The job interview: how to get it right when you're the interviewer

16 March 2016

Interviewing is one of the most important steps when hiring a new employee, yet many employers get it wrong and jeopardise their chances of getting the best person for the job.

The interview is your opportunity to evaluate a person’s work experience and interpersonal and communication skills, and review their skills and abilities against the job description.

It also gives you the opportunity to get a ‘feel’ for their personality and whether they’re the right fit for your business.

It’s important to remember that the interview is a two-way process, and it’s as much an opportunity for the candidate to assess you as an employer, as it is the other way around.

Whether you are an experienced interviewer or preparing to meet your very first candidate, knowing a few fundamentals will help you conduct efficient and effective interviews and make sure you select the right person.

1. Don’t wing it

If you’re interviewing multiple people, it’s important that you establish a procedure or interview structure to follow. This procedure should be exactly the same for every candidate, from beginning to end.

Doing this will mean you can make a realistic comparison between the candidates, and also ensures the interview process is fair and effective.

2. Get prepared

Just as you expect your applicants to be prepared for the interview, it’s important that you’re prepared for each candidate as well.

Before beginning an interview, review the job description and any role requirements, as well as everything the candidate has submitted such as their application form, résumé, cover letter and any other material. This will mean that you’re familiar with the candidate’s background when you meet them, and will help you work out any further questions you may like to ask.

3. Use open-ended questions

Before the interview you should create a set of questions that you plan to ask each person. The questions should reflect the job description and role requirements, and should help you to find out more about each candidate’s strengths and capabilities.

There are a range of different types of questions that you can ask in an interview. There is no right or wrong when deciding what type of question to ask, however different types of questions will produce different types of answers, so you’ll need to think about what information you actually want to find out from the candidate. It’s important to avoid closed ‘yes or no’ questions as they add little value.

Hypothetical or situational questions help you gain a better understanding of how the person would approach and respond to a situation or problem. For example, “If you found out another employee was stealing from the business, how would you approach the situation?”

Behavioural questions ask the candidate to describe previous experiences where they have displayed certain behaviours. For example, “Tell me about a time when you had to work in a team that did not get along. What did you do? What was the result?”

You can use open ended questions such as "Tell me about yourself?" or "Why are you interested in this position?" as ice-breakers to find out more about the person, or to find out information that you wouldn’t have otherwise known.

4. Don’t discriminate

It is important that you are aware of the questions that you can’t ask a candidate. There's a section of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 which makes it unlawful to ask another person to supply information on which unlawful discrimination may be based.

Direct questions about marital status, family, age, religious or political affiliation are not allowed in an interview as the questions, and answers, are not relevant to a person’s ability to do the job.

A person with disability is not legally required to tell you about their disability unless it affects their ability to do the job. There are a number of benefits to hiring people with disability, so you may find it useful to take a look at our tips on the best ways to attract people with disability and some things to think about when hiring.

5. Act to impress

Although you are interviewing and evaluating the candidates, be mindful that they are also making their own judgement about you and the business during the interview. This may affect their decision on whether they would like to work for you and your company if they received a job offer.

You and any other interviewers should present an image that is consistent with your company values, and ideally is positive, efficient, and inviting. For instance, it won’t reflect well on you or the company if you tell a candidate to wear formal business wear to the interview and then you turn up wearing casual clothes.

6. Set aside any personal opinions, prejudices, and biases

To make sure that you hire the best person for the job, and keep the process fair and impartial, it’s important to keep personal opinions, prejudices, and biases out of the interview process.

For instance, you should avoid judging a candidate based on the standard of the previous interviewees until the interview process is over and everyone has been interviewed. This will help you remain open, fair and objective and make sure you don’t interview remaining candidates with a closed mind.

Having a structured interview and evaluation process, a predetermined set of questions, and using a panel interview or a third party interviewer are all ways that you can reduce personal opinions or biases from influencing the interview process and outcome.

7. Listen actively

Active listening is different to regular listening as it requires your focus and concentration. You need to be able to comprehend, retain and recall the information that is being provided.

You should always concentrate on what the candidate is saying as there is a lot of information to take in, both verbal and non-verbal. You need to pay attention not just to what is being said, but also the way in which it is being said. This will help you work out what to ask in your follow up questions.

8. Don’t rely on memory, take notes

Even if you’re listening actively, no-one expects you to have a foolproof memory. When you are seeing several candidates in one day, it can become very confusing to remember every candidate clearly.

Taking notes is one way to make sure you can accurately remember, compare and assess each person. Detailed notes will help you identify the best person for the position.

Explain to the candidate at the beginning of the interview that although you will be taking notes, you will still be listening to their answers. Make sure they can’t see what is being written, and that you don’t let it interfere with or interrupt the flow of their answers.

9. Follow the 80/20 rule

As a general rule, you should only be doing 20 per cent of the talking while the candidate should be doing 80 per cent of the talking.

If you talk too much then several things can happen: you don’t gather enough information to make an informed decision, or the person might feel that you’re not that interested in them or their application.

These are just a few tips that you can think about and use when you are planning or heading into your next interview.

If you are thinking about hiring someone new, you can also get in touch with a local jobactive providerto help you find the right staff to fit your business.