Job Applicant Interview Tips

How to conduct a job interview

Here’s your chance to get to know a potential employee and to gauge whether they would “fit” into your organisation. Have a plan and have questions prepared.

1. Make a short list of applicants 

There is little point interviewing everyone who applies; this will only put a strain on your time.

Give applicants clear instructions when inviting them to an interview. Make sure they know:

  • Where you are and how to get there.
  • What they should bring with them.
  • Who they should ask for.
  • How long the interview is likely to last.

Give yourself enough time between interviews to consider an applicant’s performance before sitting down with the next one. Make notes during and after the interview. That extra time will also help relax applicants: they won’t be idling together in the waiting room or feel they are being hurried through the interview so you can meet a timetable.

If it’s possible, have another employee or a business partner join the interview. If the position requires a particular skill it will be useful to set the applicant a short skills test.

2. Find a quiet space

Always find a quiet, private room to conduct the interview. Your applicant will most likely be anxious about the interview process and you need to make sure that they are comfortable. Ask your candidate if they’d like water or coffee, it’s a very simple way of putting them at their ease and, hopefully, more honest.

  • Thank them for applying and coming in for an interview.
  • Briefly describe your business.
  • Briefly describe the role they would be playing in your business.

3. What to ask your potential employee

A job interview should not be considered as “just a chat” with an applicant, stresses Kevin Chandler, executive director of Chandler Macleod. Equally, it’s not suitable to run the interview as an interrogation or to play out any “good cop/bad cop” style scenarios. Nor should you talk too much.

Your role in the interview is to identify the applicant’s underlying job skills and give them a clear picture of what working for your business would involve.

With a crowded job market, Chandler, an organisational psychologist, is quick to remind businesses that the interview process also allows the candidate to review your business. You may offer them work but ultimately the decision whether to accept is theirs.

When interviewing, you are looking to learn about the candidate as a rounded individual. Ask about their family and leisure activities: how do their interests and values complement your business. Let the applicant talk: the more you speak the less you’ll learn about your applicant.

4. Ask open-ended questions

Standard questions will only elicit standard answers. Andrew Staite, executive general manager with Hudson’s, stresses the need for open-ended questions that require the applicants to tell the full story of their employment history.

It’s easy for an applicant to exaggerate their abilities in a letter; it is more difficult to maintain these false claims in an interview situation. Ask about specific roles and actions that they have undertaken in previous employment.

Staite’s experience has shown that employers tend to “hire on skills, fire on fit”, so it’s very important to focus on more than just applicant’s skills during an interview.

You’ve short-listed the candidate according to the skills set out in their resume, so the interview should be primarily about determining whether the person would “fit” into your business. Closed questions that limit candidates to yes/no answers also limit your opportunities to learn more about them. Similarly, avoid leading questions that suggest what you want to hear.

5. Expect them to answer:

  • Why have they applied?
  • Why did the advertisement sound interesting? 
  • Are they genuinely interested in working for your business and industry or are they simply seeking any work? Are they more focused on another aspect of your industry?
  • What do they expect to be doing?
  • Do they have realistic expectations of what the job entails?
  • What stage of their career do they expect to reach in the next five years?
  • Are they committed to this line of work? Are their career goals compatible with the work you are offering?
  • Why are they leaving their current job?
  • Are they looking for change? Have they advanced as far as they can in their current workplace? – Have there been problems between the applicant and their current employer? Are they just looking for a higher wage?
  • What hours are they prepared to work?
  • Are they willing to work overtime? Are they only seeking work during particular hours, such as nine to five?
  • How would they handle a hypothetical work situation?
  • Can they approach everyday working problems in a suitable and logical way?

6. Ask about gaps

Question any gaps on an applicant’s resume. Never make any assumptions about an extended gap. It could be the indicator of a number of things, including a jail sentence!

An extended gap could also mean the applicant’s skills are out of date.

Applicants should be able to answer your questions without sounding scripted. Try to prompt genuine answers to your questions rather than simply listening to what they believe you want to hear.

You should expect the candidate to have questions for you. It’s a fairly standard way for them to display their interest in the job and show that they’ve actually thought about it.

If you’re concerned that a question may be interpreted as discriminatory, don’t ask it. You cannot ask questions relating to religion, sexuality, age, race, national origin or disabilities. Even if the job unavoidably excludes certain people, be sure to pose your questions directly relating to the position. For example, you can’t ask about a person’s religion, but you can ask whether applicants are available to work on the weekends.

7. Final check before hiring

Don’t contact the candidate’s current employer unless the candidate has given you permission to do so. You could jeopardise their current working situation because they might not have told their employer they are seeking a new job.

Staite advises that you should never call call a referee directly on the number provided by your candidate. There are ways to make sure the referee is a creditable source of information.

Call their business through the receptionist so you can be sure of the referee’s job description and level of authority. A direct line could dial through to anywhere; the “genuine referee” could be your applicant’s best friend.

If the job requires specific qualifications, check these with the relevant industry bodies and organisations. Many educational facilities have strict controls on access to student records, so it could be difficult to verify qualifications. Ask to view school or graduation certificates.

Scrutinise the candidate’s entire work history. It can be illuminating to ask how old they were when they got their first job: it can show initiative and early entrepreneurship. However, you know the cliché: the best indicator of future performance is past performance’.

This catchcry of recruitment is echoed by both Chandler and Staite. You do not simply want to know whether the candidate could perform the duties expected in your business, but how well they related to other employees in previous jobs and the circumstances under which they left.

8. Check all references

See our reference checklist provided VECCI, from the VECCI HR Toolkit, a tool for monitoring and managing a broad range of human resource issues. The HR Toolkit covers Recruitment and Selection, Employment Conditions and Benefits, Employee conduct and performance, Equal Employment Opportunity and Privacy, and Occupational Health & Safety and Employee Welfare.



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