How to Conduct an Interview: The Complete Guide

Mike Dalley
Mike Dalley

HR and Learning & Development Expert

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

How to conduct an interview

Job interviews are an integral part of the recruitment process and can yield a lot of useful information about prospective employees.

Because of their importance, interviews need to be prepared for and conducted in the right way — otherwise, the right questions might not be asked, candidates will struggle to provide the best information, and your organization might be projected in a negative light.

This guide takes you through everything you need to know to conduct an interview as a manager, including how to prepare for it, what to do on the day and what to do afterwards.

What is a job interview?

A job interview is a key part of an organization’s recruitment strategy, often following the application and sifting of résumés. It’s a conversation between the candidate and one or more interviewers, often a mixture of the hiring manager, HR and recruiters.

In a job interview, questions are asked to gauge the candidate’s suitability for employment. These can include screening questions that cover basic information such as notice periods and salary expectations, and functional or behavioral questions.

Job interviews are very much a two-way process, as candidates can also ask questions, too.

The structure of an effective interview

Although interviews take many different shapes and sizes, here’s a general idea of what form they take and what to consider.

Stage 1: Introduction

Here, you set the tone for the interview and relax the candidate. Introduce the interviewers, offer a warm greeting and refreshments, and explain the structure of the interview and that there will be time for questions at the end. This stage is relatively brief and should only take around 5% of the entire meeting.

Stage 2: Information about the job and company

In this section, introduce the company and its mission, and how the role being interviewed for fits into this. Run through the job description and other information like reporting lines, job responsibilities and what a typical working day might look like. This section should take around 20% of the interview.

Stage 3: Questions from the interviewer

Here, you’ll start with screening questions and follow with functional or behavioral questions that assess the candidate’s fit. You’ll need to factor in time for the candidate’s answers, as well as them taking time to think about what to say. This section is critical and should take around 50% of the interview.

Stage 4: Questions from the candidate

Inviting challenging questions is an important part of interview dialogue. Allow plenty of time for questions and ensure you think about what might be asked before the interview so you can answer them in the meeting without having to email the candidate later to follow up. This section should take around 20% of the interview.

Stage 5: Conclusion

Ask the candidate if they have anything else relevant to the interview that hasn’t yet been discussed and explain what the next steps in the process will be, as well as timeframes. Finally, thank the candidate for their time. This section can take around 5% of the interview.

How to prepare and conduct a job interview

Interviews that are well-prepared and well-structured will yield a better hire. Here are some tips and techniques on how to prepare and conduct a job interview, and how to follow up afterwards.

Step 1: Schedule interviews in advance

It’s important to schedule interviews in advance, firstly to ensure that you have enough time for them and won’t be rushed and, secondly, to give the candidate a fair chance to prepare. Allow at least three days, or ideally one week’s notice for interviews, and get all the interviewers confirmed before the invite is released to the candidate.

Step 2: Book a suitable location

Ensure the interview location is booked in advance of the interviews being confirmed. You’ll need a quiet, well-sized room, and refreshments. It’s good practice to provide comfortable seating and remove tables if you can do so; this provides a more relaxed feeling. If you’re conducting remote interviews, ensure the technology is logged in and working, and share links with the candidate.

Step 3: Email the candidate

Emailing the candidate about the interview removes any uncertainty they might have about the process. In the email, you can confirm the job title, interview time, date and location, who to ask for, and anything that the candidate needs to bring. Be sure to ask the candidate if they require reasonable adjustments to the invite process if they have a disability.

Step 4: Read the job description

Ensure you’re familiar with the job description of the role you’re interviewing for. This means that you know what questions to prepare and be laser-focused on the competencies you’ll be assessing. Reviewing the job description also means that you can sell the organization and the role positively and be ready for any questions that come your way.

Step 5: Prepare a script

Next, you’ll need to prepare your interview questions. Some examples of these are included in the section below. Ensure you script these questions so that every candidate will be asked the same ones. Having an interview script will also allow you to keep control of the interview and structure it effectively. If there’s more than one interviewer in the room, you should divide up the script and assign roles.

