Sourcing the right candidates for your business requires a lot of time and effort. And the interview process is just as important to get right, so that you don’t undo all the hard work you’ve invested in finding those top candidates.
So how do you go about creating the perfect interview process?
And how do you interview someone?
If you're new to hiring, or simply want a refresher on how to give a good interview, this guide is packed with our best interview tips for employers.
An interview timeline (what happens, when)
It’s a good idea to have a bit of a blueprint for the way that you conduct your interviews. This makes the process a lot more efficient and cost effective to administer. We recommend that you start with an interview timeline.
Identify who on your team is going to be involved
Who will you want involved in the recruitment process and at what stage? What will be this person’s particular role/focus (if any) during the interviews?
It can be a good idea, where relevant, to involve:
- a co-worker who will work alongside the new recruit
- the person to whom they will directly report
- anyone who played a key contributory role in pulling together the job description
- someone responsible for people/HR in your organisation
You could also involve:
- a customer or supplier
- a shareholder (if it’s a key management role)
- a trusted external adviser or peer, skilled in the required elements of the role in question
Decide if there will there be any shortlist/elimination process
Consider whether you want a rapid-fire ‘elimination’ round ahead of organising for a full interview meeting.
Some businesses try to narrow down their candidate lists by having a 20–30 minute phone or video-based call ahead of inviting anyone for a proper interview meeting.
This may be a relatively informal interaction, designed to test just one or two of the most important aspects of the job description.
It might be a more structured interaction to discuss, for example, the candidate’s views and recommendations on a short case study provided to them in advance of the call.
Who you decide to allocate this stage to will depend on what sort of shortlisting tactic you want to use – and of course, whether you have the option of splitting the stages up between team members. If you’re very small or a sole trader, you may have to manage every stage of the process on your own.
Some businesses like to use a third-party psychometric testing service to help gauge the strengths, skills and character of the candidates whose CVs they have liked best. (Using a third-party provider is a good idea since it helps to avoid discrimination or data protection issues.) The candidates achieving the strongest results are those taken through to the next stage.
If you’re a very small business and recruiting essentially falls to the same person at (almost) every stage, psychometric tests can be very useful in ensuring a balanced and detailed assessment. They may not be cheap, however, so shop around and see what’s reviewing well and affordable.
Reserve your interview space in advance
This should be somewhere that looks inviting, is comfortable, and is somewhere that you won’t be disturbed during the interview.
Prepare your questions
It’s important to get a good list of questions ready so you can ensure you find out everything you need to know. Feel free to ad-lib on the day, but having a few key questions ready will prevent anything important from getting missed off. It will also reassure your candidate that you’re well-organised and that they would be joining a business that conducts itself professionally.
You’ll find a good starting point for general interview questions further on in this guide (as well as some of the obvious ones to avoid). Build on these with relevant additional questions that matter for the particular role you’re discussing and for the nature of your business. If you’re collaborating with other colleagues in running this recruitment process, get their views on what the right additional questions should be.
You may want to allocate questions amongst you as well, so that the interview doesn’t end up sounding scripted or interrogative.
Try to focus on short, open-ended questions that encourage your candidates to give expansive answers. Try to avoid over-using the word ‘why?’ too much in follow-on questions; it can sound a bit aggressive and intimidating.
Consider whether you want to share any questions with the candidate ahead of the interview. This can be a great way to gauge whether they have prepared for the interview and understand your business. Open questions such as ‘what do you think of our market and the opportunities for a business like ours?’ or ‘how do you think we compare to our competition’, can be very revealing and they can pave the way for much deeper and insightful conversations during the interview.
Create an assessment checklist
It’s really handy to have a quick-reference assessment sheet that you can use to compare and contrast candidates.
You could do this by marking a number from 1–5 to indicate the strength of a candidate’s responses to particular key questions and/or for checking off vital skills identified within the job description.
It’s not just about being able to make comparisons. Checking off the elements identified in the job description is a really good starting basis for ensuring that you’re meeting with a candidate who is worth considering further. And it rightly focuses decision making on less emotional assessments. Liking a candidate should come after ascertaining that they can, in fact, do the job you advertised.
Some people prefer assessing by words rather than numbers. You could use instead: ‘exceeds/meets/needs more/doesn’t meet/unclear’ against your key assessment indicators instead.
Be sure to leave space for general notes where you can also note down comments or answers that particularly impressed or concerned you.
Invite your co-interviewers
The more opinions you can get on a candidate, the better – so try to have at least one other person interviewing the candidate alongside you. If you can manage it, it’s also useful for someone else to be taking notes while you ask the questions.
