Good Interview Practice

  1. Introduction
  2. Preparation
  3. Before The Interview
  4. The Interview Itself
  5. Questioning
  6. Ending The Interview

1 – Introduction

The quality, success and profitability of an organisation depends on many factors, but one of the most important is the quality of the people working in the company. A good employee can single-handedly turn around the fortunes of a company – of any size, and a poor employee can wreak havoc with the company’s trading position and reputation. Remember Nick Leeson?

The best trick is to keep your good staff, but that’s another story!

If you need to recruit – at any level, clearly understand that the task of finding the best individual for the job is the most important thing you have to do. Other business matters are important of course, but it is crucial to put maximum effort and concentration into the hiring process.

The interview is still the commonest method of selecting a person for a job. It is clearly a deeply flawed process – how can you tell in one or two one-hour meetings (or even less!) whether a person can do a complex task, and fit in with the culture of your organisation?

Other selection tools include technical and personality tests, the ‘assessment centre’, references, and trial periods. Even alternative methods such as graphology are used in the selection process. But the decision to hire is often based on ‘gut feel’. This is not to say that is a bad thing. Our instincts have developed over millions of years, and are designed to protect us, and to help us to survive and thrive. Instincts should not be ignored! But the better the selection process, the better the ‘gut feel’ will be. Ultimately however, the best test of a person is to put them on the job, but most organisations are reluctant to ‘hire and fire’ and prefer to try to make a sensible decision, and stick with it.

The interview is a two-way process, and is as much an opportunity for the candidate to assess the employer, as it is the other way around. This is particularly true in a job-rich, candidate-poor market, which prevails at the moment, and which is likely to remain the case due to demographic trends. Companies very often find themselves competing for good candidates, and entering a race to entice the candidate in.

It is crucial therefore, in order to make the best possible selection from available candidates, and to ensure that you win over the best candidate, that you observe a few simple common-sense practices.


2 – Preparation

Standardise your methods! Establish a precise procedure that will be followed when candidates come for interview. This procedure should be exactly the same for every candidate, from beginning to end. It is not possible to make a realistic comparison between two candidates, if they are treated and assessed differently; too many variables are in play.

Firstly, discuss the matter with all your relevant colleagues, and decide exactly what sort of person you want to recruit. Define the job role, and write down a detailed job description, and candidate profile. Agree essential features, and desirable features (which you would like to see in a good candidate, but could live without). Consider all internal applicants first – it is usually better to promote from within, rather than recruiting from the outside.

Next, define the timescale upon which you wish to carry out the programme. Ensure that all relevant parties will be available at the required times.

Obviously you must decide how to attract candidates. You may decide to try DIY, by advertising the post, but in most cases you’ll be better off seeking professional help from a reputable recruitment company. Whatever method you choose, you’ll hopefully arrive at a point when candidates become available.


3 – Before the interview

Send all candidates the same information before the interview. Ideally this will include company information, product information, a job description, an application form, a map to help them find you, an agenda that will be followed on the day, a list of the people they will meet, and a confirmation that you will, or will not pay expenses. You should also advise candidates if the dress code is other than formal business attire. The more information the candidate has before the event, the more you’ll be able to concentrate on the truly important issue at interview: Do we get along well together? rather than getting bogged down in detail.

First impressions count! Remember that every candidate that turns up could, in time, become your next Managing Director! Advise your Receptionist as to whom to expect. The Receptionist should greet each candidate with a warm and welcoming smile, to help relax him or her. If there are any delays, the candidate should be kept fully informed. It can be very useful to ask The Receptionist after the event, how the candidate comported him/herself upon arrival.

The interviewers should also present an image of a company that is efficient, attractive and positive, and this should be reflected in the interviewers dress and demeanour. The candidate will be looking for exactly the same personal qualities in you, as you are in him or her. It is not courteous to expect a candidate to appear in a suit, if you are wearing casual clothes.

Have available all the information you need to conduct the interview. This should include a copy of the candidate’s C.V., a job description, and any other information as appropriate. Do not allow yourself to appear disorganised. Instruct your colleagues to ensure that you are not interrupted.


