Try to remember the worst interview you’ve ever had when you were applying for a job. How did it make you feel? Did they get the best out of you? Would you recommend that organisation to a friend or colleague? Would things have worked out better if you’d had interview coaching or was the company at fault?
You can see where I’m going with this. The job interview should be a positive experience for all concerned, a learning experience where the most suitable candidate is enthusiastic to accept, and the other candidates think it’s a brilliant organisation and they hope another opportunity comes up soon. And they tell their friends and colleagues what a brilliant place it would be to work!
So how come most hiring managers would rather visit the dentist than have a day full of interviews? Many companies don’t follow proper protocol during the hiring process, which makes the people doing the hiring have to jump through unnecessary hoops. For example, calling people for interviews without doing due diligence such as background checks or document verification could lead to a mess. It creates more work for hiring managers without getting any work done.
Therefore, the key to getting this positive experience is in preparation, following some basic rules, and being professional. We recommend following these basic steps
Prepare an Interview Guide
This is required both to ensure consistency of approach, minimise the risk of bias, and protect you from claims of an unfair or discriminatory interview. Elements of this can be re-used in subsequent interviews for other roles in the organisation.
The guide should cover what technical and behavioural competencies are being assessed for the role. If you need help coming up with specific questions, don’t hesitate to consult an expert with experience. For example, when hiring for a legal role, you could talk to industry experts such as Alex Gotch and others, in order to collaborate and come up with a list of questions and expectations. Typically, three of each competency would be assessed during an hour-long interview. These must be the same for each applicant, so they all have an equal chance to come across well. A marking scale is useful i.e.
- Outstanding, evidence presented greatly exceeds what is required, showing insight
- Good, provides good evidence of the competency, but lacks clarity or could be improved
- Satisfactory, demonstrates basic competency, but not recent, individual contribution not clear, or part of the normal expectations for that role
- Borderline, supporting evidence incomplete or difficult to interpret what their contribution was
- Poor, insufficient evidence demonstrated, even after prompting
The Interview Day
Ensure that all the interviewers have received all the necessary reading, the job description, the timetable and timing of interview slots, the CVs, the marking guide, and assessment sheets for each candidate. Make sure that reception knows who to expect, and that someone will be required to escort the candidates to the waiting area. Ensure that the interview room will be free from interruptions, provide paper and pens for taking notes, and provide drinking water and some glasses. Arrange the seating to avoid facing across a table; a round table is ideal, or across the corner of a table if not. Name badges for all the interviewers are helpful.
Give the interviewers time to re-read the paperwork, and decide who is giving the introduction, and who is asking each question. Make sure everyone knows the timings, typically 5 minutes for introductions, 5 minutes for general questions, 40 minutes for the structured questions, and 10 minutes wrap-up, candidate’s questions, and next steps
Introduce the Interview
Give the candidate all the information they need to put them at their ease:
- Give the names and roles of the interviewers
- Restate the job role and tell them how long the interview will last
- Explain you will start with some general questions, then move onto assessing the technical and behavioural competencies necessary for success. Tell them that you are looking for specific examples from their work history that demonstrate the competencies being assessed i.e., teamworking, leadership and decision-making
- Tell them that they should structure examples using the STAR framework (Situation, Task, Action, Result)
- Mention that you will be taking notes to ensure that information is recorded accurately, so sometimes eye contact may not always be maintained
- Enquire whether the candidate has any questions about the process
Conduct the Interview
Open with a general question about what attracted them to apply for the position; this will help settle the candidate’s nerves and give some insight into motivation. After this, move onto the structured questions, asking the candidate to give specific examples, and asking follow-up questions if further detail or clarification is required. You may want to probe about learning and insight gained by the candidate from their actions in their example.
You’ll need to be actively listening, should be able to sum up what the candidate has told you, or ask for further clarification. Your manner should be generally encouraging, which will help get the best out of the candidate and get you the information you need to make the correct decision. After each competency, briefly summarise what you heard the candidate tell you to ensure that the note-taking is accurate, but avoid any feedback at this stage
Remember to take notes as the candidate is answering the question; those in the interviewing team who didn’t ask that particular question should be taking the notes. Notes should be factual, accurate and relevant to the question. Evaluation and scoring should not be done during the interview
Thank the candidate for answering the questions and invite them to ask questions themselves about the role or the organisation. This is an important part of “selling” the role and the organisation to the candidate; you want them to know why it’s a great place to work. Explain the next steps and when they can expect to hear about the outcome. This should be as short a period as possible; good companies hire quickly, even if they have a more complex recruitment process.
Right after each interview, compare notes about the candidate, score each question and give the candidate an overall score. You should rank the candidates, decide who will get an offer, which candidates would be a good fit in another role, and which candidates are not suitable. Depending on the number of candidates, a phone call from and follow-up email from one of the interviewers is best practice, giving constructive feedback and thanking them again for their interest. This is not only polite and appropriate, but is an important part of maintaining your organisation’s positive brand i.e., “this is how we treat people”
Hopefully, by following the above, you’ll have enjoyed meeting potential new colleagues and considered the time spent a good investment in the future of the business.