our interview with Owiwi’s Athina Dova discusses this in relation to interviewing introverts).
Does this mean you should tailor every interview to each candidate then? Not necessarily, but it does mean the interview process should be flexible, and designed around the kind of candidates you want for the role.
If you’re hiring for a sales job, for example, then a focus on previous results and a few stress questions could be appropriate. If you’re looking for a programmer or developer, adding stress questions into an interview isn’t likely to achieve much. This brings us neatly to our first port of call: What not to do.
Making candidates sweat is a staple of old school thinking, but it generally ends up being a waste of everyone’s time. Your applicant is already certain to be feeling nervous as it is. Piling more pressure on during the interview is unlikely to bring out the best in any candidate, even those used to, or interviewing for, demanding positions.
This brings us to an important second point. It’s crucial to remember that the interview is a two-way process – the candidate will be assessing you and your organisation as well. Being drunk on interview power or abrasive and rude is a sure-fire way to put off the best talent. It’s also why ensuring the whole candidate experience is positive before the interview even starts is fundamental.
Cutting the candidate off when they’re talking, not listening to them when they give answers, or spending the whole interview with your head buried in notes are some other things to avoid at all costs.
Setting up an Excellent Interview
Now you know what not to do, let’s look at some of the best ways to approach interviews.
Set Goals and Benchmarks
First, make sure there’s a complete understanding of what is expected from a successful candidate. Once the skills and traits that match the role have been agreed on, it’s important to set a benchmark interview score.
Decide what the most effective ways are to assess the qualities you’re looking for in a candidate. This is the point where the interview process can be customised to some degree: What kind of tests, if any, do you need to assess skills or experience? What sort of questions will be best for determining important personality traits, culture fit, and experience?
Having a benchmark score means you can then compare applicants fairly, and avoid making any ‘gut instinct’ decisions that may not pay off in the long run.
To give some examples, a role that needs a lot of cutting edge tech skills might require an interview process that focuses more on current skills and tests rather than qualifications. Interviews for senior positions may want to focus more on leadership skills, successful management of projects, and how well candidates will relate to their staff and team.
Candidates often spend a lot of time preparing for an interview, and this is something that the interviewer should reciprocate. Take time to step into the applicants shoes. Read their CV carefully, and chart out their career path.
This gives you plenty of potential topics to talk about with the interviewee to help them feel at ease during the interview process. It also helps provide a better understanding of any special requirements they might have.
Are the candidates neurodiverse, disabled, or have any other special needs, for example? Taking those extra steps to satisfy them will help a candidate feel comfortable, and show that you will be a considerate and supportive employer.
The types of questions that you’ll want to ask in the interview will depend greatly on the benchmarks you’ve set. Here’s an overview of the types of questions, and how they could be beneficial or detrimental to an interview process.
These are quite standard in most interviews and can serve as decent icebreakers. Fact-based and general questions are also good for clarifying any blurry areas on a candidate’s CV, or getting a bit more detail about previous roles. Typical fact-based or general questions might be: ‘What was it like working at X?’, or ‘Why are you looking for a job in this sector?’
These kinds of questions can be useful for getting an insight into a candidate’s personality. Questions like: ‘what would you do if a customer called with X complaint’ can be useful in determining both experience and/or quick thinking, but these kinds of questions can also be problematic. Posing the question ‘What would you do if you saw fraud being committed at work?’ to an applicant is unlikely to yield an answer of ‘nothing’, for example, but in reality that could be the truth. Ironically then, situational or hypothetical questions are quite situational. Only include them if they can genuinely offer some useful insight that other questions can’t.
Stress questions can be quite useful, but again, this is highly dependent on the kind of role you’re hiring for. If the role does come with a high level of stress and pressure, then one stress question might be appropriate.
That said, there is quite a severe cost in terms of rapport. Add to this the fact that a candidate is already under pressure, and you can easily destroy an interview with one of these. There is a strong case to be made for not using stress questions at all in fact, as behavioural questions can often achieve the same insights without the rapport cost.
Behavioural questions have become an interview staple, and there’s good reason for that. Not only are behavioural questions able to be checked through references, they also offer a pretty reliable indication of future candidate performance. We’re all probably most familiar with these kinds of questions too. Some examples might be: ‘Can you give an example when you successfully overcame a challenging situation at work?’, or ‘When did you exceed client expectations?’That said, as commonplace as they are, behavioural questions are not without their pitfalls.
As mentioned earlier, some people aren’t at their best when questioned under time pressure, so they may not show their best qualities or deliver the answers they are capable of.
Additionally, this approach can cause problems for candidates from different cultures or those that are interviewing in a second language. To mitigate these potential problems, you can use the pre-interview candidate experience to let candidates prepare.
Tests can be a very effective way of assessing a candidate’s skills and capabilities, with the added advantage that they can often be done in advance of the interview remotely or online.Remote personality test, whether as a questionnaire or in a gamified format, are also worth considering. These can help give you quantifiable and fairly reliable data that you can then set against your baseline. It’s another effective way of taking out the guesswork when it comes to hiring.
The major advantage of remote tests is that while candidates will have to adhere to deadlines (as they may have to in the role itself), there is no immediate time pressure. As a result, you’re likely to see the best a candidate has to offer. The same is true for personality tests. Answers can be carefully considered, rather than rushed. This can offer a much deeper insight into an applicant’s personality traits.
Below is a general interview structure to use as a starting point. It tends to be the most commonly used format, but you can of course tailor your interview structure to your specific needs.
- Interviewer Questions
- Interviewee Questions
- Contact References
- Conduct additional interviews
Always, Always Follow Up
If there’s one thing that you shouldn’t ever overlook, it’s following up with candidates. Even if they weren’t successful, contacting them to thank them for their time is not only decent manners, it also can help soften the disappointment they might be feeling.
In turn, they’ll be left with a good impression of you and your company as a whole. This is invaluable because word of mouth travels fast, and you can quickly make or break professional reputations.
If you need some tips on how the interview and hiring process fits in with the wider recruitment effort, check out our five steps to a standout candidate experience.