As an HR professional, you know that conducting a meaningful interview is a crucial aspect of the hiring process. A well-conducted, insightful interview is the mechanism for identifying and subsequently hiring the best candidate for the job. It is the fundamental opportunity to determine whether they're a good fit for the company culture, personable in nature, and easy enough to communicate with.
However, conducting effective interviews that unveil all the pros and cons of a candidate within a short time window available to you can be challenging. To help you conduct meaningful interviews that result in successful new hires, well matched to the job description, and valuable to your team, we've compiled ten tips based on the best practices and proven techniques of hiring experts.
10 Tips for Conducting Interviews Like an Expert
Spend Some Time on Thorough Preparation
As a professional interviewer, making the most of the limited time you have with individual job candidates means coming to the meeting well-prepared.
Understand the position the company's hiring for, and prepare interview questions that are relevant to expectations, technical insight, and experience the position requires.
Review the candidate's resume and cover letter before the job interview so that the applicant's qualifications, experience, and skills are fresh in your memory
Learn more about potential candidates online by looking over their LinkedIn profiles, social media, and online publications. This allows you to gain a better understanding of their personality and interests. Check for past entries you might have in your applicant tracking system. It is possible that a candidate applied for a position at your organization before. Compare their past and present applications to see how their skillset evolved over time. If you find that they applied for a number of unrelated positions in the past, consider it a red flag.
Make the Interview as Stress-Free as Possible
A stress-free environment encourages the interviewees to showcase their skills and abilities as clearly as possible. To keep stress out of an interview scenario:
Tell the interviewee beforehand where the meeting room is in your building, who they will be meeting with, and what kind of interaction they should prepare themselves for. If you intend to do a skills assessment at the same appointment, make them aware of it, the kinds of questions they’ll have to answer, the criteria you’re assessing for, and the format the assessment will be in.
If the interview is being conducted remotely, take a moment to explain how the video interview technology works and provide the candidates with the necessary instructions.
Be Time Conscious
If your candidate is currently employed, they’ll need to arrange a specific amount of time away from work to attend the interview. This is already an uncomfortable situation if the job seeker’s employer is unaware that they’re looking for a new opportunity. You don’t want to make it worse.
Be upfront about how long the interview will be and be mindful to stick to their expectations. Start the interview on time, and finish on time so that they don’t need to worry about explaining an extended absence.
Be Kind and Attentive
If the candidate experiences the interviewer as uninterested in the interview or unfriendly, chances are they won’t be presenting their best self. Actively listen to the candidate's responses and ask follow-up questions for clarification if necessary. Maintain positive body language, such as non-verbal acknowledgment and maintaining eye contact.
Bear in mind that an interview is a conversation, not an interrogation. If you’re too direct or too guarded in your demeanor, it is possible that the interviewee can interpret your questions as hostile.
Start With Small Talk
Starting an interview with some informal conversation breaks the ice and puts the candidates at ease. Find a common topic to discuss by identifying one thing you might have in common with the candidate or a topic related to the job or company.
This can include anything from sports to hobbies or industry news. Small talk should be natural and friendly, so avoid any controversial topics and be genuine in your conversations with the candidates. This will help build rapport with the candidate, which also means they will feel more comfortable and confident once you transition to the in-depth interview questions.
Keep Bias Out of It
Everyone has biases, and good interviewers know their personal biases may affect their decision-making. Focus on the candidate's qualifications and experience, as well as personality traits and personal values. The key consideration is whether they would complement the company culture, not whether they are a carbon copy of the existing team’s personalities.
To ensure fairness, ask the same interview questions of every candidate. This will help you to make a much more objective comparison and assessment of all candidates. Use a structured interview template with a set of standardized questions to ensure consistency and aid objectivity.
Questions like "What can you tell us about your previous work experience?" and "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?" offer a good base of comparison between the different candidates' answers.
Ask Valuable Questions
A valuable question is one that does not have a right or wrong answer. Instead, it evokes a response from the candidate that will tell you about their character, their ethics, or their competency to step into the vacant role.
Here are some examples of questioning practices to avoid:
Questions that convey a clear “correct” response have the potential to influence the candidate's answers and compromise the objectivity of the interview. Leading questions often occur when an interviewer prompts an assumed answer. For example, "You have experience working with XYZ software, right?", or "You're comfortable working in a fast-paced environment, aren't you?"
Valuable questions, on the other hand, are devoid of any language that could influence the candidate's response.
Questions that require only yes/no answers give very little insight into a candidate’s suitability for the role.
To get a good sense of their interpersonal skills, personality, and expertise, ask your candidates open-ended questions that encourage detailed responses. "Can you describe how you handle tight deadlines on the job?" and "What are your methods for avoiding errors?" are good examples of open-ended questions.
