Learn how to conduct a successful job interview so that you can land the right people in the right jobs and deliver a good candidate experience.
Stuck wondering what to do or bring to an interview? Never feel unprepared again.
Becoming a strong interviewer is really quite simple. Knowing how to conduct a successful job interview comes down to putting effort into the following areas:
- Time management
When these elements are addressed, you’re far more likely to have a focused, smooth and productive interview that gleans the information needed to identify the right person for a job.
It also means that job candidates have a good experience with your company, whether they join it or not.
Remember: An interview is never solely about a job candidate answering your questions and then you decide whether to hire them. Candidates are also interviewing you and scoping out your organization, which you represent, to decide whether joining your company is the right move for them. In tight job markets, or when you’re recruiting highly qualified job candidates who can afford to be choosy or passive candidates, this is especially true. In other words, the interview is an opportunity for both parties to shine.
The last thing you want is for a job candidate to be so turned off by your interviewing technique and process that they tell other prospective applicants about their bad experience with your company or post a negative review online. This can hurt your employer brand.
With this in mind, let’s walk through an optimal interview process, highlighting the actions you should take for the best chance of a successful outcome for both parties. As you’ll see, the themes of preparation, organization and time management are woven throughout.
These tips are relevant to both in-person or remote (video or phone) interviews.
Before the interview
Gather all relevant information about the open position.
Are you an HR generalist or an assistant as opposed to the direct hiring manager? It’s often the case that the person conducting the job interview is not the same person who will manage the new hire. In this circumstance, it’s especially critical that you speak with the hiring manager and team members to understand all facets of the open position and its requirements, including:
- The team
- Technologies used
- Day-to-day tasks
- Types of projects
- Customers they’ll interact with
- Opportunities for travel, training and continuing education
Make sure that you can answer these types of questions. Job candidates are almost guaranteed to ask them, and they may be frustrated with vague, inadequate answers.
Know who you’re looking for.
- What key factors are required for the role and, therefore, which core competencies are critical?
- What other qualities and characteristics would bring the most value to the role, as well as the organization?
- What makes someone a good fit in terms of skills and qualifications?
- What makes someone a good cultural fit in terms of fitting in with the team and aligning with the company’s core values?
It’s important to define the type of job candidate you’re looking for upfront because these are objective, consistent standards by which to measure all candidates. You don’t want to rely on gut feelings, which are subjective, tend to be based on personally liking someone and can often turn out to be wrong.
Once you have a good idea of who’s needed for a particular job, you can structure your questions around these requirements to determine whether a candidate is a good fit.
Become familiar with each job candidate.
- Learn their names so that you can build rapport and present a warm, welcoming first impression of your company.
- Review each candidate’s resume in advance of the interview.
- Get a good understanding of their work history and be able to discuss it without referring to notes excessively. You don’t want to waste time in the interview reading the resume aloud or rehashing basic information. Instead, the resume should be viewed as a platform to ask more in-depth questions.
- Write down specific questions covering areas over which you need elaboration or clarification relating to their unique work history. Also prepare questions about how their skill sets and competencies relate to the open position.
Have a standard interview guide ready.
This guide covers questions you’ll ask every job candidate who interviews for the same position, including a blend of:
- Competency or technical questions specific to the open position
- Behavioral questions (Example: “Tell me about a time when…”)
Behavioral questions are beneficial because job candidates can’t easily prepare beforehand, so you’re more likely to get a genuine answer that’s not rehearsed.
It’s possible that assistants and other team members will put these questions together. Know the content of your guide well, in the event that a candidate asks you to elaborate. You don’t want to seem unprepared or keep breaking your connection with a job candidate by constantly glancing at notes.
It’s fine to go off script when asking follow-up questions. However, stick to your planned questions as much as possible. This is so:
- You have a consistent framework for each candidate who interviews for a position and can more easily compare them.
- You are more protected from liability. It can be easy to get off track and venture down a problematic line of questioning, such as personal questions (“Are you married? Do you have kids?”). In such a case, candidates could later accuse you of not hiring them on the basis of discrimination. If you have a script, you know what’s approved and safe to ask.
Anticipate the all-important question: What do you enjoy about working for your company?
You want to show enthusiasm and generate excitement about your company. If you haven’t thought about this question and look unprepared, or struggle to produce a positive answer for why you enjoy showing up at work day after day, the message to job candidates will be that yours isn’t a workplace they want to join. Also think through other, related candidate questions you might encounter – these can be signs that you’ve got a discerning candidate who has done their homework.
Plan the interview process.
You want to offer each job candidate a good experience interviewing with your company and be respectful of their time. To that end:
- Streamline the interview process as much as possible. For example, condense a four-step process (initial phone interview, in-person interview, follow-up interview and final interview) into a few steps. This is for simplicity and to avoid burnout and frustration from job candidates.
- Be prepared to deliver an introduction, or ice breaker, in which you’ll explain that the purpose of the interview is to ensure that both parties get the information they need to make a good decision. Then describe the overall flow of the interview to the candidate and what the interview will entail. They will want to know what to expect upfront.
- If the interview will be a group or panel interview, decide in advance the questions that each person will ask and in which order, and who will provide the overview at the beginning. (Good practice is to cap panel interviews at three people maximum to maintain efficiency and time management, and to make job candidates feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed.)
During the interview
What you should bring with you:
- The candidate’s resume plus follow-up questions unique to their work history
- Your standardized interview guide
- A scorecard on which to rate each candidate and take notes
Leave behind anything that could distract you, such as a cell phone. At the very least, put your cell phone in silent mode and store it away – out of sight – for the duration of the interview.
