From the outside, interviewing looks easy. We think we’re natural pros at it and can do it without preparation. What could be so hard about sitting down with job candidates and asking them questions?
The problem, of course, is that interviewing is anything but “natural.” Effective interviewing requires skills that interviewers must develop and refine over time. These include the ability to build rapport with interviewees, listen actively to what they say, document what happened, and analyze the information collected. The process may not be spontaneous, but it can be learned, practiced, and improved.
In this post, we’ll show you the basics of effective interviewing for the purposes of hiring. By following these guidelines, you’ll be able to obtain more and more valuable information from job applicants while also improving their candidate experience. You’ll also be on your way to mastering a skill that isn’t just useful in the context of filling a job position, but in any situation where it’s necessary to exchange information.
What interviewing actually means
Ultimately, interviewing is a process for exchanging information. An interview is not an interrogation, but a guided conversation in which two people (ideally two, but could be more) learn from each other.
In the context of a job interview, candidates are (at least in theory) just as interested in assessing fit as the interviewers are. They’re evaluating the interviewer(s) and the company they represent just as much as the interviewer is evaluating them.
Types of interviews
Interviews can be structured or unstructured. Structured interviews have a clear objective and are based on a specific set of questions (and examples of what constitutes good answers). Unstructured interviews feature open-ended questions that change based on the person being interviewed.
Job candidate interviews
Additionally, there are different types of job interviews.
- Screening interviews are for assessing candidates’ compatibility and communication skills, clarifying anything that’s unclear in their CVs (like gaps in employment), and verifying if the salary being offered meets their expectations.
- In-depth one-on-one interviews are for evaluating candidates’ experience and job-related skills. They can include behavioral questions (to know how candidates handled past situations), or situational ones (to understand how they would behave in hypothetical scenarios).
- Group interviews with multiple candidates are for evaluating how a candidate behaves in a team; when it’s an employee panel interviewing one candidate at a time, the purpose is to introduce them to the team.
Hiring processes typically include one screening interview (for narrowing down applicants) and at least one in-depth one-on-one interview (for zeroing in on the best candidate or candidates).
How to interview effectively
Time constraints are a reality for most interviews, especially job candidate interviews. An effective interview, then, is one that fulfills the goals of hiring managers and job candidates given their limited time together. Here are strategies for recruiters and hiring managers to get the most out of these conversations:
Preparing for an interview
First, set a goal for the interview. Next, determine what type of interview you will do. Finally, decide what questions you will ask.
- Let candidates know how the interview will go. Send candidates a summary of what the interview will cover so they know what to expect. (For inspiration, check out our post on What to Expect from TextExpander’s 7-Step Hiring Process.) This will increase candidates’ confidence and improve their sense of perceived fairness in the process.
- Learn as much as you can about the candidates beforehand. Review résumés and cover letters in advance.
- Allocate blocks of time for essential topics. This will ensure that you cover all the bases.
- Anticipate candidate questions. Remember, you’ll be expected to answer questions, too — so be prepared to describe the role, explain basic company info, and even answer some difficult questions (see CareerBuilder’s interviewing guide for examples).
- Meet with the interviewer panel before the interview. If others are interviewing with you, get together beforehand to go over the interview outline and ensure that questions don’t overlap.
Conducting an interview
The goal of every interview is to ensure that both you and the other person get the necessary information to make an informed decision. This requires building rapport with candidates so they feel comfortable sharing, expertly guiding the conversation to cover essential topics, and listening actively.
- Make an effort to put candidates at ease. Find a quiet space with no distractions. Greet candidates warmly, give them time to adjust to you (and the space, if you’re meeting in person), and offer explanations for anything that can be anxiety-inducing (e.g., “As we speak, I’ll be taking a few notes on my laptop so you’ll hear some typing. This is to help me remember the things we’ve discussed”). Avoid humor and sarcasm, which can create suspicion and/or confusion.
- Ask good questions. Start with broad questions, then move on to specific ones that elicit short, Yes/No type answers. For example, you might begin with “What are your thoughts on using TikTok to promote our business?” and end with “Would you recommend we use this social media channel?”
- Listen actively. Show you’re present and engaged by nodding, using expressions like “ahh,” and “mm-hmm,” and checking if you understood correctly by paraphrasing, summarizing, or asking clarifying questions. Resist the urge to fill the silence while the candidate is trying to formulate a reply.
- Take notes. Record significant events, impressions, and information. (These notes will help you reflect on the interview and plan your next session.)
- Analyze the information you’re receiving. Did the candidate give you a cliché response? If so, they’re probably not being 100% honest. Are there conflicting facts in their story? Make a note and ask them about it later. Body language is also data — what do you see them do when they are saying what they are saying?
- Ask follow-up questions as needed. Validate assumptions by asking direct questions (e.g. Do you mean…? Are you saying that…?). This will give the interviewee a chance to expand, clarify, or formulate a definitive response, and help you get a more accurate picture.
- Keep your biases in check. Do NOT ask questions that pertain to race, gender, sexual orientation, origin, religion, age, health, and/or physical ability. (Here is a list of illegal interview questions to ask.)
Also, don’t write candidates off based on pseudo red flags. Do this instead:
- If the candidate has a hard time answering a particular question (like, “What’s your greatest weakness?”), try framing it as a behavioral question (for example: “Tell me about a time when you received negative feedback”).
- If the candidate does something “wrong,” such as arrive a few minutes late, pay attention to how they handle the situation. You might get a chance to witness one of their strengths.
Closing an interview
The main thing to know about closing an interview is that the end is the part that matters the most. Ask any therapist; they’ll tell you that the final minutes of a session are when the most meaningful information is exchanged.
- Don’t end abruptly. Let the candidate know that the interview is coming to an end by calmly telling them — don’t tap on your watch or get up from your chair to indicate that the session is over. Schedule another chat if necessary.
- Establish a plan of action. Decide what needs to be done or achieved by both of you. Send a clear, concise summary of the plan so that everyone understands what was agreed on.
Now is the time to look back at your notes, reflect on how it all went, and plan the next session.
- Do what you said you would. If you said you would follow up with the candidate no matter what, do that. If possible, provide helpful feedback to candidates who are not moving forward.
- Identify opportunities for improvement. If you have a video recording of one or more interviews, make time to watch and evaluate your performance. Ask yourself: How good were the questions I asked? How successful was I in making candidates feel comfortable? Make notes on the positives and negatives of each session.
Master the art of interviewing
Interviews can be insightful and illuminating for both hiring managers and job candidates when they’re properly planned and conducted. The strategies outlined in this post are a great place to begin — check out the resource below for more helpful tips.