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Tips for conducting a job interview

Getting ready for some facetime with your candidates? Here’s how to prepare.

A company is only as good as its people – so running a successful job interview is a crucial business process. No pressure, right?

If you’re new to hiring, or haven’t interviewed a candidate in a while, this article is for you. We’ll give you a complete rundown of the process from shortlisting to summing up, so you can say with confidence that you left no stone unturned in finding the ideal candidate.

How to conduct a job interview: a checklist for success

1. Do your preparation

Great job interviews don’t just happen, they involve planning. To make the most of your facetime with the candidate:

Make a shortlist: a good shortlist weights the number of suitable CVs you received against the time and resource you have to spare for interviewing. You don’t want to overstretch yourself, or limit your options unnecessarily.

Map out the stages: once you have a shortlist sorted, decide how the process will look. For example, if you have heaps of candidates, you might want to conduct a preliminary phone screen to reduce numbers. If you plan to include a task further down the line, figure out when and what this will be.

Create a schedule: next, decide when you will conduct the interviews. Consider your workload – staggering may be smart so you don’t burn out and give the last interviewees less attention. But don’t leave too long between them or comparisons become more difficult.

Build a degree of flexibility into your plan and give candidates as much notice as possible. Remember they might have time to arrange things like travel and childcare. There may be a need to schedule interviews after hours.

Decide on your panel: it’s often a good idea to have a two-person team when conducting job interviews. This provides a second opinion, and a bit of variety. Bonus tip: try and ensure the same team interviews all the candidates, so you’re comparing apples with apples.

The people are the heart of your operation, so every hire counts.

2. Put the candidate at their ease

When the day comes, put the candidate at their ease. Many interviewees will be nervous, especially if they’re early in their careers, and you’ll get more out of them if they’re feeling confident and relaxed.

Remember you’re trying to impress too – a bad cop routine is unlikely to make someone want to work for you.

3. Have your pitches down

In New Zealand, it’s common for job interviews to kick off with the interviewer telling the candidate a bit more about the role, and the company in general. Useful info to get across includes:

  • The core day-to-day responsibilities of the role.
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Who the applicant will be working closely with.
  • Why you’re hiring for this role now.
  • Top level business goals.
  • Company values – this is huge, especially with Gen Z and millennial employees.

Impress the candidate with a comprehensive description of the role and company.

4. Know the top interview questions to ask candidates

The bread and butter of interviewing, knowing what questions to ask. Generally, you can group job interview questions into three categories:

1. Credential/experience verification questions

  • “Tell me about your past experience and qualifications/Tell me about yourself”.
    “You studied ABC at uni/school, did that include XYZ (important role skill)?”.
    “What was your GPA?”.
    “What were your core responsibilities in your previous role?”.
    “How long have you been in your current position?”. 

These usually come at the beginning of the interview, and give you a useful refresh of the candidate’s CV. They also enable them to expand on the info they provided in their application.

2. Behavioural questions

  • “Tell me about a time you’ve worked well under pressure”.
  • “Tell me about a time you’ve taken the initiative.”
  • “Give me an example of how you’ve worked as a team”.
  • “Tell me about a time you’ve encountered workplace conflict, and how you dealt with it”.
  • “When have you exercised leadership?”.

These questions work on the logic that if someone has behaved in a certain way before, they’re likely to act similarly if that situation arises again.

As well as learning real life examples of how the candidate as an employee, you’ll gain a solid idea of what they’re like as a person. Behavioural interview questions often reveal a lot about soft skills such as leadership, communication and teamwork, all of which are crucial to building a healthy workplace culture.

3. Situational questions

These are similar to behavioural questions, but look to the future rather than being based on past experience. This means you can use situational questions to ask the candidate how they’d deal with the unique challenges of working in your organisation.

For example, if you were recruiting for a graphic designer to be shared across departments, you could ask, “Two departmental heads come to you with collateral they need, but you know you can’t finish both by their respective deadlines – how do you prioritise?”.

Other examples include:

  • “How will you ensure projects run to budget?”.
  • “What would you do if you were asked to perform a task you’ve not done before?”.
  • “How would you deal with customer complaints?”.
  • “Would you own up to a mistake you made if no one noticed it?”.

Bonus tips for asking questions in job interviews:

  • Make notes: the whole exercise is pointless if you forget key answers the moment the candidate stops speaking.
  • Be familiar with the STAR framework: STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result, and is a popular way for candidates to answer behavioural interview questions. Understanding what they’re doing means you won’t interrupt an interviewee before they’re finished responding, and allows you to ask follow up questions.

Making notes will help you compare candidates later.

5. Give them time to ask questions

Your interview needs to be carefully timed to allow the candidate time to ask questions of their own.

To prepare for this part of the interview, put yourself into a job hunter’s shoes. What would you want to know? If they do throw you a curveball and you need to get back to them later with an answer via email, don’t forget!

Common questions for candidates to ask include:

  • More info about the role: how you will measure success, what an average day looks like, why the position became available.
  • Questions about the company: challenges, accomplishments, goals and what makes it a great place to work.
  • Info on opportunities: how you upskill staff, what progression might look like, how often you review advancement.
  • Details on company culture: how the organisation puts its values into practice, company events and groups they can get involved with. 
  • The hiring process: what happens now, and when they should expect to hear from you.

6. Talk about next steps

If the candidate hasn’t already asked, let them know what to expect in the way of next steps. Give them a timeframe for when they should expect communication from your team, and be sure to notify them if this changes due to unforeseen circumstances.

7. Sum up

We recommend a quick debrief with your fellow interviews immediately after the candidate leaves. This gives you a chance to see if you’re on the same page regarding their eligibility, and strengths and weaknesses.

As you move through your shortlist, you can start making comparisons and ranking candidates in order of your preference.

Once you’ve got a firm favourite, the next step is making them an offer they can’t refuse.

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