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Tue, 01 January 2002

Interviews are the most popular method of assessing, and gaining information about, candidates.
Handled properly, they can be extremely useful and beneficial. Handled badly, they can be a nightmare for all concerned. So how do you ensure that your interviews are successful? As always, the key is planning.

Interview Questions

The questions you ask will be driven by the information contained in the job description and person specification. What are you looking for? How can you gain evidence?

It is said that past performance is the best indicator of future performance, and you should get a truer picture of likely events if you ask for actual examples of behaviour rather than for solutions to hypothetical problems. We all generally know how we should behave (hypothetical answer), the acid test is how we actually behave (actual examples).

For example, if you want information regarding someone’s interpersonal skills, you could ask, 'can you think of a time when someone clearly did not want to develop a working relationship with you? How did you handle the situation?' Alternatively, if you want to check out project management skills, you could ask, 'can you think of a project with which you were particularly pleased? What was so good about it?'.

Questioning in this way gives candidates a chance to relate real-life examples of behaviour, making them feel at ease (no trick questions) and giving you an insight into their work behaviour.

The examples given above are open, probing questions, which are the best fact finders. Beware of using closed questions and never use leading questions.

Interview Structure

Structure is a vital element of the interview for a number of reasons. Firstly, candidates expect you to take control and guide the proceedings. It looks professional and helps to use available time in the best possible way. Secondly, it lets you be confident that you have covered all relevant areas - you can hardly ring the candidate up afterwards and say 'Sorry, but I forgot to ask...'. Finally, it enables you to compare candidates. An unstructured approach may gather a wealth of information, but how can you accurately score it to compare people fairly?

The interview can be broken down into the following stages:
  • Welcome: On arrival, put candidates at ease by using selected ‘small talk’.
  • Supply Information: Give relevant background information on the business, including its objectives, organisation and culture. Clearly state the tasks involved in the job.
  • Acquire Information: Use open-ended, specific questions about the candidate’s background to probe further into their experience and qualifications. If you are not satisfied that the candidate has properly answered your question, it's best to rephrase it rather than simply repeat it. This way, you don’t appear to be bullying.
  • Ask the applicant for questions.
  • Parting: Wrap up the interview by asking if the candidate has anything further to add.
Immediately after the interview, take time to make notes on anything said that is directly relevant to your final decision. Do this while the conversation is still fresh in your mind. The final decision should be based on how closely each candidate matches the person specification for that particular job.

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