A job interview can be stressful no matter what side of the table you’re sitting on. As an interviewer, maybe you’ve got a critical role to fill for your team and, thankfully a set of interviews lined up. But how can you make sure you are choosing the right person from that candidate pool?
Talent is scarce so quick recruitment processes can help you secure the candidates you need rather than losing them to competitors but that can make it even harder to assess your applicants and make sure you are getting the skills you need.
As recruiters, it’s our job to guide clients through this process and help ensure they have the best chance of securing the best talent. Now we’re here to share that advice with you. Let us know if it helps!
Tip 1: Think of questions for each of the key job responsibilities, as well as general questions.
Think about what this person will be doing on a daily basis and what their key responsibilities and deliverables would be. If this isn’t a role you have direct hands-on experience with, reach out to colleagues who do and get their input on the questions you can prepare ahead of the job interview.
For example, if the role involves an element of project management, ask about how projects have been managed in their previous roles, what their involvement was, and what challenges and successes they had.
If the role involves an element of stakeholder management, ask how that worked in a previous role, including any communication challenges they might have had and how they overcame them.
Don’t just ask the question and let them answer either. Be sure to ask follow-up questions to draw out more specific detail, which also shows your interest in the candidate as it proves you’ve been listening to them. See our next tip about situational-based questions to help you delve deeper.
By asking such specific questions, you should be able to build up a picture of how well your candidates understand these responsibilities and how they’ve covered them in the past, giving you a good idea of how they would fit into your company and succeed in the role.
Complement these role-based questions with more general questions to build up a broader picture of this candidate. This could include:
- What is it that interests them about this role
- What is it that interests them about your company
- Where do they see their career heading
- What’s important to them in a job (flexible working, development opportunities, career growth etc)
But consider the nature of the role you are interviewing this candidate for too. These questions are good for understanding the motivations of a candidate you plan to hire on a permanent basis, but can be off-putting for candidates interviewing for a temporary, freelance, interim, or contract role. In this case, you are looking to bring their expertise into your company for a limited period of time and your job interview should be more like screening a supplier than finding someone totally invested in working for your company, for example.
A final thought on this subject: when asking questions in an interview, we advise making it as natural as possible, rather than seeming like a tick-box exercise. Free-flowing conversations can put the candidate at ease and get them to open up more but making sure you have those questions in mind provides some structure to the interview and can help make your post-interview decision more objective which is especially important if you are deciding between several candidates.
Tip 2: Ask situational-based questions
Using questions such as ‘tell me about a time when…’ in a job interview allow the candidate to talk about their previous experience and successes, giving you an opportunity to see whether they would be a good fit culturally. They can also allow you to assess candidates’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Past successes can be a good indicator of future success too!
But beware of the cliché questions such as ‘what is your greatest weakness’. Let’s be honest, who really answers that truthfully? It’s also a subjective question because different people will have their own opinions of whether something is a strength or a weakness depending on their own experience and background.
In our experience, cliché questions such as these can make you look generic and can put the candidate off, which is the last thing you want when talent is scarce. Think about what you are actually trying to achieve with such questions and maybe find another way to tease out that information.
The following are just a few examples of situational-based questions that we find work well
- Tell me about a time you made a process more efficient. How did you go about it and what was the outcome?
- Tell me about a time you had to deliver bad news to a team member. How did you approach that conversation?
- Have you ever missed a deadline? What was the impact and what would you do differently next time?
- Tell me about a time you had to deal with conflict with a colleague.
- How do you prioritise work when working on multiple projects?
However, be aware that some candidates, especially junior ones, might not be familiar with this type of interview. These questions can also be hard to answer, so make sure you give them time to reflect on the question instead of prompting them to rush their answer. Also, be prepared to ask follow-up questions to properly understand the specifics of the situation they describe.
The situations they choose to describe will give you a good insight into what they find challenging or stressful too – it’s not the same for everyone!
If you are interviewing entry-level talent, they might not have relevant work experience to draw on in order to answer these questions to encourage them to think about a situation they might have experienced within a sports team or similar instead.
Some things to look out for in the answers include a general lack of specificity – if a candidate can’t give specific detail, it could be a sign they’re making it up. If a candidate who already has a good amount of specific work experience can’t come up with an example, maybe they’re not enthusiastic about their job.
Tip 3: Review candidate CVs before the job interview
If you can go into your job interview with prepared questions based on the candidate’s CV, you’re showing them you’ve taken some time to understand their situation. Not only does this help avoid potentially embarrassing questions that clearly have answers on the CV, but you’re showing interest in the candidate, which immediately generates rapport and can help keep them interested in your role.
Too many times we’ve heard back from candidates who have gone to a job interview that the interviewers asked “so where did you study”. In our experience, this has largely been down to rather inexperienced interviewers trying to make conversation with the candidate and relax the situation, but especially when you are interviewing for a senior role, it doesn’t reflect well on you, leading to those awkward or embarrassing situations.