Circulate the candidates’ CVs in advance, together with any useful profile/social media links or other relevant information you have access to in respect of each of them. Fellow interviewers should be asked to read and consider these ahead of attending the interview with you.
Welcome the candidate
When they arrive, it’s a nice idea to start with a little chitchat rather than diving straight into your first interview question – even if it’s simply about the weather or whether they found your location easily enough! Make sure you introduce the other interviewers too, highlighting their role in the business and how the successful candidate would be working with them
Get to know them
When thinking up questions for an interview, it’s not only important to consider what’s you’re going to ask but how you’re going to ask it. Starting questions with open words like ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘when’, ‘where’, ‘how’ and ‘who’ as well as ‘tell me about…’, ‘give an example when…’ are much better than closed questions starting with ‘have you’, ‘do you’, etc.
Round off the process and create a single summary record
Pull together what you (and your fellow interviewers) have learned and any assessment materials, notes, etc. Create a single summary record of these, listing what the process has entailed and indicating overall, how the candidate has performed.
Keep this record factual, professional and do not include subjective opinions or anything anecdotal. Remember that sight of these materials could be requested by the candidates that you interview and/or they could be disclosed in a legal action if, for example, a disgruntled, unsuccessful candidate brought a discrimination action against you.
When interviewing a candidate, ask yourself these questions:
So now you’ve got a great interview process lined up, how should you go about identifying the best candidate for you? Here are the questions to ask yourself (and your fellow interviewers)
Have they done extra research?
If they mention a specific piece of news about your business, something interesting about the industry’s current affairs, or perhaps something that’s on your LinkedIn profile, it shows that they’ve taken the time to get to know you, the business and the job, outside of the job description you’ve provided – which is a big indication that they pay attention to detail, are thorough and care about making a good impression
What’s your first impression?
When you first meet, did they greet you with a warm genuine smile, did they seem genuinely excited to be interviewing with you, or did you get the impression this was just another interview to them? Remember: if they seem a little nervous, try to put them at their ease – nervousness is often a good sign that they are really interested in the job, so it’s important to not see nerves as a negative attribute in the interview situation – unless of course the role for which you’re interviewing is a sales role, in which case, you might have more of a cause for concern
How does that impression develop?
As the interview progresses, keep check of the candidate’s body language, as this can tell you a lot about how they are feeling…even if it doesn’t match what they are saying. Good signs are eye contact, nodding, and open arm movements, but watch out for arm folding, fidgeting or lack of eye contact, as this could mean they’re not fully engaged in the job interview, or the job itself
Can they back up their claims?
If they describe themselves as a team player, for example, listen out to see if they support it with an example. If they don’t, feel free to interject to ask them to share one
Do they ask questions?
While you’ll be asking a lot of questions, you should give them the opportunity to ask you questions too. What they ask can give great insight into what they’re most interested in about the role, and how much they have researched the business already. A well-considered question from a candidate may well help you decide who it is that you hire
What questions should you never ask during an interview?
When interviewing a candidate for a role, it’s important to only ask questions that are linked to the job itself. Not only does this make for a more efficient interview, but you’ll also prevent asking anything that could be seen as discriminatory.
Here are some examples of questions that you shouldn’t be asking your candidates:
How old are you?
While you will need to know their date of birth if they become an employee, there’s no reason to have this information at interview. Of course, if your employees need to be of adult age (for example, if they’re to sell alcohol), you may ask them to confirm they’re over 18. But you mustn’t ask a candidate their age when it has no relevance to the job they’ve applied for.
Are you married and/or have children?
The employee’s personal life should have no impact on their professional life, so this is another question that shouldn’t be asked during interview.
How many sick days did you have last year?
Unless you’re asking about a potential employee’s specific requirements so that you can properly accommodate them to you building, you mustn’t enquire into their health at all during the interview.
Is English your first language?
While you do need to check that the candidate is eligible to work in the UK and you’re entitled to hire employees who speak fluent English, the candidate’s ability to succeed in the job isn’t dependent on their nationality – and questions like this must be avoided.
Are you a trade union member?
All employees, whether members of a trade union or not, must be treated equally. If you ask this during interview, it could be perceived that your hiring decision was based on this detail, and was therefore discriminatory.
In addition to these, there are a whole host of questions that you shouldn’t ask your candidates – not only from a legal point of view, but also ones that simply wouldn’t show you in the best light as an interviewer.
Essentially, any questions that involve any of the 9 protected characteristics (age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and marriage and civil partnership) must be avoided. Take a look at our guide to equal opportunities and diversity for more information on this.
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