4 – The Interview Itself

Act to impress! If this is the best candidate you’re going to see, it’s as important for him/her to think well of you, as it is the other way around.

Greet the candidate by standing, and meeting him/her at the door. A cheerful smile and warm handshake will help to put them at their ease, which will encourage them to ‘open up’ in due course. Offer them a seat, and water to drink. Do you remember the dry mouth you had when you were last interviewed?

The interview should be conducted precisely as per The Agenda, and this should apply to every candidate. Start by explaining to the candidate exactly what will happen over the next hour or so, and then stick to the plan.

Do not waste time telling the candidate all about the company or by going over the job description. He or she should have been informed already (either by you, or by the recruitment consultant who has arranged the interview). Also, the good candidate will have done some research on his/her own behalf. Company personnel, particularly sales personnel, are trained to ‘sell’ their company, and a common mistake occurs when an interviewer talks for an hour or so about their own company, asks nothing of the candidate, and leaves the candidate wondering how the interviewer could possibly know anything about them!

What you are really looking for is a clear indication of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses as they relate to the job, the candidate’s potential for the future (if appropriate), and importantly, how well the candidate will get on with you personally, and fit in with your company culture.


5 – Questioning

Ask your questions first. The candidate is more likely to give you answers which will enable you to decide whether or not he/she is suitable for the job, than if you allow the candidate to ask questions of you first. This would enable the candidate to ‘craft’ answers to tell you what you want to hear.

Questions should always be open (starting with Why, When, Where etc) as these cannot be answered by ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and demand an informative answer.

It’s often a good idea to get the ball rolling by asking the candidate to give a short potted history of themselves. Explain that you have read their C.V. but you’d like to hear their account of how they’ve progressed in their career, from the point at which they left full-time education (a later point might be more appropriate for senior individuals). Make it clear that this should last no longer than five minutes. As the candidate speaks, you’ll be able to observe and make notes about their appearance, demeanour and communication skills.

Next, you could repeat back your understanding of their history, step by step, but questioning closely why they made changes. Often, the most revealing aspects of a candidate’s history, are the points at which they changed jobs, especially if they chose to change, rather than having change thrust upon them by e.g. redundancy.

Avoid asking point-blank ‘What are your strengths/weaknesses?’ which invites highly contrived answers. Rather, ask the candidate to give you examples of their significant accomplishments, with an explanation of how they achieved these, and what resulted from them (particularly how their employer benefited). Similarly, to say ‘Our company is very keen to train its staff. What areas would you be interested in receiving training in?’ is more likely to gain an insight into the candidate’s perceived areas of weakness than the more blunt approach.

Ask how they understand the job in question, and why they
feel they could do it.

Ask how they would like their career to develop in future,
beyond the job in question.

Ask about their health. Be specific, ask them exactly how
many days off sick they’ve had, and if they have any ongoing complaints,
or if there is anything they feel you ought to know.

Ask who will give them a reference. These should be direct
bosses whenever possible. Regard any ‘hedging’ in this area as suspicious.

Allow the candidate time to ask their own questions. Make a note of the questions that each candidate asks – they can be most revealing.

Make notes on an assessment form, including observations on first impressions, dress, voice, communication abilities, career history, reasons for leaving previous jobs, personal background, geographic considerations,  health, pay expectations, competing job opportunities.


6 – Ending the Interview

If possible/appropriate, get a ‘shop-floor’ colleague to show the candidate round the premises. Very often, candidates can give away information in more relaxed company, that may be valuable to you.

Before parting from the candidate, let him/her know when they will hear from you, and what the next step is likely to be. Tell them how their expenses will be reimbursed (if applicable).

After the candidate has left, ensure that you have five minutes of peace and quiet to reflect on the interview and make notes of your impressions. Business matters will soon crowd in, and it is difficult to remember detailed thoughts after even a short while. You may find it helpful to use a form with all the attributes you are interested in, and give the candidate marks out of ten for each one. This can be a helpful way of comparing two similar candidates.

If the candidate has come from a recruitment company, pick up the phone and tell your consultant what you thought of the candidate. This feedback will be much appreciated, and will help the consultant to do a good job for you. If you don’t phone, you can be fairly sure the consultant will phone you!