Employers  / How to Interview Candidates

How to Interview Candidates

You really want to get the best out of an interview as it’s such an important step in the employee selection process. If done effectively, the interview will enable the employer to properly determine whether the applicant will be reliable and successful in the role. You have to gather as much information as possible in such a short period of time, so preparation is key. No one wants to be grilled, remember job interviews can be incredibly stressful enough for most people already. If you take some simple steps to make the candidate feel comfortable you will get so much more as the candidate will perform much more naturally and you will be able to make a more informed choice. You are also representing your organisation during an interview, so remember to always be respectful and courteous. The following categories will help you to prepare in a professional maner.

Interview Questions

Interview questions should be exactly the same whether you are doing a face to face or virtual interview. Don’t ever wing it, it’s unprofessional and can get you in hot water legally. Have questions prepared to help you keep the interview on track and fair to all those being interviewed for the role.

As with all interviews, it really helps to put the candidate at ease with an easy discussion at the beginning. Maybe start with introducing yourself and giving an overview about the job on offer. I like to advise the interviewee at the beginning that we’d prefer to have a discussion, rather than an inquisition. This way we can both get the best from the interview process. You can also start by asking how they are and what attracted them to the role on offer?

From there, you can move onto the more formal interview questions to determine their skills, prior work history and also add some behavioural-based interview questions, that will allow you to delve deeper in the way the candidate has used critical skills in previous positions.

Behavioural Based Questions

With behavioural based questions, you are trying to encourage candidates to think on their feet and for them to tell you how they have handled specific work related challenges in the past. It gives you a very good indication of their understanding of the challenges in everyday work life and how they will cope in certain situations.

Here’s some examples;

“Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer and what you did to resolve the issue?”

“Can you tell me about a time when you were under pressure in work and you didn’t know what to do?”

“I notice that you worked at …… on your CV, can you tell me what was the most difficult challenge you have faced while working in that role and how did you handle it?

“What did you best like about your role at ….. and why?”

“If you were working in a team and you had some tight deadlines to meet, but you noticed that one team member is not working as hard as they should and you are concerned that the deadline might not be met, what would you do?”

Have you ever worked in a team that had disagreements? How did the team resolve the differences and what part did you play?

Remember, just because a candidate has done the job before does not mean that they were good at it, or that they were passionate about the role.

You could also describe a situation that they are likely to encounter in this role and ask them how they would handle it.

Preventing Biases

While many companies have diversity hiring programs in place, with the greatest of intentions, the opportunity to create a diverse workforce lies with hiring managers.

Unless hiring managers are totally unbiased during the interview process, managing to have a diverse workforce hangs in the balance.

It’s also a proven fact that most hiring mistakes are made in the first minutes of an interview. Unconsciously, interviewers can rely on first impressions, personal biases, stereotyping and their own prejudices. Therefore proper training needs to be put in place to prevent this.

It is important that interviewers take into account the fact that some candidates can fake and act better than others, fooling an interviewer that is happy to go on first instinct. They should also be mindful that other candidates who may have the perfect skills and competencies for the job may be nervous at interviews. It could also take them a while to feel comfortable in the interview setting, but that certainly doesn’t mean that they cannot do a brilliant job if they were offered the role.

Ensuring Everyone Gets a Fair Shot

The very best interviewers ensure that each candidate gets the very best chance at showing their true competencies, ability and skills for the role. They prepare a list of questions that all candidates will be asked. Following a strict format will ensure that you get to see each candidate’s true potential and also any shortcomings that they have. You will probably find that some candidates are far stronger than you first imagined, while others are not as strong as you initially thought. Everyone has biases both consciously and subconsciously, the only way around it is to have a clear format and framework during the interview process to overcome them.

Phone Call Interviewing

Some organisations use phone call screening as an initial part of the screening process although more recently recruiters are relying on phone interviews more, as face to face interviews are not possible. Give clear instructions in an email to the candidate well in advance regarding when and on what number you will call from. It is important that you have prepared some questions and that you take notes as you would in a normal face to face interview.

Video Interviewing

Video interviewing is not new to everyone, but for many it will certainly be a first. It may involve some upskilling to ensure that you don’t run into any technical issues. Being unprepared can reflect poorly on you and your company, so familiarize yourself with the technology in advance and it will pay off.

You’re probably going to be conducting the interview from your own home now if you’re not in the office, so ensure that you choose the most professional position in the house, away from personal notice boards in the background or noise from pets and other occupants. Let other people in the house know that you are doing an interview, so that they don’t disturb you during that time.

Again, give clear instructions in an email to the candidate well in advance. Whether you’re using Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts or any other conferencing platform keep in mind that the candidate may not be familiar with the technology you choose. You may need to advise them to download the software and give them enough notice to prepare. You should also give them your direct dial contact details should they encounter any problems connecting.

