Effective Interview Technique


Plan and prepare

The old adage ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’ is as true today as it has ever been. Job interviews are much easier if you plan and prepare your questions that are relevant to the vacancy in advance and they will form the structure of the interview itself.

Understand what you are trying to achieve through the interview and tailor your questioning around your objectives. And, remember that you are trying to give a favourable impression of your company in the same way that the candidate is trying to give a favourable impression of themselves.

You also need to prepare the candidate before the interview takes place:

  • Specify day, date, time and location
  • Indicate expected duration of interview
  • Give names of attending interviewer(s) and contact details (address, phone number, email)
  • State process of interview e.g. will the candidate be required to make a presentation?
  • Clarify the documentation that the candidate will be required to bring to interview (drivers licence, passport)

Create a comfortable environment

Consider where you will hold the interview. Is the office canteen really appropriate? Use a private room away from ringing telephones and other interruptions.
If you or the candidate will be required to make a presentation, test the equipment prior to their arrival to avoid an embarrassing situation that may make you look incompetent. After all, you are the first impression that the candidate will have of the company.

Ensure that the interviewee is looked after while they wait before the interview starts.

Questioning effectively

Psychologists suggest that people will form an impression of a person’s character within two minutes of meeting. Others argue that that is an understatement and suggest that thirty seconds is more accurate.

Either way, you need to make sure that you get the interview off to the best possible start. So, begin by asking the right questions that will relax the candidate and help you to gain an insight into their personality.

‘Ask’ the questions, don’t just read them. When you first start conducting interviews, the tendency can be to simply read out the questions that you have prepared but, as you become more familiar with the process, your questioning technique will become more natural.

If you are part of a large organisation it is likely that your human resources department has already conducted a job ‘audit’ for every position within the company to establish the types of behaviour, skills and competencies characteristic of top performers.

This analysis then forms the benchmark or guide for the types of questions to be asked during the interview processes.

The following are examples of questions that you can use to uncover key competencies during an interview:

“What has been a particularly demanding goal for you to achieve?” This question helps to explore candidate’s key motivational factors and requires the candidate to explain the obstacles faced, their thought processes and the actions they took to reach their goal.

“Can you tell me about a situation in which an innovative course of action was needed? What was your role in this circumstance?” Essentially this question is designed for you to be able to identify if the candidate can think outside of the box by developing innovative solutions to work-related problems. In other words, is the candidate a problem solver?

“Have you ever been required to take on new roles or tasks in addition to your current job? What did you do to manage these demands?” This question allows you to probe the candidate and gain an understanding of their flexibility. For example, if one of your staff is off sick would this candidate be able and willing to assist inn their colleagues work effectively and willingly?

“Have you worked as a member of a team in the past? Describe your role” To avoid using cliches, it is import to ascertain if this candidate is a team-player, will they fit into your organisation and be willing to help their colleagues if required to do so?

“In your current role, what key performance indicators are in place, how are they determined and what standards have you set for yourself?” This is aimed to uncover if the candidate has high working standards or do they simply aim to do the ‘basics’?

Many interviewers are prone to ask tough questions. However, this is not always the best approach because it often puts the candidate under pressure, they become withdrawn and defensive and it can also give the candidate a poor impression of your company. You will learn more from people when they are relaxed. So, use ‘open’ questions that force the candidate to respond in sentences rather than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

Indeed, the best interview questions are the ones that help interviewees to reveal their skills, knowledge, attitudes and personality.

As a rule, use ‘How’ and ‘What’ questions to open the candidate. ‘Why’ questions will enable you to drill down and get more information and explanations, but, be careful not to intimidate the candidate or make them feel uncomfortable.

80 per cent of interview questions can be broken down into three categories: general, competency based and scenario based.

  • A typical ‘general’ question could be: “What motivates you?”
  • ‘Competency’ or ‘situational’ based questions are designed find see how effectively an candidate would tackle future problems if they were offered the job and should invoke a detailed response: “Tell me about a time when you worked effectively as part of a team” or “In retrospect how would you have done things differently?”
  • ‘Scenario’ based questioning will enable you to gauge an understanding of how effective the candidate is in a given situation: “You are working on a project that has a tight deadline but your client calls you to say that they need another job to be completed for the same deadline – effectively doubling your workload. How would you handle this situation?”

Don’t forget that questioning is a two-way process. Allow time for candidates to ask questions and make sure that you have sufficient information about the job to answer any reasonable question they may have. This stage also allows the candidate to demonstrate their real potential if they feel they have not had the chance to do so to date.

Be lawful

See our ‘diversity in interviewing section

Time management

The interview should have a maximum allotted time. Start and finish on time and be mindful that you keep the interview process on track.

This means keeping a structure and ensuring that neither you or the candidate lose focus by dwelling too long on a particular question or rambling, for instance.

Final stage

Close the interview in the same way that you opened it by leaving the candidate with a positive impression of you and your company. It is important to explain to the candidate what the next steps will be and how soon they can expect to be contacted with the results.

Immediately after the candidate has left, collect your notes and make your assessment on their suitability while everything is still fresh in your mind.

Remember, you are not simply hiring for the here and now. You are hiring for the future so you need to seriously consider if this candidate will be the best hire to help you move your business forward.

The right person will make contributions to your company’s bottom line that will exceed their basic salary, but, the wrong hire can cost much much more.