Step 6: Be clear on assessment criteria

Using the job description and the interview script, formulate assessment criteria for the interview. Ask yourself: “What does the perfect candidate look like?”. Now, you’re rarely going to find the perfect candidate, but this person will act as the benchmark, and your task is to objectively find the candidate who fits it the closest. Having a scoring sheet and written criteria supports this process.

Step 7: Review the candidate’s résumé

Before the interview, know who you are meeting! Take some time to review each résumé and make notes of any questions you might have for the candidate in the exploratory stage of the interview. Reading candidates’ résumés makes a great first impression, as you’ll be able to have a conversation with them about it without reading it as you go. This goes a long way to sell the organization as well as you, the manager.

Step 8: Welcome the candidate

Interviewers must be able to calm candidate nerves, as a jittery candidate will rarely be able to perform at their best, which is what you need to ensure a fair hiring decision. Warmly welcome them, offer refreshments, and make a little bit of small talk about neutral topics like the weather or if they had a good journey.

Step 9: Ask the right questions

If you have an interview script, then you’ll find asking the right questions a cinch! Ensure you stick to your script and structure the interview accordingly. Avoid abstract questions like “If you were to describe yourself as a color, what would it be and why?”, as these will tell you nothing about the candidate’s competence. Consider how you phrase the question, and rephrase it if you need to.

Step 10: Keep notes

As an interviewer, it’s challenging to have to ask questions, maintain eye contact with the candidate and take notes all at the same time! Note-taking is important, as not only will it support your decision-making after all the interviews are finished, but you can also easily refer to them if the candidate asks for specific feedback — or, in the worst case, complain that the process was unfair or biased.

Step 11: Avoid bias

Bias comes in all shapes and sizes; one thing to look out for is subconsciously favoring the first or last candidate you see. Then there’s the “halo effect”, which is about focusing on one positive attribute, even if everything else about the candidate is flawed (the opposite of this is the “horn effect”). The “leniency effect”, meanwhile, is a tendency to go easy on people, and the “central tendency” bias refers to rating everyone as “average” because it appears safer and easier.

Step 12: Avoid discrimination

Discrimination, even if it’s unintentional, is illegal in many jurisdictions and is punishable by heavy fines. Don’t ask candidates questions regarding their age, gender, sexual orientation, veteran status, disability or any other legally protected characteristic. An example could be asking a female candidate if she plans to have any children, before rejecting the candidate due to a perceived risk she might take maternity leave.

Step 13: Sell the organization

An interview is the candidate’s chance to decide if you’re the right fit for them, as well as vice versa. As an employer, ensure you represent the organization positively and professionally. It’s vital to temper this by not selling a dream; if there are things that the candidate needs to be aware of, like long hours or frequent travel, ensure this is mentioned so they can self-select out of the process.

Step 14: Be patient

Although you need to be mindful of time, don’t rush the candidate. Some candidates, because they really want the job, will take time to consider their answers and pause before they talk. Afford them this patience and avoid getting frustrated by it. In fact, use this time to catch up on your interview notes or consider how you might need to rephrase the question if needed.

Step 15: Monitor time

As a manager, you have to control the interview. If you run out of time, then you can either skip a question or ask the candidate’s permission to overrun, if they have time. Otherwise, control time by politely interrupting the candidate if they’re waffling, sticking to your script and discreetly monitoring your watch to ensure the interview is proceeding as per schedule.

Step 16: Adhere to the 70/30 rule

In a typical interview, candidates should talk 70% of the time and the interviewer should take up the rest. If you feel that this balance is shifting too far the other way, then do all you can to encourage the candidate to open up and provide more information.

Step 17: Allow the candidate to ask questions

At the end of the interview, provide time for the candidate to ask what they want to. Prepare as much as you can for these questions. This way, you’ll avoid needing to email the candidate with the answer afterwards or saying “I’m not sure”, which might cause frustration. Your answers to these questions should be truthful, detailed and positive.