If it is a relaxed situation you’re looking to create with these kinds of questions, think about whether you have any alumni from that same institution, for example, and turn the question around to something like “I see you studied at xyz, we actually have a few employees who also studied there” then leave room for them to respond.
Not only will this contribute to a relaxed atmosphere but you’re already building rapport with them and giving them an opportunity to think about what it might be like working for your company by pointing out these potential connections.
In addition to reviewing their work and educational background, skim the CV for keywords that have been used in your job ad as this can be a clue that they have tailored their CV for this specific role, highlighting their interest in this opportunity. If it does not contain any of the keywords and the CV feels a bit generic, it could be a clue that they have been applying to many roles and therefore might not have the same level of interest in your role.
The following are some other things that could be worth reviewing, if they have not already, to prompt questions during the interview:
- While you are skimming for keywords, pay attention to the spelling and grammar of the CV. Easily avoidable mistakes could display a lack of attention to detail.
- Are there any long gaps in their employment history and if so, can they explain them?
- Have they moved jobs rather frequently? Unless they were working as a freelancer, this could also be a red flag marking a lack of commitment.
- Does their CV align with their LinkedIn profile? Maybe they’ve tailored their CV for this role, which is great, but if their CV is quite different from their LinkedIn profile, why?
Tip 4: Look for non-verbal cues during the job interview
So much of what we communicate isn’t actually to do with the words we speak. Eye contact, body posture, smiling, tone of voice, and even the clothes we wear can communicate interest or disinterest in the situation.
Looking for these non-verbal cues can help you understand the candidate more, though be careful not to make too many assumptions! Also, be careful to make sure your non-verbal cues are giving off the right message.
Some things we would advise considering include:
- What is their posture like? Are they sitting up straight or are they slouching in their chair? Do they seem interested, or do they seem bored? Are they fidgeting? Having a poor posture or fidgeting too much can be a sign of disinterest or lack of confidence. Leaning back in the chair can be a sign of arrogance or disinterest, whereas leaning forward shows engagement and a willingness to learn.
- Are they making eye contact with you or are they barely glancing at you? Good eye contact can convey openness and interest, while a lack of can convey anxiety or insecurity.
- Excessive nodding. While everyone nods as an affirmation of something that’s been mentioned, doing it excessively can be a sign your candidate isn’t actually listening to what you’re saying.
- Interrupting you. Ok, so an interruption is a verbal action, but the non-verbal cue is that whatever they have to say is, in their opinion, more important than what you are saying, which could signal potential future issues with the management of this person.
Allowing a certain buffer for nervousness is ok, but if the candidate is clearly disinterested or throwing off some other vibes, maybe they’re not the candidate you’re looking for.
In some cases it can be appropriate to ask them about these non-verbal cues because rather than assuming their body language means one thing, it could be that it means something else in their culture, for example. This can also give you an idea of how they might react under stress. Don’t overdo it though, you don’t want to totally put the candidate off if they are otherwise great!
Tip 5: Make sure you can confidently talk about your company, as well as the role.
As we mentioned earlier, talent is scarce. Any one candidate you see is likely to have several other job interview processes or potentially even offers. Everything you say and do is an opportunity to sell your role and your company.
Familiarise yourself with your company’s mission, vision, and values. See if there are synergies there with what the candidate wants and find an opportunity to point that out. Company perks and benefits are also great selling points so be sure to cover them too.
On the other side, everything you can’t say about your company – if the candidate asks an easy question that you can’t answer, for example – is an opportunity for doubt to be introduced in the candidate’s mind.
The questions the candidate asks should help reveal what they consider important in a job too, and display their overall interest in the position.
Some questions we find many candidates have on their minds include:
- Why is this role open now? – maybe the previous person was fired or quit, or maybe they were promoted to a new role. Either way, make sure you can offer a good explanation and cover off any potential follow-up questions. Just as we would advise a candidate not to bad mouth a former employer, we would say the same for you about a former employee. Regardless of the truth of the situation, introducing negativity can sour the conversation and give cause for doubt about your company
- What are some of the challenges I would face in the role? – let’s be honest, most people like a bit of a challenge, no one really likes to be bored, so if you get this question from a candidate, it’s a good sign! If you are not sure what the challenges might be, reach out to people in a similar role to see what they would say. Think about linking those challenges to the rewards you offer too. For example, maybe multiple projects being run at once could be a challenge, but maybe you offer bonuses based on project achievements.
- How are criticism and feedback offered and accepted in this team? Most candidates are looking for a place where they can thrive so if you get this question, they might be trying to evaluate whether the feedback strategy is designed to be constructive and help them develop.
- What is the main reason employees stay or leave your company?
- What is your approach to flexible working? We are seeing this more and more since the pandemic shifted working patterns as candidates put more focus on work-life balance. If you are not already offering flexible working initiatives, it might be time to consider it if you want to remain competitive!
There you have a quick overview of what you can do, and what to look out for, in a job interview and hopefully secure the talent you need. Let is know if it helped!