Questions about a candidate’s personal life can not only make them uncomfortable but also violate privacy ethics. It is inappropriate to ask "What is your marital status?" or "Do you have any health conditions?"
It is especially ill-advised to ask questions that, if the candidate is unsuccessful, can make them concerned that their answer was the reason they were not hired. Questions like "Are you planning on having children soon?" or "What is your religion?" serve no purpose in ascertaining their suitability for the role and can lead to allegations of discrimination.
Questions That Are Unrelated to the Position
Even when well-intended, questions that are not relevant to the job qualifications or the candidate’s performance are generally not useful in the interview process. For example, asking a candidate about their hobbies or interests may not provide insight into their ability to perform the job duties. Rather spend the time you have with your candidate laser-focused on the value both parties would get if you hired them.
Listen More Than You Speak
HR professionals should actively listen during the interview to gather as much information about the candidate as possible. Allow the candidate to speak freely and avoid interrupting them; this will make the candidates feel valued and encourage them to provide detailed responses.
Avoid asking multiple questions at once, as it can be overwhelming for candidates and make your assessment more difficult. Instead, only ask one question at a time, and allow the candidate to provide complete answers before moving on to the next question.
Take notes that would help you evaluate each candidate best on their qualifications, experience, and skill after the interview, and compared to others. Also note other observations, such as the candidate's communication skills and their ability to express their ideas, as well as their attitude towards past employers.
Prioritize Culture Fit Over Culture Copy
Be mindful of how a candidate will complement the team and vice versa over how well they would slot into an existing mold. The goal is to build a dynamic and diverse workforce with differing strengths, points of view, and approaches. This is difficult to do when you’re overly concerned about cultural fit.
Prioritizing diversity and inclusion instead brings different perspectives and ideas to the table, which is beneficial to the company. Also look for attributes like adaptability, flexibility, and willingness to learn when you hire talent. Cultural fit is something employees grow into, and should in itself be adaptable as your team grows.
This being said, you do want to know that you’re hiring people you can trust. Use behavioral interviewing techniques, such as the STAR method, or open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of the candidate’s integrity, honesty, and ability to collaborate.
Take Only Useful Notes
Taking notes through your interviews can help with the subsequent evaluation of the best candidates based on their individual responses. Use shorthand and abbreviations to save time and write down only the most important points that you can use for comparison to other candidates later on.
Some of the most effective hiring managers in the business will tell you that a structured format for taking notes, such as the Outline Method, helps to compare candidates after all the interviews are done.
Besides noting a candidate’s responses, you’ll also need to capture subjective data. E.g. What was your impression of their ability to communicate, their appearance, interpersonal skills, and consistency in their answers? Create a set system of criteria for yourself to do so. It can be a point system or keywords that you’ll know how to expand on later when you report to a hiring team.
Your opinion of a candidate might change throughout the interview as they become more at ease, and you gain more insight into their suitability. A good way to track this is to capture your sentiments at set points in each interview you conduct. For example, you can rate attributes or capture keywords at the start, the middle, and the end of each interview.
Prepare a Well-Crafted Pitch
Bear in mind that interviews go both ways. While you are assessing the candidate they must decide whether the company is a place they would like to invest their time and effort. It is your job to present the company and the job opportunity in the best possible light.
To inspire confidence in the opportunity you present, prepare a pitch to highlight the benefits of working at the organization. Emphasize the job offer's unique selling points, such as opportunities to grow and develop, a competitive salary, a benefits package, and a positive work environment. Tailor the pitch to each candidate, so it relates to them and their career trajectory.
Provide Feedback After the Interview
Once the interview is concluded, ask the candidate whether they'd like feedback. Providing feedback after the interview is important for maintaining a positive candidate experience and for the overall improvement of the recruitment and hiring process.
Be specific in your feedback, especially regarding the candidate's strengths and areas for improvement. If you could give them a do-over, what should they have done, said, or omitted to come over stronger?
Bear in mind, the feedback you give should not tie into whether or not you liked them as a person. Be objective and avoid biases or opinions influencing your assessment.
Most importantly, ask the candidate if they have any questions regarding the feedback you provided, and answer them with kindness.
Dos and Don’ts of Conduct Meaningful Interviews
Do: Make the Interviewee Comfortable
The first impression is often lasting, so it's important to offer a positive candidate experience even before the interview starts. When you set a time for the meeting, let them know the format of the interview— whether it's in-person or via a video interview platform. Also, relay the number of people attending the interview and a short bio of each person.
Do: Practice Active Listening
The ability to actively listen and deploy adequate body language that signals interest in what the candidate has to say is crucial to conducting a meaningful interview. Listen carefully to what the candidate is saying and how they're responding to your questions, both verbally and non-verbally.
