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Interviewing techniques

Get the most from your meetings

Interviews are an integral part of the recruitment process. The one-to-one contact can provide an in-depth impression of how a candidate would perform on the job. Getting the most out of interviewing is a combination of preparation, suitable questioning and listening.

Methods of interviews

There are a number of different approaches to interviews, an example of which is behavioural event interviewing. This delves into the past and examines how the applicant handled a previous task or duty. This method works on the premise that the way an applicant worked in the past will dictate performance in the future.

Consider criteria-based interviewing. The main advantage of this is the way in which it indicates levels of candidate performance in different areas. This is achieved by constantly testing the applicant's knowledge through a series of rigid and structured questioning. This is an extremely formal but effective way to interview on performance alone. The downfall of this method is that the interviewer needs to be highly skilled in their questioning and there may be a risk that if he or she doesn't probe enough, the whole interview could prove ineffective.


The variety of interview techniques and structures used reflects the number of factors influencing employers. Personal preferences, different objectives and the past experience of the company combine to influence the techniques employed. Planning carefully and employing rigorous questioning and listening techniques can implement all of these methods. You don't have to use fancy techniques though. Here's a simple checklist:

1) Your requirements
Think about the job specification. What specific skills are you looking for, what experience is essential and what is desirable? What are the main duties of your position and what is the scope for career progression within that role? What characteristics are you looking for? Outlining specific requirements will help to define your questions, and uncover relevant information.

2) Analyse the CV and / or application form in advance
Important but easily overlooked when time is at a premium. From the applicant's written details, you can highlight strengths and weaknesses. The CV may also emphasise any gaps or issues that need to be addressed. From this, you can decide on additional areas to probe. You may also want to discover more about the companies that the applicant has worked for, and their role within them. For instance, if the position he or she held was that of supervisor, how many staff where supervised and how did they feel about that? How did they cope? How do they feel about supervising even more staff? Or less? Use the CV to ask relevant questions for your position.

3) Ensure you have a detailed brief of the job specification
Be prepared for questions regarding this, as well as the company itself. If you are assertive in your response, it will give the applicant greater confidence and trust in you, and present you in a professional light. After all, if this is the perfect applicant for your position, wouldn't you like them to have the best impression of you and the company?

4) The interview room
To get the most out of the applicant, it's important to put him or her at ease. Choose a room where you won't be disturbed. If it is to be held in your office, divert your calls and ensure no one interrupts. Imagine how distracting it will be for you and your applicant if the telephone is constantly ringing or if there's a knock at the door. An informal setting will also put candidates at ease. Two chairs at a low table are far less threatening than the barrier of a desk.

Your agenda

Have an agenda prepared for the interview. This will help you remain within your time limit and keep you focused on the questions you need to ask. Have a plan of which questions you need to ask and when – formulate a clear structure to which you can stick.

Before commencing the interview, remember you will get the most out of the applicant when they are feeling at ease. You only have a limited amount of time to achieve this. Introduce yourself, run through the agenda and tell them how long you plan to take. Informing the applicant of what to expect should help to put them at ease. Ask permission to take notes, it is courteous and won't alarm the applicant if you suddenly start scribbling an answer down.

Questioning techniques

  • Open – who, what, where, when, how and why. Questions that explore and gather a wide range of information.
  • Probing – specific questions relating to details. Check information gained through open questions.
  • Closed – look for the answer to single facts, again used for probing.
  • Hypothetical – "How would you feel if..." - leads the applicant to think on a wider scale. Gives a feel for how the applicant would react, although don't take their answer literally, they may react differently in the event.

Leave a lasting impression

The applicant is not the only one being tested during the interview. It is critical that you make the best impression possible. Applicants form lasting opinions of your company from the interview. Shabby surroundings, a disorganised interviewer, or constant disruptions all reflect badly on the company. As soon as you meet the applicant you are portraying an impression of that company. To exude the desired image be organised, well-presented and on time! Reflect the efficiency you are looking for in your applicants.

Closing the interview

Closing the interview leaves them with their final impression of you. Invite the applicant to ask questions. He or she may need clarification on issues or you may not have covered an area of interest for them. Explain what is to follow next - outline a timescale detailing when you expect to make a decision and when the applicant will be notified. Discuss the interview process. Will there be a second or third interview, will there be a panel interview, can they expect any tests?

And finally...

As soon as you finish the interview, make a quick summary of what you thought, felt and any key points. Outline how you left things with the applicant. It's amazing how much you can forget if you don't do this, especially if you're interviewing more than one person in a day. This will help you when you make your comparisons for second interviews or for that all important job offer.

So, next time you're interviewing a selection of applicants or even just the one, there is no excuse to rush in sweating with absolutely no preparation! Think about the way you want to interview, analyse the CV and job spec, decide what you want to ask and how you want to ask it. Consider the impression you make and take notes. With preparation, you'll become a more successful and efficient interviewer.