Employer Recruitment Advice

The Importance of Interview Technique

Interviews have been the hardest part of the hiring process throughout their history. It is estimated that a good percentage of staff turnover is caused by bad hiring decisions due to the cost to the company in the region of one-third of a new employee’s salary to recruit them, a manager’s time, and training. An interview will be a vital part of the selection procedure, and whilst other techniques such as psychometric testing or assessments may also be used, it is likely that the interview will determine who is successful. As such, don’t take chances with the interview, It is important to make sure where possible that the hiring choice made is the right one.

The best interview techniques for employers are challenging. Mistakes can compromise your judgement, from cognitive biases to lack of proper preparation, and they may have serious consequences.

You and your colleagues are sitting opposite a candidate who has stood out throughout your recruitment agency checks and the initial ‘CV sifts’. But now you’re at the interview stage how do you decide if they really are right for the job?

Learning how to conduct an interview is, therefore, essential.

With targeted interview techniques and questions of course. It’s the old HR saying again:

Ask right to hire right.

How to strengthen your interview objectives

As an interviewer your objectives should be laid out when you first recognise the need for a new employee for the position you looking to fill. Those objectives should be in line with your companies wider recruitment strategy, supporting your overall corporate strategy and goals.

Start by clearly laying out what you need, both now and according to your companies corporate strategy.

Ask yourself:

  • What responsibilities will the role involve and what skills will be required to manage those responsibilities?
  • What soft skills does your current team have and what type of person will work well with them?
  • Are your expectation specifications realistic to the market and potential candidates available. If not, do you need to reconsider the job role, salary or benefits?
  • Is there a certain timeframe by which you need the new hire to start?

Once you’ve answered those questions, you should lay out your objectives so they fit a framework:

How to ask a candidate about their experience

Asking a candidate about their previous roles gives you the opportunity to dig a little deeper into their CV. You’ll want to understand how the candidate achieved those fantastic results for their previous company and what were the most valuable lessons they learnt. Dig deep about work durations, to confirm start and finish dates as well as the properties and the companies they worked for. This can pick-up any anomalies.

Possible example question”

“How do you stay up to date with industry trends? Please can you give me an example when staying current has helped you.”

This is a great interview question for employers looking to understand a candidate’s dedication to continuing professional development. Hopefully the candidate’s answer will demonstrate previous experiences where their techniques for self-learning have helped them stay on trend and succeed in their role.

“What has been your biggest career success?”

Here you’re looking to find out what the candidate considers to be their most important achievement – and whether they take into consideration the relevancy of this achievement to the role you’re hiring for. This sort of question can also help to boost the confidence of some candidates by giving them a topic that lets them shine and talk about the best work they’ve completed.

Request a presentation at interview?

There are several reasons why presentations may be a good idea for your interview process. Ask yourself the next three questions – if you say yes to any of them it may be a good idea to request a presentation at interview.

1: Do you need to test specific communication skills?

It can be all well and good asking a candidate to list the times they’ve used communication to resolve an issue or achieve a task. However, seeing those communication skills in action can be even more beneficial. A presentation can help highlight a candidate’s:

  • Persuasive skills
  • Confidence
  • Ability to communicate clearly and coherently
  • Potential to interact well with the rest of your team

2: Do you need to test their knowledge of a specific area?

If the job role has a focus on a specific area, and you feel you need to get to grips with how knowledgeable the candidate is in that area, then a presentation may be a wise option.

3: Do you need to see how they respond to a brief and how they handle themselves under pressure and in front of others?

A lot of positions will require employees to regularly respond to new briefs. A presentation at interview can give you some insight in to how accurately the candidate interprets a brief and how well they perform under pressure.

Through a presentation you will also be able to gauge how well the candidate prepares according to the brief – have they put thought into their presentation and then executed it well?

We would normally suggest that a presentation, should it be available, be more effective at the second interview stage, when you are making a decision between a few select and shortlisted candidates.

A brief chat before and after presenting will give you the opportunity to ask questions and allow the candidate to look beyond their immediate presentation topic.

Understanding the candidate’s ability

Understanding whether the candidate has the ability to perform in your job role is a vital but also sensitive area of the interview process.

To achieve that you must keep your HR team up to date with relevant employment law, provide them with go-to information on what they can and cannot ask and offer a regular interview.  It’s important to remember that every question you ask in an interview must only be relevant to the job you’re recruiting for. Never make any assumptions about a candidate’s status, gender, ability or disability. We would suggest regular refresher session for anyone involved in the interviewing process is critical to make sure interviewer comply and are up to date with best practice.