Periodically paraphrase and restate what the candidate said, this demonstrates that you understand their answer, or clarify if you didn’t.
Do: Research the Role
Comprise a list of attributes of an ideal candidate, and use it to construct a list of questions relevant to the position offered. Using these set questions during an interview will keep you focused during the process, ensuring that you collect all the necessary information to fairly assess and compare candidates.
Do: Sell the Job
Take the potential hires to meet the team they'll be working with; nobody sells the job better than the people actually doing the job. Be sure to do this with promising candidates you believe are worthwhile, and only in the second half of the interview.
Do: Practice your Pitch
Sometimes you have to convince your talent to join your company and not the competition, so practice your pitch. Be well prepared to explain the positives of the job and the benefits you can offer to the candidate in the short term, as well as over the span of their career.
Most importantly, ensure your top candidate feels wanted. Candidate experience matters, and if your company matches the offer made by the competition, better candidate experience will likely win top talent over to your side.
Don't: Rush the Interview
Rambling through an interview, cutting the candidate off mid-sentence, and looking to get things over with are likely to result in a poor candidate experience, compromising the interview quality.
Despite your best efforts to create a welcoming environment, some candidates aren't comfortable with interviews. It's up to you to listen to both verbal and non-verbal cues, acknowledge that the candidate isn't comfortable, and assure them that the interview process is going at their own pace.
Don't: Have Too Many Colleagues in the Interview
While it's important to have key stakeholders of your company in any recruitment process, it's highly recommended to limit the number of people attending candidate interviews.
Having a large group of people involved in an interview can be overwhelming for the candidate and compromise the interview's quality. The ideal is to have 2-3 interviewers present. This limits the faces in the room but still allows for different viewpoints and opinions, ensuring a more objective evaluation of the candidate.
Questions for Conducting Interviews
The specific questions you might want to ask during an interview are closely related to the industry your company operates in and the job position being discussed.
The following are general behavioral and situational questions worth asking, regardless of the industry or position you’re hiring for.
Tell me about a time when you had to overcome a challenge at work.
Asking this question gives insight into what a candidate would consider to be a challenge, their problem-solving skills, and how they experience a stressful situation.
How do you handle conflict in the workplace?
Conflict in the workplace arises more often than anyone would like to admit. It is important to understand how the candidate perceives and deals with uncomfortable situations arising from office conflict.
There is also some value to reading between the lines here. A candidate who can relay multiple instances where they were involved in office conflict might be overly prone to initiating confrontations. A candidate who is stumped by this question might be completely non-confrontational and ill-equipped to resolve a conflict.
Tell me about strengths you possess that make you well-suited to this role.
The candidate’s response to this question gives insight into their self-awareness and ability to self-evaluate. It also helps you assess whether the candidate's strengths match the job's requirements. You can offset this by asking about their weaknesses but don’t expect an answer that is essentially valuable.
How do you prioritize your workload?
Knowing how to prioritize is a key skill in many jobs, so it's rather important to know how the candidate organizes and prioritizes their tasks. This will help you assess the candidate's decision-making, time management, and adaptability.
Tell me about a time when you had to work collaboratively with others.
This question prompts additional follow-up questions, such as "How did it go?" and "How challenging was the collaboration for you personally?"
It's important to know whether the candidate plays nice with others, especially if the role you’re hiring for requires working closely with a team. The candidate's interpersonal and listening skills are also at play here, so the answer to whether or not they are good at collaboration is much more expansive than how they respond to this particular question. This is however when they’ll give you the rehearsed answer that they would like you to have.
Listen carefully to whether the scenario they describe is in line with, or contradictory, to their overall demeanor and other answers.
How do you stay current with industry trends and developments?
The purpose of this question is to assess ongoing learning and willingness towards further professional development.
Tell me about a time when you had to take the initiative to solve a problem.
This question helps you evaluate the candidate's problem-solving skills and willingness to take responsibility for a challenge.
How do you handle ambiguity and uncertainty in your work?
How the candidate answers this question can give you insight into their adaptability and flexibility. It is also related to their communication skills. Did they reach out to a leader for clarification, or did they wait for certainty before taking any action? In other words, are they paralyzed in the absence of clear instructions, or will they seek information in order to move forward?
Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision.
Making tough calls is a key responsibility in many industries, and this question helps assess the candidate's decision-making skills as well as their ability to evaluate information.
How do you handle constructive feedback and criticism?
The response to this question allows you to assess the candidate's ability to learn from feedback and handle difficult conversations. A good way to test this is by pointing out a negative aspect of the interview, providing they are open to feedback. Take note of their response and body language if you point out an area for improvement.
Conducting interviews that are valuable-focused, well-prepared, and well-structured puts you well on the way to making great hires and building a dream team of top-performing employees.