How to interview a job candidate

Read our quick 12-point guide to handling recruitment interviews – and get the right person for the job

Interviewing is a vital component in the recruitment process, yet it's often overlooked on the employer side. Growing Business explains how to nail it and get the right candidate

Hiring a new employee is typically a long, often expensive journey – and if you get it wrong, it can be a costly mistake. The interview process plays an essential role in helping you identify the right person, so we've organised 12 tips on how you can get it right.

Here's how to interview a job candidate:

1. Get organised

When you're conducting an interview, don't forget it's not just the candidate being assessed – your prospective employee is checking out your company as well. Keeping them waiting for a long time, appearing unprepared, or having meetings scheduled at either end of the interview, which means you have to hurry in and out, will make the entire company look unprofessional. Rushing off after the interview is also ill advised, according to James Callander, managing director of recruitment consultancy Freshminds Talent. “A lot of the subtlety and insight you've established is lost or forgotten by the time you write it up or discuss it with the other assessors and stakeholders,” he says.

2. Read the CV

It may sound obvious, but lots of employers just skim over CVs before they do an interview. If you've read the CV properly, you'll be able to quiz the candidate more accurately – and if you find out you have something in common, such as a university, a previous employer or even an interest, you'll be able to put the candidate instantly at ease.

3. Conduct (part of) the interview without a CV

“I've been interviewing all week, and because of an administrative cock-up on my part, I've interviewed without CVs,” says PEER 1 UK managing director Dom Monkhouse. While the candidates have previously been interviewed by others (with a copy of their CV) on their technical and skill levels, Monkhouse says interviewing without CVs gives him an opportunity to get to know the candidates. “You spend your time talking about irrelevant stuff – so I find out what their story is, rather than which university they went to,” he explains.

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4. Explain the role

You might have put a detailed description of the job in the advert, but if you explain exactly what the role will entail at the beginning of the interview, it'll help the candidate answer your questions more clearly – or it should. If you've given a detailed job description at the start and the candidate can't give you relevant answers, you probably need to keep looking.

5. Appropriate pressure

Asking the candidate to do something strange may demonstrate how they react in unexpected situations, but often, it just places unnecessary pressure on the them. Andrew Fitzsimmons of Buffalo Communications remembers one strange job interview. “A number of years ago, I was asked to do 40 push ups to see if I was ‘fit for the job',” he says. “The employer, a renowned car dealership, was deadly serious.” Luckily, Fitzsimmons met the challenge – but before you begin wowing candidates with your creativity, ask yourself if weird challenges or questions actually serve a purpose. “We hear some strange things,” says Callander. “Such as asking candidates which animal – or even kitchen utensil – they'd be and why. Someone even had to present ideas for the business while standing on the meeting room table. I don't know how useful these are, but I doubt any of them are relevant to the job the candidate was being interviewed for.”

6. Comfort versus nerves

There are two schools of thought. One says making the candidate feel as uncomfortable as possible will show how they react under pressure, while the other says if you want to get the best out of your candidate, you will give them the best opportunity to impress you. Monkhouse opts for the latter. “Avoid interviewing as a panel – that makes people feel harassed. Never sit opposite them on the table, try to sit on a corner. And offer them a drink – there's nothing worse than a dry mouth when you're nervous,” he advises.

7. Setting tests

Asking your candidate to take a test will give you a telling indication of what skill level they are at – but you need to be clear about what you're testing. “Make sure you know what parts of the answer are indicators of job performance, and which parts are less important,” says Callander. “If someone answers quickly and mostly accurately, is this better than someone taking more time, but coming back with something more comprehensive?”

8. First impressions count…

We've all come across the candidates whose CV looks reasonably solid, but who turns up with a few days' worth of stubble, an un-tucked shirt and dirty shoes. Monkhouse believes a slovenly appearance is unacceptable. “I expect that they're never going to look smarter than the day they come for interview,” he explains. “If they come in and they look scruffy, they're just not hired.” If they haven't made the effort when it comes to impressing you, how do you expect them to represent your business in front of clients?

9. …but handshakes don't

A firm handshake is important for client-facing roles, but low confidence isn't necessarily an indicator of skill level. If the role you're interviewing for isn't client-facing, do they need to have bags of confidence to do the job? “When people come in all guns blazing, they can often unsuccessfully be masking poor research into the business and role, and frequently they are trying to disguise a lack of experience,” says Callander.

10. Level of commitment

One question works every time if you want to find out how committed the candidate is to getting the job: “What have you done to prepare for the interview?” If your prospective employee can tell you about research they've carried out into the industry, the company, or even if it's just looking at the website, you know you have someone who wants to work for you. If they look flustered or – far worse – just shrug, think again. “My all-time record for the shortest interview is 30 seconds,” laughs Monkhouse. “I asked: ‘What have you done to prepare?' and the candidate said nothing. So I said: ‘Thank you very much for coming, we'll be in touch,' and he walked out.”

11. Ask the same questions

Often, candidates are so different that it's difficult not to veer off the subject and into a lengthy analysis of their previous boss, the marketing techniques they used at their last job, or their passion for water-skiing. Unfortunately, while that will tell you a lot about their personality, it won't allow you to compare candidates. If you're trying to create a benchmark for comparison, you need to ask the same questions at each interview. It's a technique employment mediation service Acas recommends. In fact, leaving out some questions for certain candidates could be considered discriminatory.

12. Give them a chance to talk

The more you let your candidate speak, the more you're going to discover about their personality. Can they give relevant answers? Do you think they'll be a good fit within the organisation? Most importantly, of course, can they keep their answers to an appropriate length? “The first question I always ask is: ‘Tell me your story',” says Monkhouse. “They explain in as many or as few words as they like how they got to be sitting on the chair in front of me. One guy talked for 35 minutes without coming up for breath. He was the dullest individual on the planet. But if I had just gone by his CV, I would never have found out how unemployable he really was.”

If you need help with the interview process our experts can help, simply fill out the form below:


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