Make sure every question you ask is tied to the job role and the job role’s requirements. Carefully plan your questions and use clear language that states the relevance of the question to the job.

Example questions to test a candidate’s soft skills

Testing for soft-skills can be the trickier part of an interview. Typically, you’ll be looking for finer nuances in the candidate’s answer that will flag them up as either suitable or unsuitable for the role. In addition, the questions you ask will need to be carefully tailored to test for specific skills your company looks for.

Some of the typical soft skills organisations may look for in their next new hire include:

  • Initiative
  • Strong communication skills
  • Integrity
  • Leadership
  • Persuasiveness
  • Confidence
  • Planning and pitching
  • Responsiveness
  • Great people management
  • Decision-making
  • Team orientated

One of the best ways to test for soft skills is to use situational questions. Ask candidates for an example of when they demonstrated a particular soft skill, without specifically mentioning the skill. For example:

“Can you tell me about a time when you had to ask for help?”

This question would test the individual’s ability to acknowledge mistakes or difficulties. Being able to ask for help and advice will be an important factor when a new employee is settling into their role.

“Can you describe to me an achievement you’re particularly proud of?”

Here the candidate should, perhaps with a little thought, be able to put forward an achievement that highlights skills relevant to the job. A particularly strong candidate will be aware that you’re looking for them to choose an achievement showing relevant skills. With this question, ask details about the achievement, if they had any particular hurdles to overcome to get there and what impact their achievement had on others.

“Can you tell me about a time when you had to support another team member?”

Your focus with a question of this type will be on the candidate’s ability to work as part of a team. Depending on the role you’re recruiting for, you’ll want to identify: leadership, an ability to form productive co-worker relationships or simply the ability to offer guidance in a structured and professional manner.

Four interesting facts about hiring and interviews

  1. Job benefits can be all important - know what they are and what they will be before you meet the candidate
  2. While the average length of an interview is 40 minutes, lots of experienced interviews know within the first 90 seconds if they will hire that candidate.
  3. The ability to source high calibre candidates who are professional were their top priorities. Hence working with a good agency is vital
  4. Most employees would be motivated to work harder if they received “better treatment from their employer” – including praise and a greater sense of being valued. So, make sure you show how you value your employees during interviews!

More unusual interview questions

Keeping the interviewee engaged is a must, not only in the interview itself but also with your ‘employer brand’.

Employer branding is all about how your company comes across to employees and candidates. If your employer brand is strong, your organisation will be considered a desirable place to work with an appealing work culture. Above all else, your employer brand should be authentic; there’s no point in making false promises to candidates about what your organisation can offer.

At interview stage, your employer brand should be clear and apparent. The candidate should get a feeling for what your company is like. A lot of that will be down to the questions you ask.

Generic interview questions are all well and good – they let you build the foundations in understanding the candidate. However, you’ll want to introduce some questions that grab the interviewee’s attention, gets them excited about working for your organisation and lets you really learn more about them.

One quick way of thinking up some more unusual questions that will challenge and interest the candidate is to turn a more generic question on its head. For example:

Instead of: Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Try: Where do you not want to be in five years time?

Instead of: What attracted you to our organisation?

Try: What kind of working day would inspire you?

Instead of: What do you think is the strongest part of your CV?

Try: If you could change one thing on your CV, what would it be and why?

Samples of Tough Interview Questions

All about You

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone? (Vault)
  • What are you looking for in a job?
  • How would you explain a gap in your employment?
  • Tell us about your proudest moment in your employed life.

Behavioural questions

  • Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
  • Tell us about an instance when you had to deal with a difficult boss or a co-worker.
  • Describe a long-term project that you managed. How did you keep everything moving along in a timely manner?
  • Give me an example of a time when you had to make a split second decision.
  • What do you prefer – close supervision or loose supervision?

Technical questions

  • What technical websites do you follow?
  • Describe the most complex project you have managed
  • What skills do you need to have to pass on your skill more effective?
  • How would you explain your ability to someone that does not understand your skills?

Problem Solving

  • Teach me something you assume I don’t know in the next five minutes.
  • Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or fifty duck-sized horses?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?

Tricky questions

  • What is it about this company that you think needs improvement?
  • How long are you willing to fail at this job before you give up?
  • Do you prefer learning or earning?

Interview mistakes to avoid

Experienced interviewers know that acknowledging them is a vital step to dealing with them.

