How to interview someone (and why interviews are important)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 25 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

It can be challenging to find the right employees for a business, especially when competitors are also seeking out the best talent from the candidate pool. But with the right processes and systems, you can greatly improve your hiring outcomes and secure a great match, adding high-performing recruits to the business. One of the most important steps in the recruitment process is the interview itself. In this article, we look at best practices for how to interview someone successfully.

Why are interviews important?

Every organisation has its own recruitment practices and systems. The purpose is to funnel candidates through a screening process and towards an interview if they meet the necessary criteria. By the time a candidate gets to the interview stage, the assessment process has determined that they have the right qualifications, experience and skills.

The interview is a two-way conversation with a clear purpose: for both parties to learn more about each other and determine whether the employer and the applicant for the role are a suitable fit. Ultimately, it exists to cover the intangibles and help the interviewer to get to know the interviewee. A good interviewer can get a sense of the applicant's potential cultural fit, attitudes, degree of initiative, ability to communicate, goals, ambitions and overall passion and enthusiasm for the role. A productive interview can do the following:

  • ensure that a company hires the most suitable and qualified person for the job and give them more confidence in their hire decisions

  • give different stakeholders a chance to engage in the interview process for their opinions, which may be particularly important if the role includes working with different teams and managers, for example

  • give the candidate a chance to ask plenty of questions so they're also sure the opportunity is right for them

  • give the hiring manager a chance to delve into points of interest about the candidate's skills, qualifications and experience, especially if there are areas that the written application didn't fully cover

  • avoid the risk of spending money and time on a candidate who turns out to be a poor fit or who either decides not to take the role or leaves shortly after accepting it

Related: 16 types of interviews

How to interview someone to join your team

Whether you're a new hiring manager or an HR professional, it's important to know how to interview someone to get a great hire. Each step of the process brings the company closer to the ultimate outcome: to find a high-quality employee who can perform well within the role, be a great cultural fit for the team and organisation and remain within the business for a substantial period of time.

It's expensive to rehire, and the recruitment process itself is time-consuming and resource-intensive, so it makes sense to focus on getting it right the first time. This means being as organised, structured and process-driven as possible. Yes, you may have a strong 'gut feeling' about a particular candidate, but it's important to back this up with objective data and conclusions. Structure and objectivity can also help avoid certain risks during the interview, such as negative bias and 'cloning culture', where interviewers unconsciously prefer candidates who remind them of themselves. Here are some steps to follow:

1. Cover off the interview admin

Some organisations use a recruitment agency, and others use an in-house HR team to manage applications and interviews. Ensure the candidate are clear about any administration and the logistics of the interview, especially if they're attending in person and are bringing supporting evidence (such as a portfolio). For example, be sure to explain if you require the candidate to give a presentation or meet a panel of interviewers.

The more information you provide, the better prepared everyone can be, and in turn, the more valuable the interview may be. It's useful to hold the interview in person, if you can, to assess body language and those elusive in-person dynamics that are very hard to assess via videoconferencing.

Related: How to approach face-to-face interviews (with tips)

2. Allocate enough time for the interview

Around half an hour is the minimum time to allow for an interview for a more junior position. For senior and more complex roles, an hour is more appropriate, and you may wish to have more than one interview so that a prospective hire can meet more than one decision-maker. Strike a balance between allowing everyone time to feel relaxed and not overstretching diaries. Allow time for candidate changeovers and the all-important meet and greet (and offering of coffee!) before you begin.

Related: How long do interviews last? (FAQ and tips to prepare)

3. Research each candidate before the interview

Use the time before the interview to get to know each candidate and look into them as much as possible. Research the interviewee, read their application thoroughly, look at any online portfolios or profiles and read their cover letter and CV. This gives you all the background information you need, which allows you to use the interview time more productively for deeper questions. It also gives you an insight into how well each candidate has prepared for the interview and how professional they are in general.

4. Bring everything you require to the interview

Make the most of the time in the interview. Bring the candidate's CV, application letter and any other information you may require so that you can focus your time and show that you're also organised. Ensure that you put your phone away so you can remain focused. If anything urgent comes up, have an agreed escalation process so that you can interview without needless distractions.

5. Be clear on what you're looking for

The original job description clearly set out the role's specific duties, vital skills, experiences and knowledge. Keep this in mind so that you can make a sound, objective decision on the right candidate. Remember that transferable skills, enthusiasm and knowledge can often be a better indicator of success than relevant experience, especially for more junior roles.

6. Be consistent with each interview

A structured interview format usually begins with a welcome and introduction, followed by standard interview questions, competency-based or behavioural questions and the chance for the candidate to ask their own queries before the interview concludes. Plan your approach in advance so that the interview is smooth and well managed. Consistency helps you to be a better and fairer interviewer. Include a few minutes at the start for a friendly chat to relax everyone. It's important to be friendly and welcoming.

7. Know what to ask and what not to ask

It's crucial to receive training before you carry out interviews. For example, it's common to ask a mixture of general, situational, opinion-based, fact-based and competency-based questions. You might even ask a brainteaser question to evaluate the candidate's ability to think under pressure. Conversely, there are also subjects to evade, such as age, race, marital status and religion. It's advisable to avoid questions relating to pregnancy, gender identity, disabilities and salary history.

8. Be honest about the dimensions and scope of the role

You're more likely to find the right hire if you're open, honest and transparent about the role and the skills and attributes that the right employee requires to succeed. The candidate also needs to be sure that the role is the right fit for them. With that in mind, encourage plenty of questions so that the conversation can flow (while remaining focused).

Related: How to use the STAR interview technique in competency-based interviews

9. Have an assessment process for each candidate

After a few candidate interviews, you may struggle to remember who said what and who impressed you on what count. So, create and use a candidate rating system and make notes as you conduct the interview. For example, you might give each candidate an overall rating with comments or individually rate key skills to make a balanced decision. If other people are interviewing with you, agree on this process and share it. Then use it for every candidate so that you're balanced and objective.

As part of the assessment, discuss your thoughts and evaluations with other co-interviewers immediately after each interview, once the candidate has left. This makes it easier to remember key points. Making notes can also assist in this way and provides an audit trail that supports your decision making. With these steps in place, you can hold better interviews and improve the quality of your hires.

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