Conduct in-person interviews in a quiet area with no distractions, such as a meeting room that you can reserve in advance. Avoid conducting interviews in a personal office, where there are too many distractions, such as phone calls or emails and IMs popping up on the computer screen.
For video interviews, be selective about where the interview happens. Select a neutral, professional environment, in quiet area free of family interruptions or barking dogs. Be mindful of your background and conceal any personal or sensitive information that may be visible. Make sure your Internet connection is stable, and have a back-up plan in case something goes wrong.
Your behavior, body language and tone
- Be engaged. Give your full attention to the job candidate for the duration of the interview.
- Maintain eye contact and your focus on the candidate – don’t look around the room or stare downward at your notes, which can make you appear distracted and rude. If you need to look down at your notes, explain this is what you’re doing.
- Don’t cross your arms or lean back. It can unintentionally look defensive and closed off.
- Don’t forget the human element. You want to do what you can to make people feel comfortable even though they’re in the hot seat.
- Understand that many people are nervous in this situation, so give them some grace.
- Demonstrate warmth and enthusiasm in your tone – especially if it’s a phone interview and the candidate can’t see your face expressions or gestures.
- Allow candidates time to pause and consider their response, if you sense that a candidate is struggling with a question. Remember:
- Not everyone has to answer right away.
- Don’t let them off the hook, but do probe further, ask follow-up questions and encourage them to say what comes to mind.
- Deploy active listening skills.
- Listen carefully to what candidates are saying. How job candidates answer questions reveals their thought processes and what they consider important. It can also uncover some red flags to watch out for.
- Pay attention to accomplishments and anecdotes that demonstrate ambition and initiative. As part of this discussion, note whether the candidate appears more confident or arrogant. And, to what extent do they show drive and passion?
- Consider their choice of words. (For example, do they use “I” or “we” more? What does this say about their individual versus team accomplishments?)
Questions to ask
Lead the interview by asking what a candidate knows about your company. This saves you valuable interview time in describing the company – which the candidate should already know anyway, at this stage of the hiring process. Asking this will help you gauge how much research and preparation a candidate has done.
You also want to ask why they’re interested in the position and your company. This will indicate their level of motivation, passion and commitment.
In addition to your other planned questions, including those specific to a candidate resume, use these examples of strong behavioral questions as a starting point for your standard interview guide questions:
Adaptability: Tell me about a situation in which you were under a great deal of pressure because of numerous demands competing for your time and attention. How did you resolve the situation?
Customer service: Tell me about the most difficult customer encounter you’ve experienced. How did you handle it?
Dependability: Tell me about a time when you had difficulty keeping a commitment. How did you handle it?
Ethics: Describe a situation in which you worked with someone you didn’t like or respect. How did you cope with the relationship?
Initiative: Tell me about an opportunity that presented itself to you but you were reluctant to take the risk. What did you do?
Interpersonal skills: Tell me about a time you had a serious conflict with a co-worker. How did you handle the situation?
Judgment: Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision. What process did you go through to arrive at the decision?
Leadership: Tell me about a time when you had to inspire or energize an unmotivated individual or group? How did you do it, and what was the result?
Planning and organizing: Give me a summary of the techniques you use to plan and organize your work. Describe how you applied one of these techniques in a specific situation.
Teamwork: Tell me about a time you had to set your own interests or priorities aside in the interest of the team.
Conclusion and after the interview
Always conclude each interview by asking the candidate if they have any additional questions. Then:
- Review the next steps in the hiring process and provide a timeline for when the candidate can expect to hear back from you. Communication and follow-through are key – do what you say you’re going to do. So many candidates report frustration at hearing nothing back from a company after they’ve spent their valuable time interviewing. No one wants to feel ignored or rejected without explanation.
Professionalism and transparency say a lot to others about your employer brand. You want to behave in a way that leaves a good opinion with as many people as possible. Frankly, ghosting a candidate is as bad – and perhaps worse for your brand – than having them ghost you.
- Reserve 15 minutes at the end of the interview to fill out your scorecard and jot down notes while everything is still fresh in your mind. If you wait to fill in your notes until the end of the day or when all the interviews are completed, you’ll forget crucial details and possibly even confuse candidates.
- On your scorecard, use ratings from 1 to 5 to help you score how well each candidate answered the questions. Also score candidates against the must-have competencies and qualifications that you previously established. Total your ratings and compare notes with your team to determine whether this is the best-fit candidate. If there are disagreements, discuss pros and cons of the candidate with your team.
- Once your company decides to hire a candidate, inform the other candidates who interviewed as a sign of respect and courtesy. Give them constructive feedback if you feel there’s a specific way they could improve for their next job interview.
Summing it all up
The three drivers for how to conduct a successful job interview are preparation, organization and time management.
- Before an interview: Know the role, the requirements and the candidates’ resumes. Have your questions ready – and be prepared for common questions from candidates. Establish the interview flow.
- During the interview: Maintain your focus throughout the scheduled interview. Make people feel comfortable. Ask your planned questions, largely sticking to the script. Probe further and encourage a response if candidates stall. Listen carefully to responses. Be respectful of candidates’ time.
- After the interview: Outline expectations for follow-through – and do it. Take good notes and score candidates on a ratings system. Discuss candidates and scoring results with your team to arrive at a decision.
If you do all these things, you’ll have a higher likelihood of delivering an outstanding experience for job candidates and can better identify the right people for any role.
To learn more about how to hire the right people, download our free e-book: How to develop a top-notch workforce that will accelerate your business.