Here’s 10 things you should try to avoid:

Lack of preparation

Hundreds of articles urge candidates to prepare thoroughly for an interview. At the same time, few remind the interviewer that they must do the same. A candidate that comes in unprepared risks losing one of a number of job opportunities, while an interviewer has more at stake. You may miss out on a chance to a systematic technique to interviewing by recording valuable historical data. Eventually you may also lose a great hire. It’s great if you know what you are looking for. But you can’t always count on “when I see it I’ll know it”. A structured interview takes time to prepare but is one of the best predictors of job performance.

Confirmation bias

When a person formulates an idea or hypothesis in their minds, they will look for a way to validate it. This is confirmation bias and it should be checked. If a hiring manager decides before the interview that a candidate is stellar, they will look for (and likely find) proof of that while interviewing. Meanwhile, due to selective perception, they will be blind to anything negative that contradicts that preconceived idea. This poor interview tactic a sure route to a bad decision.

Halo Effect

Imagine you are awed by a candidate’s engineering skills. They quickly wrote a work procedure that is functional, clean and perfect to look at. Your appreciation of that skill is likely to spill over to other areas in which you are trying to evaluate the candidate. You find that their communication or teamwork skills are deficient, but their negative effect is lessened greatly. You may end up hiring this candidate and find out the hard way that they’re not a good fit in your company.

Social comparison bias

It happens to all of us. People have a tendency to compare themselves with others in every aspect of life. When you perceive that someone is better in some way, feelings of resentment can arise. During the interview, hiring managers may view candidates who they perceive as better than themselves with some degree of competitiveness. This results in negative feelings and no hire for a highly qualified candidate. Being aware of this bias can help you overcome it. Be reminded that this candidate isn’t out to get your job, you will hire them based on potential and the benefits they can bring to the company.

Affect Heuristic

So you and the candidate went to the same high school. You feel the familiarity and enjoy the reminiscence. If you don’t quickly check it, your judgement may be easily clouded and the future decision affected. Luckily, there are remedies for that. The presence of more than one interviewer is likely to reduce the effect of subjective judgement. Most importantly though a structured interview will help you focus on objective criteria.

Rushing to conclusions

Half of employers report they need only five minutes to determine if a candidate is a good fit, according to a recent poll. In such a short time, you will probably be able to tell if they are polite, confident or well-dressed. But are these really correlated to future job performance? Most likely no. It’s important to remember that an interview isn’t a race. You don’t get bonus points for deciding on a candidate quickly. First impressions can easily mislead you and compromise your willingness to ask the right questions or interpret the answers. Try to wait until the end of the interview to formulate your initial judgement. Maybe you will be surprised.

Chasing perfection

Often, hiring managers aren’t really trying to find the best among the interviewees. They are trying to find what they have dreamed as the “perfect” candidate. One that has all the qualifications they asked for and then some, who is diligent, polite, confident and dying to work for them. But such a candidate doesn’t exist. You will probably keep interviewing until the decision becomes urgent. Talented candidates who could’ve been trained to excel, will have found another job. Instead of holding out for “perfection”, be more realistic.

Not knowing what to look for

Interviewers may occasionally rely too much on template questions they found on the internet or heard from others. Sometimes they don’t know what these questions are meant to reveal. You should think about what you are trying to assess when you ask competency based interview questions like how a candidate handled a difficult client. Is it patience, communication skills, problem-solving or all of those qualities together? Being conscious of the purpose of a question is the only way to evaluate the answer. Otherwise, you may end up interpreting it by intuition or disregard it altogether.

Using structured interviews can help you define your requirements early

Not delving deeper into questions

Behavioural interview questions are a modern interviewing technique that is actually more complicated than it appears. Asking one question about a past experience may not tell you a lot about a candidate. You don’t just want to hear their story. You want to understand their way of thinking, how they reached a solution, what was the impact of their actions and how others perceived them. Every time you ask a question, you should be ready to follow up with others until you get to the core of what you need to make an informed decision.

Not “selling” the company

Interviewers can forget sometimes that an interview isn’t only about them assessing the candidate. It’s also a chance to present the company in a way that will persuade the best candidate to accept their offer. This is essential, since someone with strong qualifications will probably have other options to consider too. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should get carried away bragging about your company. A sound benchmark to aim for is 80/20 listening/talking and avoid sounding arrogant or insincere. You should try to make every word count to your favor.

As an interviewer get the most from your meetings

Interviews are an critical and integral part of the recruitment process. The one-to-one contact can provide an in-depth impression of how a candidate would perform on the job. Getting the most out of interviewing is a combination of preparation, suitable questioning and listening.

Methods of interviews

There are a number of different approaches to interviews, an example of which is behavioural event interviewing. This delves into the past and examines how the applicant handled a previous task or duty. This method works on the premise that the way an applicant worked in the past will dictate performance in the future.

