Leading an interview is quite a responsibility. It is up to the leader to conduct a professional interview and ask the right questions to ensure the best candidate is selected. What’s more, if a job interview is not conducted professionally, or the hiring process is less than smooth, there is a good chance a stellar candidate will be lost to a competitor who made a better first impression.
This article explains how to guide an interview expertly. It covers how to manage an interview panel, what type of interviews you can use, what questions to ask, and explains proper interview etiquette so that potential candidates feel respected and ready to join your team.
The interview process begins way before the short-listing stage. It starts when the hiring manager needs a new hire and creates a job description. The job description is based on an ideal candidate profile.
An ideal candidate profile is typically created through collaboration between the hiring manager, executive managers, and human resources. These three arms of an organization are responsible for deciding what type of position the hiring manager needs (full-time, part-time, contract,) the level (entry, mid-career, professional, and the compensation and salary.
The ideal candidate profile should also list the skills, education, and experience the new hire should have along with characteristics that fit the job and the company culture (for example, excellent communicator, preference to work independently, bold innovator).
The person leading the interview should share the ideal candidate profile with the interviewers well ahead of the interview and the candidate’s information (resume, cover letter, etc.).
If panel interviews are used, who is selected to be on the interview panel is likely to be a decision made jointly by human resources in conjunction with the hiring manager.
As the leader of the interviews, a preliminary meeting with all of the interviewers will inform them of the interview structure and their role as panel interviewer. Each interviewer should prepare questions that will help to identify whether job candidates have the desired skills, experience, and characteristics.
The direct manager and human resources will likely decide what format the interview will take. Interviews can be conducted in person, over the phone, or through online conference tools like Zoom. The advantage of an online video interview is that it can be recorded and played back later.
Common interview formats are structured, unstructured, and hybrid. All of them attempt to expose a candidate's experience and character.
In a structured interview, the interviewer asks candidates a fixed set of specific questions and does not deviate from them. This rigid method can simplify evaluating one candidate against another using a scoring system, but it does not allow candidates the opportunity to show off their uniqueness or for interviewers to ask follow-up questions.
Unstructured interviews use a conversational style of interviewing. Interviewers have the latitude to follow their curiosity and ask various questions. The danger here is that there is room for bias to creep in. Interviewers can pursue lines of questioning that they alone are interested in, and there is the risk of deviating from the core criteria muddying any evaluation system.
Hybrid interviews use a mix of a structured and unstructured format. Interviewers must use their judgment to know when to stay with a line of questioning and when to delve deeper to better understand a candidate’s responses and the reasons behind them.
A scoring system will help to evaluate each candidate’s competency against the desired traits defined by the ideal candidate profile. For example, if one of the traits in the desired candidate is that they are a bold innovator, a good question might be the following:
“Tell us about a time when you came up with an innovative idea. What happened? Did you pursue it? What were the results?”
Each interviewer would rate the candidate’s answer on a scale of 1 to 5 or 1 to 10, depending on how they perceived them as innovators based on their answer.
The same process is followed for each trait. After the interview, the scores are tallied to determine how well the candidate matched all the desired traits. Of course, there will be other factors to consider when comparing candidates, such as their qualifications, experience, personality, and expectations.
Also, interviewers should note the body language of candidates. For example, a candidate that is nervous and fidgets might not be a confident presenter. Or, a candidate who leans back casually in their chair might be over-confident and not really concerned about landing the job.
Many interviewers forget that they should impress the candidate just as much as the candidate wants to impress them. The interviewers represent the company, and they should use their own self-awareness to conduct a professional and effective interview. Their behavior could affect a candidate's decision when and if a job offer is extended.
Before the interview, the candidate should receive any information that they need, such as directions, the names of the people they will be meeting, what they can expect at the interview, and the timeline for the recruitment process.
Transparency builds trust, and the candidate will appreciate knowing when they will hear from the company about any selection decisions.
