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How to run an effective interview process

interview blog

You’ve advertised the job and shortlisted your candidates – now it’s time to interview them. Here are 10 tips for ensuring that your interview process is as effective as possible – saving you time and money.

1. Identify beforehand which areas you want to find out more about.
In my article on shortlisting candidates effectively, I referred to the job description and person specification, which really sets the foundations for your recruitment activity. If you have a job description and person spec, you will already have spent time identifying the job holder’s key activities, and hence the knowledge, skills and behaviors’ they will need to display. This should then form the basis for your line of questioning.

2. Read the CV!
This may sound obvious, but you wouldn’t believe the number of managers that I’ve interviewed with, who have grabbed the CV literally minutes before the interview without having had a chance to read it. Reading (or re-reading) it beforehand will remind you of the candidate’s work history and allow you to identify key points that you want to pick up on – perhaps a certain project that’s relevant to the role, or an unexplained gap. In the event that you’ve not had time to read through it, a question such as ‘talk me through your CV’ will buy you a little time, but you’ll still need to have a clear idea of what you‘re looking to assess in the interview.

3. Try to set the interviewee at ease.
You’ve invited the candidate to interview because you think they may have just the right combination of skills and abilities that your company needs. It’s in your interest, therefore, to put them at ease from the outset, so that they are able to perform at their best in the interview.  A few social niceties about their journey to your offices will usually do the trick here, as well as offering water or a coffee, followed by a brief explanation of the format of the interview.  Again, this may sound obvious but can sometimes be forgotten when you have a busy schedule to get through.

The extent to which you feel at ease also has a huge impact on your candidate. Ensure that you are prepared for the interview, know what you want to ask, and know who you are going to be interviewing. This helps to convey a professional image and will make you feel more comfortable in the interview, which in turn will make your candidate more comfortable.

That’s not to say that you can’t be challenging and put the applicant under pressure, but doing this in a situation where you have tried to remove some of their nerves at the outset is likely to give you a truer picture of their capabilities.

4. Ask open questions.
“Tell me about a time when you’ve had to deal with a difficult customer”, “describe a time when you had to manage multiple conflicting priorities”.

Okay, so these could perhaps be described more accurately as commands rather than questions (!) but asking open-ended questions such as these will elicit far more information, more easily, than their closed counterparts – “have you ever had to deal with a difficult customer”, “have you ever had to manage multiple conflicting priorities”.

Also, remember that candidates usually have some degree of nerves (and some people are more literal than others). Starting your questions with what may feel like a slightly more polite ‘can you tell me about…’ may result in the simple answer ‘yes’ rather than the full-flowing description that you are expecting!

If there is certain factual information that you need to clarify, then a closed question (requiring a yes or no answer) is more useful – for example ‘Do you have a driving license?’

5. Don’t be afraid of silence.
Don’t be afraid of silences from the candidate. You’ve asked them a question which they may not have an immediate answer to, so it’s fine to let them consider their response in silence for a moment or two. Avoid jumping in with a follow-up question, or further clarification straightaway, as this can potentially be confusing and could give the impression that you, the interviewer, are flustered. If after half a minute or so they haven’t been able to give a response, then that’s useful evidence in itself and you can move on to the next question.

6. Avoid discriminatory questions.
Under the Equality Act 2010, examples of questions that you can’t ask (as they are considered discriminatory) include asking about nationality, ethnicity, marital status, children, sexuality and age.

7. Don’t make assumptions.
Make the most of your interview time with the candidate – ensure you understand the context of their examples, the action they took and the outcome. If this isn’t clear then dig into their initial answer with further probing questions and avoid making assumptions on what they did, based on your own knowledge and experience.

8. Don’t ask ‘wacky’ questions because you think everyone else is.
‘If you were a biscuit, what kind of biscuit would you be?’ This type of question has become more popular with companies in recent times, in a bid to uncover a candidate’s personality in the interview, or to see if they have a sense of humour. Such questions can have a place in the interview process, but only if you know how the answer is going to contribute to your assessment and comparison of candidates. Avoid asking the quirky question just because you want to look like a fun employer.

9. Be prepared for the candidate to ask you questions.
When deciding how much time to allow for an interview, ensure that you allow some time at the end for the candidate to ask questions about the job and company. It’s important to be honest in your answers. If you give applicants a false impression of the job or the company, then there’s likely to be trouble ahead when they join and find that the role doesn’t meet their expectations.

Be prepared for the candidate to ask you what happens next in the process. Think through in advance what your timeframe for decision making is likely to be, and how you will contact candidates to advise them of the outcome.

10. Keep notes of the interviews.
When you’re seeing several candidates in one day it can become difficult to remember the detail of everyone’s responses. Once you’ve completed the interview process, it will be much easier to compare and rank the candidates if you have detailed notes. These will help you to remain objective and look at the evidence the candidates have provided against your criteria rather than rely on memory, or impressions from the interview. Avoid writing anything in your interview notes that you wouldn’t wish a candidate to see, as they can request to see them.

Please email Claire Carr at if you’d like to learn more about how to select the right candidate for the job.

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