A job interview is perhaps the most critical element of recruiting, more so than the job posting. Depending on where you post, pretty much anyone can apply for a position. But only a select few make it past the initial resume screening to secure an interview.
An interview is a formal conversation between an applicant and a prospective employer, but it’s also much more than that. Both the candidate and the company are meeting to determine whether they are a good match.
From a recruiter’s perspective, a job interview that is inefficient, off-putting, disorganized, or otherwise a failure can mean that the ideal hire decides to go with another employer.
This guide explains how to set up and conduct an interview, helping to ensure that you always get the right candidate for the job.
1. Understand the Scope of the Recruitment Process
It is essential to view the selection process holistically and decide how much weight the interview will carry. Deciding what the interview process should deliver to the recruiter is critical in determining what format the discussion should follow and how many people should be involved.
An interview is just one element of the recruitment process. Candidates will generally apply by sending their resume and cover letter or filling out a dedicated application form.
Typically, the employer will review all the applications after the closing date and contact a small number of the best candidates for an interview.
You might decide that there should also be competency tests as part of the selection process for candidates invited to interview. Usually, these take place on the same day as the interview.
The sequence of assessments also matters. Sometimes, the interview will be the final stage in the process, or it could happen at the outset with just two or three candidates proceeding for further assessment or a second interview.
An employer must decide the scope of this assessment process and where the interview fits into this. The nature of the job vacancy also should determine the type of information the interview will deliver.
2. Plan the Interview Questions
An interview is an essential part of the recruitment process. Not only is it an opportunity to meet candidates face to face, but it is a chance for you to find out a lot more about them than you could from scanning their work history.
These days, many interviews follow a scenario-based interview technique using scenario or situational-based questions.
Typically, it involves asking the applicant to give an example of when they have used particular skills.
This example could illustrate when they have resolved difficulties or demonstrated skills like multi-tasking, dispute resolution, or customer service.
These are all soft skills that are harder to capture on paper. Scenario-based questions thus allow you to see the candidate as a whole.
It’s worth noting that not all scenario-based questions are sufficient. Most candidates prepare for situational-based questions. However, a savvy interviewer can turn the tables a little bit and ask the questions differently.
Here’s an example:
Loaded question: What is an example of when you overcame a challenging circumstance at work?
Neutral question: What is an example of when you faced a challenging circumstance at work? What was your response?
Instead of asking loaded questions with language that implies a correct answer, stick to neutral questions with language that leaves room for ambiguity. That way, you can see the candidate’s genuine attitude.
Questions are there to guide the session and make it easier to compare candidates as they will all need to answer the same thing.
However, you should always prepare to go off-script for unplanned discussion and debate, including more questions in a particular area.
3. Decide on the Interviewer Format
A one-on-one interview is best for smaller companies or for weeding out the wider applicant pool. A multi-panel interview is another option, depending on the seniority level, company size, and other factors (like whether the candidate will work mostly solo or as a team lead).
In a panel-style interview, it is commonplace for each recruiter to ask a question in turn. Usually, they will agree upon the interview questions in advance and decide who will ask each question.
Technical questions related to specialties or expertise are best reserved for a panel member who directly works on that subject. They can more usefully conduct a discussion with the candidate on that topic.
4. Inform the Candidate
When you have decided who you want to interview, it’s time to deliver the good news to the successful candidates.
Give candidates enough notice of the planned day and time for the interview. Find out whether they have any special access requirements or needs on the day.
Tell candidates approximately how long the interview will last and who will be interviewing them. Applicants will often research panel members before the interview.
If the candidates also will undergo other forms of assessment, inform them in your communication. Tell them how long they should expect to be on the premises.
Some interviews also involve a tour of the premises and an opportunity for candidates to see where they will work if hired. The tour can be an introduction to the company culture and workplace.
You may also want candidates to bring with them certain forms of identification. If so, let them know in your letter or email.
5. Set the Stage on the Day of the Interview
Ensure there is an area where candidates can wait.
Make sure there is someone there to meet and greet them. Often, the greeter is not part of the interview process.
Always ensure you create a good first impression. Remember, an interview is also about candidates assessing the company as a possible future employer.
One person should lead the session during the interview by introducing themselves and other interviewers.
Set the scene by briefly discussing your organization and outlining the job for which the candidate is there.
Explain the interview format and mention that there will be time for the candidate to ask their questions at the end of the interview.
Often an interview begins with a few general questions such as, “what enticed you to apply for this job” or “describe your current job position.” These icebreakers will help put candidates at ease.
6. Prepare for Candidates’ Questions
Every professional interview should allow time at the end for candidates to ask questions. Interviews are a two-way process, and you want to convey a good impression of your organization. The questions candidates ask also can indicate their fit and preparedness for the interview.
There is a variety of things a candidate may ask, and the most common of these include:
- What opportunities are there for promotion?
- How do you measure performance?
- Is flexible working possible to fit in with family commitments?
- Are there any opportunities for further training and development relevant to the role, including further study for which the company might pay?
- What is the company’s view on remote working?
- What are the main challenges in this job role?
- Am I filling someone’s position, or is this a new role?
Expect candidates applying for technical roles to come prepared with more specialist questions. Encourage candidates to address the interview lead directly, who can then allocate the question to an appropriate member of the panel to answer.
7. Set a Timeline for the Recruitment Process
After the candidate’s questions, close the interview by setting a timeline for the recruitment process.
Everyone knows what it's like waiting to hear back about a possible job offer, so set out a timeline clearly for each applicant that you interview. It shows respect for the candidates and prevents unnecessary check-ins from applicants you have decided not to pursue.
What Is the Right Number of Interviews?
This number of assessments is down to your preference, the job level, and personnel available, among other factors. A two-interview process is not unusual and sometimes three if the position is very senior.
Recently, there has been a trend to ask applicants to attend multiple interviews. It is par for the course for a senior-level or management role, but be cautious that too many interviews can deter good candidates and damage your organization’s reputation.
If you opt for more than one interview, then advise all applicants who come forward at the first interview stage about how many interviews there will be after that if they are successful.
Is a Face-to-Face Interview Better than an Online One?
Face to face is usually better, but it does depend on the job role—sometimes, it won’t make a difference.
Face to face allows for much more personal interaction. It is easier to read body language and connect to people in the same room.
Sometimes, the first interview may be remote and the second interview in person.
Remote interviewing is much more convenient and time-efficient, particularly if candidates have a long way to travel. For remote job positions that are not client-facing, in-person interviewing may not be necessary at all.
Good recruitment can be a time-consuming process. This in-depth guide spells out just one component of an effective recruiting drive.
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