If you've ever seen a great interviewer in action, you may have the impression that it's easier than it really is. Don't let that mistaken assumption leave you unprepared! It can be very difficult to ask the right questions in the right way so that you get the answers you need to evaluate a candidate. If you want to make sure you're ready, this guide will explain how to conduct an interview.
How to prepare for an interview
Half of what makes a great job interview is what happens before the interview. Here are 7 things to do so that you're prepared.
1. Define the role requirements and write a clear job description
This point may seem obvious, but the nuances shouldn’t be overlooked. Hopefully, you did this before you posted the job description. If somehow you made it to this point without writing a great job description, then now is the time to answer some important questions, like:
- What qualities are you looking for in a candidate?
- What hard or soft skills do other top performers in your organization possess?
- What gaps currently exist on your team?
- What are your deal breakers?
The more you can explicitly define the role and the qualities you’re looking for in a candidate, the easier it will be to know what to ask during the interview.
2. Prepare specific questions for the role in advance
It’s easy to get caught up in conversation during an interview. Having interview questions prepared in advance ensures you cover all the bases you wanted to cover.
Most companies have a base set of questions they ask every candidate and then specific questions for each role. Giving the same base questions to every candidate allows you to compare candidates more directly to each other.
To make sure you elicit answers that help drive your decision-making, use a mix of question types. Use a variety of close-ended questions, open-ended questions, hypothetical questions, and behavioral questions.
For example, asking a behavioral question like “tell me about a time you dealt with a challenging manager” is more likely to dig into how the candidate deals with conflict as opposed to asking them directly how they deal with conflict.
And while it’s good to be prepared, leave room for organic questions that come up naturally. If there’s something in particular that stands out (either positive or negative), don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions.
3. Screen all candidates with pre-employment assessments
The easiest way to have great job interviews is to have great candidates sitting in front of you. But it’s tough to identify the best candidates from their resumes alone. And you'll spend a lot of time reviewing resumes if you don't take a more efficient approach.
Especially if you have a high volume of job applications, which makes it hard to give each resume the attention it deserves. An eye-tracking study showed recruiters spend only 7 seconds on average skimming a resume. But that’s not a winning strategy for identifying the best candidates.
Even if you did have all the time in the world to read every resume from front to back, a resume doesn’t tell the full story. People can embellish their skills or even outright lie on a resume. Pre-employment assessments help solve that problem, giving you a more efficient alternative to resume evaluation.
A pre-employment assessment is a collection of tests given to a candidate as part of the application. You can test candidates on:
- Personality and culture fit
- Cognitive ability
- Situational judgment
- Role-specific skills
- Programming skills
- Software skills
By delivering these assessments to each candidate, you will reduce bias in your hiring process by giving you a view of each candidate that doesn’t depend on a recruiter scanning thousands of resumes. That's because resumes include identifying information that can trigger unconscious bias.
4. Conduct a phone screen or a one-way-video interview before the in-person interview
It’s wise to conduct a screening phone call in advance to filter out any unqualified candidates that made it past the pre-screening phase. You can ask candidates deal-breaker questions about the role and verify facts on their resumes to assess whether they’re deserving of a full interview.
As an alternative, many companies also use video screening questions as a replacement or in addition to a screening call.
5. Schedule enough time for the interview
Once you’ve shortlisted your best candidates, it’s time to schedule the interview!
Depending on the role, you’ll have to decide between an interview that’s in person, over the phone, or over a video call. You’ll also have to decide how much time to allocate for an interview. Junior roles may only take 30 minutes, while more senior roles may take over an hour.
It’s best to have more than one person interviewing the candidate, so be sure to invite a co-worker too.
Tip: Leave yourself enough of a gap in your schedule before and after each interview. You want to be in the right headspace to give your full attention to the interview, and you also don’t want to risk being late. Remember, you’re also trying to impress the candidate.
6. Be transparent with the candidate before the interview
Interviewing for a job is stressful. Making sure your candidate comes to the interview as relaxed as possible makes it more likely you’ll get to know the real them.
Remove any points of stress by letting them know as many details as possible about the interview. Fill them in on the company dress code, who will be present in the interview, and a basic outline of the job interview process.
7. Study up on the candidate before the interview
This is the last but most crucial step to preparing for an interview. Plan to spend at least half an hour reviewing the candidate in advance.
