The time you give to interviews is important – interviewers are generally at management level, and that means you’re paying top dollar for every minute, so you need to make them count.

At the same time, you don’t get long with each candidate, so you need to have a clear idea of what you want to know from them.

Here are five tips – they’re based on interviewing a fairly small group of candidates for a single vacancy, but if you have more applicants to get through, it’s just a case of focusing even more on the main items of information you want to get from each.

1. Read their CV

It should go without saying that you should read the applicant’s CV and cover letter before the interview, but you can use it to structure the interview too.

Pick out the key points and make notes on a Post-It or on an index card paperclipped to the CV and letter – when you’re in the interview, it’s easier to refer back to these bullet points than to try and remember what you thought was worth mentioning.

2. Where are they from?

This is not a question of geographic location – and you need to be careful about certain aspects of an applicant’s background that could be viewed as discriminatory – but it’s worth finding out more about the events leading up to them applying for the job.

For example, are they in employment in a similar role? Or have they recently left a comparable job – and if so, why? It’s a question of motivation, which is a perfectly reasonable quality to look for in an applicant.

3. Throw a curve ball

It’s always good to put the candidate on the spot, so at least once in the interview, especially if their answer sounds rehearsed, ask them to answer the question again, or ask it again in a slightly different way.

You’re trying to prove the candidate can think quickly and adapt to new challenges, and it can be as simple as saying “go on…” when they’ve finished talking, but an effective way to single out the individuals with the best lateral thinking.

4. Watch

Don’t just listen to the responses – watch the candidate’s body language too. It’s fine for someone to be nervous in an interview, but they should show signs of controlling this if so.

For example, techniques to disguise shaking hands can include hiding them beneath the desk, gripping a pen or other object, or keeping them moving in hand gestures – all signs that the individual is nervous and trying to hide it, which can be an indication that they really care about getting the job.

5. Follow up

If there’s something you missed or you run out of time, or you’re just not 100% decided on a particular candidate, invite them back for a second interview or get them on the phone.

This gives you an extra opportunity to fill in those blanks, or to probe deeper into their background and motivation once you’ve whittled the list of applicants down to just a few – ideal for larger recruitment pools where the initial one-on-ones were very brief.

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