Step 18: Explain what happens next

Tell the candidate what happens in terms of subsequent interviews, how many stages are to come and when they might happen. At the very least, tell them when they can expect to hear back from you. As the candidate, if they have any vacation coming up, that might impact availability. You might also want to ask if the candidate has any other ongoing applications which you need to be mindful of.

Step 19: Commit to timeframes and follow-ups

Ensure you stand by any timeframes you have provided to the candidate. If you have told them they’ll hear back from you after five days, then ensure you do so, even if you need to ask them for more time. When you follow up, provide them with details on interview next steps or, if they’re to be rejected, don’t ghost them; instead, offer feedback.

Step 20: Sleep on your decision and assess fairly

Don’t rush a decision; sleep on your assessments and spend time reviewing all candidates and benchmarking them to the job description, company culture and that hypothetical perfect candidate. Doing this minimizes bias and allows you space to make a balanced decision. If other interviewers were present, you can catch up together to review everyone.

Common questions to ask a candidate

Start an interview by discussing screening questions to ensure you’re on the page with dealbreakers like salary and notice period. After this, interview questions can be grouped into “exploratory” questions, where you can get a feel for the candidate and their résumé.

Some exploratory questions include:

  • “Take me through your résumé and your key achievements.”
  • “What attracted you to the role/organization?”
  • “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.”
  • “What motivates you at work?”
  • “Tell me about your career aspirations.”

Afterwards, you’ll want to spend the most time on “behavioral” or “functional” questions, which prompt the candidate to give examples of what they have done. Ensure the candidate tells you what happened, what they did and what the result was.

Behavioral questions include:

  • “Describe the most challenging situation you have experienced at work and how you overcame it.”
  • “Give me an example of a conflict you resolved at work.”
  • “Tell me about a time where you achieved something when working as part of a team.”
  • “Describe a situation where you showed exceptional client/customer service.”
  • “Tell me about a time you solved a complex problem.”

FAQs about conducting job interviews

Here are some FAQs to help you demystify some of the tricker points about interviewing:

How many interviews should I hold for a role?

Aim for between 5 to 10 interviews per role; otherwise, the interview process will take a long time. Remember that you can add more people into the process if you don’t find a successful candidate and that effective pre-interview screening can do a lot of the hard work for you.

How long should an interview last?

As a rule, interviews should be no shorter than half an hour and no longer than one hour, although some more technical and senior roles might require more time. Longer interviews mean a longer process and risks the candidate and the interviewers becoming fatigued.

What if a candidate is waffling/talking too much?

If a candidate is waffling, wait for a moment where they catch their breath and swiftly interject with a “thank you”, which is usually enough for them to pause and listen. From here, you can either clarify the question or state you have the information you need and move on.

What if the candidate doesn’t know how to answer my questions?

If a candidate is struggling to understand or answer the question, ask if they would like the question repeated or rephrased, as sometimes this is all that is needed. Other candidates just need thinking time, so pause and allow them some time to consider their answer.

What happens if I know within minutes that the candidate isn’t right for the organization?

Never abruptly end an interview if you feel someone isn’t working out. A candidate will be dejected if the interview ends five minutes after it started. If you know a candidate isn’t right, at least ask them a few questions to fully assess their fit and make a fair decision.

Key takeaways

Because interviewing is so critical for assessing candidates’ suitability for employment, it’s vital that you thoroughly prepare for the interview, conduct it well and follow up appropriately. Here are some key takeaways to effective interviewing:

  • Before the interview, read the candidate’s résumé, as well as the job description and assessment criteria.
  • Stick to an interview script and ask fair, consistent questions.
  • Be patient with candidates, let them ask questions, and follow up with them after the interview.
  • Remember that job interviews are a chance for the candidate to assess your organization as well as a chance for you to assess them.

Interviewing gets easier with practice, and the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. And the better you get, the higher that chance you have of securing a better hire!

Got any questions? Let us know in the comments section below.

Originally published on May 18, 2017.