It's also a good idea to ask the interviewee if there is anything they would like you to know before the interview. For example, they might want to tell you if they are hearing impaired or have other challenges. They might want to volunteer that they are autistic. These are all sensitive issues that you should not ask directly. However, you can allow the candidate the opportunity to volunteer any information that would help you better accommodate their needs.
If an interview is poorly conducted, the interviewers are unprofessional, or the hiring process itself is cumbersome and unpleasant, the perfect candidate may turn down a job offer in favor of a competitor. Consider the effort Google puts into its recruitment process and how many talented techies Google attracts.
So, what are the rules of the road for interviewers so that they can project the best image for their company?
Be welcoming and approachable.
Be on time for the interview.
Offer candidates something to drink.
Give the candidate your complete attention (don’t check your phone, watch, or computer)
For long interviews, offer the candidate breaks.
Give the candidate all the assistance they need—let them know exactly what to expect before the interview, introduce all the interviewers, and give the candidate ample opportunity to ask questions.
If the candidate struggles with any question, rephrase it so that they can better understand what you are asking.
After the interview, let the candidate know what the next steps are and how long it will be until they hear from you.
It’s fine to take notes when someone else is asking a question, but you should give the interviewee your complete attention when it is your turn. It can be distracting and off-putting if the interviewer is constantly taking notes.
Before you begin asking questions of the interviewer, take the time to market the company and the position to the candidate. This shows your company is not so arrogant to think that every candidate will, without question, want to come and work there. Show that your company cares about its employees, their opinions, and their wellbeing.
Also, briefly outline the role that the candidate will be asked to fill and the responsibilities of the position. If it is a panel interview, each interviewer should introduce themselves and how they relate to the position.
The questions that are asked of the interviewer depend on what traits and skills are being sought in the candidate. But there are different types of questions that steer the candidate toward revealing more about themselves.
These questions are quick and to the point. They are designed to verify information. They may not even be necessary if they have already been covered in a preliminary phone screening interview or if the candidate’s resume or job application already answers the question. Don't waste the candidate's time here.
Examples of these types of questions are the following:
What were your dates of employment with X company?
What were your responsibilities?
Have you ever used X software?
As you might guess, opinion interview questions ask the job seeker for their perspective on a subject or situation. These open-ended questions can reveal more about a candidate’s character and how well they might get on with others considering the company culture.
Examples of opinion questions are the following:
What type of work environment do you prefer? For example, working remotely and independently, or working in the office on a team project?
What draws you to our company?
Some consider that the best way to understand how a candidate might behave in the future is to find out how they behaved in the past. Behavioral interview questions ask the candidate to describe a real situation from their past and to explain how they dealt with it. It’s a way of assessing more of the soft skills of candidates and whether they will be successful in the new role.
Examples of situational questions are the following:
Tell me about the last time you received negative feedback and how you responded to it.
Tell me about a time when a team project didn’t go as planned. What did you do? What was the result?
Important: Never ask questions about age, marital status, sexual preference, religion, or political leanings.
Which interviewer will ask what questions should ideally be decided before the interview. However, if the interview is unstructured or hybrid, it can be difficult because an interviewer might want to delve a little deeper into a subject. In this case, the leader of the interview should keep everyone on track by allowing each interviewer to ask their questions in turn.
After each interview, check in with each interviewer to make sure everyone is happy with the structure and the list of questions. You may have to tweak things but bear in mind that each candidate deserves the same treatment, and your rating system might be affected by any changes.
How you treat candidates and your interviewing techniques will affect your company’s reputation regardless of the outcome of the interview. If you conduct a good interview and the candidate is impressed with your company, they will tell others and boost your reputation as an employer.
Always thank candidates for interviewing with you and let them know the next steps with the hiring decision or send them a rejection email as soon as you can.
Related: “3 Ways to Integrate New Employees”
Conducting interviews is a skill and not an easy one at that. If you expect to be leading interviews, consider taking a course on interviewing techniques or seeking the help of a career professional to avoid costly hiring mistakes. A third party can provide excellent advice on leading interviews, screening candidates, and structuring questions so that you find talented new hires who are keen to accept your job offer.