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Key questions to ask during an interview

How to bring the best, or worst, out of the candidate

Interviews should generally last around 45 minutes each, plus any extra time needed for specific tests. Mary McPherson-MillsDirect Care, a care provider for the elderly, from one employee to over thirty. She thinks the length of interviews is very important, especially for the interviewee.

“[With us] the interview is quite a long process – it can last up to an hour. And it’s nice if it does. We want them to go away feeling they’ve accomplished something, that it was worth the effort.”

Try to create a relaxed atmosphere, since this will give candidates the best chance of showing themselves in a good light. However, the interview should also be structured so that you can cover everything in the short time available.

“I tend to always start the interview by telling people about the business and what is important to us, in terms of our principles and care of clients,” says McPherson-Mills. “Rather than bombard them with questions, I allow them some time to settle, listen and not have to respond straight away. People come in and talk too much or they don’t say anything. Either way, you have to put them at ease.”

Now that you are relaxed and talking, you can move onto questioning the candidate. Always try to ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered simply by “yes” or “no”.

“What did you think about your previous job. What was good about it, what was bad and why did you decide to leave?”

This will give you some indication of whether the candidate is suitable and what their motivation is for applying. If elements that they disliked in their previous job are in the job you are offering it will obviously cause problems.

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

This is designed to tell you what they are good at and, alternatively, how well they can take criticism and learn from their mistakes.

“Where would you like to be in 5 years’ time?”

This will give you an idea about the ambitions of the candidate and whether they have a realistic idea about the prospects of the job you are offering.

You can then discuss the job you are offering and how their skills would enable them to do it well. A useful technique is to ask how they would react to a series of scenarios that could occur in the job. Direct Care asks each candidate to complete a short multiple-choice questionnaire during the interview.

“We then discuss the answers, their reasons and what else they could do. It’s a way of talking about the job without direct questions. If you sit talking at someone, their minds are all over the place, wondering where the next question is coming from. If you discuss issues you are engaging them more,” explains McPherson-Mills.

Whatever method you use, remember that you need to be careful of the legality of what you can and cannot ask. At the end of the interview, you may like to explain the terms and conditions of the job – although to save time you could send these out beforehand. Also give the candidates a chance to ask any final questions about the company or job.

Finally, if you are recruiting in a hurry to work on a forthcoming project, for example, remember to ask the candidates when they would be able to start and if they have any holidays booked.

Recording the interview

“Make notes during the interview but not at the expense of dialogue. Write down your impressions a bit more fully afterwards, while it is still fresh on your mind. It might be good to have a marking system but make sure that you are consistent,” explains Mike Cannell, adviser for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

As well as reactions to their answers, you should also record other more general impressions on how well they are suited to the job and the company. You may look at features such as enthusiasm, self-confidence, communication skills and smartness of appearance.

The fact that you need to compare the candidates means it is important to do all the interviews in the shortest possible timescale.

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