Five tips for conducting effective job interviews
Whether you need to hire staff for your own business, or you conduct interviews on behalf of a client, it’s important to get the most out of every job interview. As a business psychologist, I have studied selection methods carefully and practised them throughout my working life. Here are some tips on how to maximise the effectiveness of your next interview.
1. Setting up the interview room
Effective interviews demand a formal plan and structure, and yet at the same time you want to come across as friendly and informal. One way of achieving this is to make the interview space less formal – lose the desks and tables and use chairs only. Keep your papers on a clipboard. You want the interviewee to be talking for at least 80% of the time, and an informal setting will encourage this. Talking helps interviewees calm their nerves, and they will become more relaxed as the interview progresses. If you are the only one interviewing, sit at a right angle to the candidate. If it’s two-to-one, sit in a triangle; if three-to-one, sit in a diamond. More than three is too many!
2. Set expectations and agenda at the start
Try to limit the interview to one hour. Spend a minute welcoming the candidate, with introductions and an outline of the format, reassuring them that there will be time for their questions later. The next 50 minutes should be spent acquiring information – ie asking questions. If the interviewee chips in with their own queries during this time, defer them. Allow five minutes for fielding their questions at the end. In the final minute of your allotted hour, tell the interviewee what happens next and, where appropriate, indicate when a decision will be made.
3. Focus on the candidate at all times
I like my interviews to sound like a friendly conversation between two people who have recently met. To achieve this standard, follow the normal conventions of conversation. Look the interviewee in the eye while they are talking (even if you are not the one doing the questioning), and nod to demonstrate that you are listening. Make notes relevant to the job competencies, and learn to write without looking at your paper. This all helps the interviewee relax. Don’t bring application forms or other paperwork into the room – read them beforehand and capture key facts (eg previous employers and dates) on your notepad. Never look at your watch – a clock on the wall behind the interviewee will help you keep track of the time.
4. Learn to probe and follow up
You don’t have to ‘probe like Paxman’, but following up answers with short questions will help clarify or draw out more facts. If you sound interested and curious, the process will feel more like a conversation. Standard probes include: “Could you elaborate?”, “How did you do that?” and “What did you learn?” More tailored probes might include: “What did you do when that happened?”, “When did this happen?” and “How did you cope?” Too many interviews, particularly those based on the popular competency interview technique, sound stilted and unconnected, hopping from one prepared question to the next. Probes help the conversation flow a bit more.
5. Rate independently before you combine your ratings
It is sometimes tempting, on an interview panel, to blurt out opinions as soon as the interviewee has left the room. This can colour the others’ assessments and lead to a premature and skewed discussion of the candidate’s merits (for which reason I have banned the practice). Ask your colleagues to keep their notes and thoughts private until all candidates have been seen. When the interviews have been completed, reconvene with the interviewers and review each candidate separately against job competencies. Try to reach consensus before moving on to the next competency. This makes the process fair, and you are more likely to reach a measured conclusion.
The interview is the most widely practised form of candidate selection, but it often fails to run smoothly, causing stress to interviewers and interviewees alike. These five tips, based on sound psychological research, will maximise your chances of making it a relaxed, effective and fair process.