Consider criteria-based interviewing. The main advantage of this is the way in which it indicates levels of candidate performance in different areas. This is achieved by constantly testing the applicant's knowledge through a series of rigid and structured questioning. This is an extremely formal but effective way to interview on performance alone. The downfall of this method is that the interviewer needs to be highly skilled in their questioning and there may be a risk that if he or she doesn't probe enough, the whole interview could prove ineffective.


The variety of interview techniques and structures used reflects the number of factors influencing employers. Personal preferences, different objectives and the past experience of the company combine to influence the techniques employed. Planning carefully and employing rigorous questioning and listening techniques can implement all of these methods. You don't have to use fancy techniques though. Here's a simple checklist:

1) Your requirements

Think about the job specification. What specific skills are you looking for, what experience is essential and what is desirable? What are the main duties of your position and what is the scope for career progression within that role? What characteristics are you looking for? Outlining specific requirements will help to define your questions, and uncover relevant information.

2) Analyse the CV and / or application form in advance

Important but easily overlooked when time is at a premium. From the applicant's written details, you can highlight strengths and weaknesses. The CV may also emphasise any gaps or issues that need to be addressed. From this, you can decide on additional areas to probe. You may also want to discover more about the companies that the applicant has worked for, and their role within them. For instance, if the position he or she held was that of supervisor, how many staff where supervised and how did they feel about that? How did they cope? How do they feel about supervising even more staff? Or less? Use the CV to ask relevant questions for your position.

3) Ensure you have a detailed brief of the job specification

Be prepared for questions regarding this, as well as the company itself. If you are assertive in your response, it will give the applicant greater confidence and trust in you, and present you in a professional light. After all, if this is the perfect applicant for your position, wouldn't you like them to have the best impression of you and the company?

4) The interview room

To get the most out of the applicant, it's important to put him or her at ease. Choose a room where you won't be disturbed. If it is to be held in your office, divert your calls and ensure no one interrupts. Imagine how distracting it will be for you and your applicant if the telephone is constantly ringing or if there's a knock at the door. An informal setting will also put candidates at ease. Two chairs at a low table are far less threatening than the barrier of a desk.

Your agenda

Have an agenda prepared for the interview. This will help you remain within your time limit and keep you focused on the questions you need to ask. Have a plan of which questions you need to ask and when – formulate a clear structure to which you can stick.

Before commencing the interview, remember you will get the most out of the applicant when they are feeling at ease. You only have a limited amount of time to achieve this. Introduce yourself, run through the agenda and tell them how long you plan to take. Informing the applicant of what to expect should help to put them at ease. Ask permission to take notes, it is courteous and won't alarm the applicant if you suddenly start scribbling an answer down.

Questioning techniques

Open – who, what, where, when, how and why. Questions that explore and gather a wide range of information.

Probing – specific questions relating to details. Check information gained through open questions.

Closed – look for the answer to single facts, again used for probing.

Hypothetical – "How would you feel if..." - leads the applicant to think on a wider scale. Gives a feel for how the applicant would react, although don't take their answer literally, they may react differently in the event.

Leave a lasting impression

The applicant is not the only one being tested during the interview. It is critical that you make the best impression possible. Applicants form lasting opinions of your company from the interview. Shabby surroundings, a disorganised interviewer, or constant disruptions all reflect badly on the company. As soon as you meet the applicant you are portraying an impression of that company. To exude the desired image be organised, well-presented and on time! Reflect the efficiency you are looking for in your applicants.

Closing the interview

Closing the interview leaves them with their final impression of you. Invite the applicant to ask questions. He or she may need clarification on issues or you may not have covered an area of interest for them. Explain what is to follow next - outline a timescale detailing when you expect to make a decision and when the applicant will be notified. Discuss the interview process. Will there be a second or third interview, will there be a panel interview, can they expect any tests?

And finally...

As soon as you finish the interview, make a quick summary of what you thought, felt and any key points. Outline how you left things with the applicant. It's amazing how much you can forget if you don't do this, especially if you're interviewing more than one person in a day. This will help you when you make your comparisons for second interviews or for that all important job offer.

So, next time you're interviewing a selection of applicants or even just the one, there is no excuse to rush in sweating with absolutely no preparation! Think about the way you want to interview, analyse the CV and job spec, decide what you want to ask and how you want to ask it. Consider the impression you make and take notes. With preparation, you'll become a more successful and efficient interviewer.

The job spec should be a representation of your business, highlighting business strengths, opportunities and giving reason for top candidates to take the time to apply – after all this could be the first piece of communication they may have received from the business, so it needs to make an impact!