Perhaps the easiest way of writing this article would be to give a big, long list of ineffective interview techniques, because this tends to be an overwhelming issue when it comes to interviewing. It’s much easier to describe the mistakes than it is to describe how to do it properly, but here goes.
Choose a nice room
Firstly, check the room that you’re interviewing in is a nice, pleasant environment, and one that you would feel comfortable in if you were meeting someone for the first time about a future job. We have heard horror stories about interviews being conducted in virtual broom cupboards, or someone wanting to meet in the corner of a noisy pub. This simply will not work, and you need to find a nice airy room with sufficient chairs and space for everyone to sit in and feel comfortable.
If you are joining the revolution of homeworking and remote work, then it is probably likely you will be looking to conduct an interview in a café or restaurant type thing, rather than an office, and if this is the case, research it carefully. You do not want to be speaking to someone in an extremely noisy café or pub, where you cannot hear a word that is being said.
Clean the room
Make sure the chairs and table are clean, and the floor has been vacuumed in recent years. Similarly, and this will sound utterly daft, but make sure the room has been dusted. As a hayfever sufferer and someone with an allergy to dust, I can safely say that if you interviewed me in a room full of dust that hadn’t been cleaned in a very long time, I would probably spend most of the interview sneezing, and you would not really get a very good response during the interview.
Remember the interview
Turn up on time. Nothing, and I repeat nothing, is worse than an employer arranging to interview someone at a specific time, and then actually turning up late to the interview. To a candidate, this is the height of all rudeness and should be avoided at all costs. If someone has gone to the trouble of taking time off work and travelling to see you, then the least you can do is actually turn up to the interview. Even worse than this is an employer who forgets about the interview, and does not actually know who the person is they are interviewing, which leads me on to my next point.
Print a copy of the CV
Make sure you print out the interviewee’s CV before you speak to them. This may sound like common sense, but I would estimate that about 20% of all interviews happen without the interviewer knowing anything about the interviewee, other than possibly their name. This is because they have arranged the interview and then forgotten to actually research who the person is.
Do some reading around about the interviewee before you speak to them. This can have immense rewards for your interview, because it will give you plenty to talk to the candidate about, but similarly flag anything that you need to speak to them about as well.
Good cop/bad cop is old hat
Be friendly to the person you are interviewing, and do not fall for the old we need to do a good cop/bad cop routine. It just doesn’t work, and in a candidate-led market, it is nothing worse than an absolute nightmare, because the candidate will simply leave the interview and make a decision there and then never to accept any job you might offer them.
Interview = conversation not monologue
Interview the person. An interview by definition is a conversation between two people with questions and answers. It is not an opportunity for you to spend the next two hours talking about yourself, your plans and your firm, something which a lot of employers seem to struggle with. You must have questions that you want to ask the interviewee, and we would usually recommend compiling a list so that you have plenty to talk about. Whilst this might seem a little bit extreme, it does mean that you have a structure to your interview, and you don’t waste your time sitting and chatting, trying to think of your next question.
Listen to the answers of the interviewee, and whatever you do, do not succumb to the temptation to look at your phone whilst the interview is talking. Not only is this the height of rudeness, it is also incredibly off-putting for the person you are interviewing.
Ask difficult questions
Ask testing questions, but don’t ask confrontational, personal, or rude questions. It is absolutely fine to put the candidate on the spot and ask them questions about their technical competence. It is not okay to start criticising them for things that they may have done, simply to see whether you can make them cry. This does happen.
Open with a gentle question
Ask the interviewee a nice gentle question to start, usually around their journey to the office or the weather, or whether they have been okay getting time off to attend the interview. Next, think about asking them to talk about themselves for a little bit, and give you about a minute or two to sum themselves up. This is pretty much along the lines of an “elevator pitch,” which is the technique used when it comes to networking for business. You are looking to see whether the candidate is able to summarise themselves and talk about themselves clearly and concisely within that time, and make relevant points but not go on about something for too long. Once the candidate has done this, it will give you the opportunity to then pick up on things they may have said during that time and ask some questions about it.
Concentrate on the questions – go technical
Get on to the questions you want to ask as quickly as possible, as otherwise you may find you run out of time talking about things you didn’t particularly want to talk about. For professional jobs, it is always worth asking lots and lots of technical questions that test their ability and knowledge. Some professional interviews will even include a case study where an actual example of work is handed to the interviewee, and they are asked to deal with it there and then. There is nothing wrong with this technique, and in fact it is to be commended, because it really does put the candidate on the spot and get them to think about their experience and apply it there and then under pressure.
Look for competency
Don’t forget that the key to a successful interview is to test the candidate to see whether or not they are someone you want to work with. This means that perhaps they share the same sense of humour as you, but primarily it means they are competent and able to do the job you expect of them. Finding someone competent who is able to do a job expected of them is the difficult bit – getting them to demonstrate that to you in interview is even harder, but this is what you have to think about when you are interviewing someone, and not whether or not you want to try and catch the person out in some bizarre cat and mouse game that some interviewers seem to like playing.
Check the awkward bits
If there is anything awkward on the CV, then it is always worth asking about it, but do it gently to start with, so the candidate is able to explain themselves without any embarrassment. For example, sometimes candidates will write on their CV the reasons they left their last employment, and it may be too much information that you don’t really need to know as an employer. Be nice to these people, because at least they’re being honest with you and giving you the full information.
Keep the interview within a timeframe
Don’t spend too long in interview. There is no point interviewing someone for two or three hours, when an hour interview would have sufficed. You’ve probably wasted their time and your own, and it would have been much better to try and keep your questions short and succinct. If a candidate waffles too much in their answers, there is nothing wrong with interjecting and saying that you’re going to move on to the next question. This is sometimes necessary, and it is worth thinking about.
In summary, the most effective interview technique is to try and be yourself, but to concentrate at all times on the aims of the interview, which is to find someone that you are comfortable working with, who can competently do the job, and is not going to buckle under pressure.