If conducting back to back virtual interviews, arrange separate links for each interview so that there’s no confusion.

Setting Expectations After the Interview

It’s important to let candidates know the plan of action is following the interview. For example you could let them know if; there will be follow up interviews you will be doing any additional tests you will be shortlisting candidates further you are expecting to make a decision soon and if so a guideline to when

Also let them know how they will be contacted. You may also want to check at this stage for the contact details of any references they will be providing and if they have a salary expectation that they want to discuss.

Reference Checking

There are mixed opinions around reference checking. For certain roles it is an absolute requirement, particularly where employees are working with vulnerable people or where they are in charge of finances, as is Garda Vetting. You must also be aware that some ex-employers will be reluctant to give references at all and are not legally obliged to provide a reference in the first instance.

Many companies have very strict policies with regard to giving references, some large organisations will only confirm start and end dates and the job title that the worker held. They are also mindful of data protection legislation which provides that employees have a right to see and be provided with a copy of any reference created.

All employers have a duty of care to an existing or previous employee, to ensure that reasonable care is taken in preparing or giving references. If provided the information must be true, fair and accurate. Employers must consider certain factors when deciding whether to provide a reference which includes previous custom and practice and whether the employee can be reasonably expected to enter in that particular class of employment without the reference. If relevant, it would be very difficult for the employer to refuse to provide the reference as it could cause HR/IR issues. Employers should have a clear policy in place for their organisation in relation to providing references and it should apply to all employees.

Phone References

If possible, references should not be given over the phone. In the case of follow-up calls, no further information should be provided other than that already contained in the reference. The policy itself should set out the format of references and what information they should contain. In this regard, employers might consider providing only a basic statement of employment, which provides the bare minimum of factual information. As mentioned previously, this might include information as to the position which the employee held and the dates in which they were employed. Finally, it is also advisable to maintain a record of all references provided, ensuring that the record meets the obligations regarding retention of documents under the data protection legislation.

Telling someone they Didn’t Get the Job

This is a difficult one but unfortunately cannot be helped. Every candidate that applies for a job will appreciate that there will multiple applicants and some who may be more suitable or qualified for the job than them, so they won’t be shocked if they don’t get the job. It still doesn’t make the job any less pleasant for a recruiter.

Telling someone they didn’t get the job is one of the less pleasant tasks in recruitment. You should aim to break the news to candidates in a professional, sincere, and constructive manner. For candidates who have not been called forward for interview, a sincere email in a timely manner will be appreciated and is perfectly acceptable. Our candidate management system will help you to set up a template so that you can do this very quickly. Candidates who have been called for interview however may require more feedback. Some interviewers will call candidates, particularly if someone has reached the final stages and dependent on the length of the screening process. If calling unsuccessful candidates, try to do it as soon as you can. Thank them for their interest in the role and for their time in participating in the process. It’s better if you tell them up front that on this occasion unfortunately they were unsuccessful and then you can continue to give them feedback. Use phrases such as “the successful candidate had more experience in the area of x,y,z”. Ensure that you are familiar with and follow your company policies with regard to giving candidates feedback. If there’s a possibility that future suitable vacancies may be in the pipeline, explain this to the candidate and that you will keep their CV on file should they wish to be considered. It also softens the blow to wish the candidate well with their future job hunt. Successful recruitment is about future planning, keeping a pipeline of possible suitable candidates really helps to not only fill future roles quickly but will also save the company time and money.

Hiring Family & Friends

Knowing candidates can be great as you know the persons’ abilities and competencies and also in some cases their shortfalls. But it is important to consider the difficulties that you might face if things don’t work out. It’s important to ensure that people known to you are assessed for their skills and assigned appropriate roles that play to their specific strengths and talents. Where possible it also makes sense to have an independent person supervise and monitor their work so that there is no conflict of interest.

In large companies there may be policies and procedures in place to address conflict of interest so make yourself aware of these, but it is very common in smaller businesses, particularly family businesses for employees to know each other personally. When interviewing a person known to you or other employees you should always follow a formal interview process in line with current legislation and keep relevant HR files.

Watch out for and be aware of the following; The transition from friend / relative to you being their boss can be difficult, if they underperform will you be able to fire them and remain friends.

Consider other employees, will you be able to keep a completely fair work environment without nepotism or favouritism – would having a friend or relative on your team undermine morale among the team?

Are you prepared for the emotions that could come into play?

You will need to set strict boundaries if it is to work professionally – is the candidate acceptable to that?

There are some positives though, for example in family businesses where generations have been reared through the business, they may have a very good understanding of how things are done having been exposed to the business from a young age. They may already have a relationship with your customers.

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