You only have a limited window to get to know each candidate. You don’t want to spend too much of the interview making them repeat what’s on their resume. So it’s wise to review the candidate's information in advance. Get to know their job history, check out their LinkedIn profile, review their assessment results, and review any other materials they may have provided before the interview.
If there are any gaps or confusing points in their resume, you can add them to your list of questions to ask the candidate.
How to conduct the interview
Now that you’re fully prepared, you’re ready to conduct an effective interview. Here’s how to proceed with the interview itself.
8. Remove all distractions
You want to be completely focused on the interview process, giving the candidate your full attention. Before the interview, turn off your phone and any email or chat notifications.
9. Properly introduce yourself & your co-workers
Whether it’s in person or over a video call, start the interview by introducing everyone to each other. Put the candidate at ease by explaining who you are, what your role is, and a little about the company.
You should also lay out what the interview process will look like. Showing you have a plan will reflect positively on your organization and it will keep the interviewee relaxed.
10. Ask your pre-written questions
To kick off the question portion, start with your general questions to give candidates the opportunity to introduce themselves, and discuss how they will bring value to the role.
While you want to give the candidate the ability to answer freely and naturally, you may need to pace the interview so that you have time to ask all your questions. If a candidate is lingering too much on one question, you can politely suggest to move on.
11. Listen actively and intentionally
While you want the conversation to flow somewhat naturally, an interview isn’t a typical back-and-forth conversation. Your main job in the interview is to listen.
By talking too much, you run the risk of leading them to give answers you want to hear. For the same reason, you should also avoid giving explicitly positive or negative responses to anything the candidate says. In most cases, thanking them for their answer is the best response.
A reasonable benchmark as the interviewer is to aim for the 80/20 rule: 80% listening and 20% talking.
Actively listen for the specific qualities and skills you identified as crucial to the role in advance. And listen for potential—you may discover motivations or hidden nuggets that didn’t show up on their resume.
12. Take notes
If you’re interviewing a lot of candidates, it will be key to take notes. If you want to take notes during the interview, consider taking notes by hand rather than on your laptop so the candidate knows they have your full attention. Or, if you can swing it, have someone in the room just to take notes.
Most HR applicant tracking systems have a space to leave notes after an interview, so be sure to log your notes with the candidate’s application.
13. Leave time for the candidate to ask questions
A candidate who’s genuinely interested in the role will surely have a laundry list of questions to ask by the end of the interview. Give the applicant at least 10-15 minutes to ask their own questions, as it’s their chance to show how prepared they are and how much they care about the role.
14. Sell the candidate on the job
A good candidate will be interviewing you just as much as you’re interviewing them. If you’re deep into the interview and the candidate seems like a great fit, you may want to scrap some of your questions to use the last portion of the interview to sell the candidate on the role and the company.
15. Tell the candidate what comes next
While you shouldn’t give any candidate an assessment on the spot, you should give them an indication of what comes next, should their interview be considered a success. At the end of the interview, let the candidate know what the next steps in the process look like, including when they can expect to hear back.
For example, if there’s a possibility of a second interview, let them know approximately when that may happen so they can adjust their schedule if needed.
After that, thank them for their time and tell them to enjoy the rest of their day!
What to do after an interview
16. Immediately take any additional notes
Before you do anything else, jot down notes on anything you didn’t have time to write down during the interview. You should also reflect on the totality of the interview, taking notes on your overall impression of the candidate. You’ll value these notes later once you’ve interviewed half-a-dozen other candidates.
17. Debrief with your fellow interviewer
You should also spare a few minutes to discuss the candidate with your fellow interviewer. This will allow you to get on the same page and raise any highlights or lowlights with each other.
18. Review the candidate’s pre-employment assessment
At this point, it’s tempting to put the blinders on and consider only the candidate’s interview. However, there’s just as much information available in their pre-employment assessment—if not more—to help you evaluate the candidate. Use all the information at your disposal to make an educated decision.
19. Conduct follow-up interviews (if necessary)
Many organizations will conduct follow-up interviews, either to dig deeper into each candidate or to have different team members interview the candidate to get a more well-rounded view.
Some organizations also ask candidates to make presentations on what they’d bring to the role.
20. Make an offer
After that, all that’s left to do is make an offer and negotiate with your chosen candidate.
Conducting an efficient bias-free interview just takes planning
By preparing for the interview process, you'll be ready to get more meaningful answers than you can get from a resume or a cover letter. Just follow the process we've outlined for you here, and you'll be able to conduct an efficient, bias-free interview. This way you'll make better hires and save your organization money on mishires.