Interviews – where to start.

Interview styles vary hugely, as do interview structures.  Through working in the recruitment environment, I’m often asked to assess or judge employers’ selection and interview processes.

In a recent meeting with an employer, we were talking about how to structure the interview process and how to ask the right questions.   A potentially dry subject was quickly made much more exciting by approaching it a little differently.  It ended up being a great exercise and through our exploration of what that business was looking for in a new joiner, we also turned it around and looked at what that business is all about.

Sometimes we find our clients are so focused on what they think their ideal candidate will have achieved, what they have done, they forget about what it is they truly need from the person who will join their team.  Of course, that person’s qualifications and experience are important to ensure they are capable of fulfilling the role.  But how do you really identify which candidate will share your hopes and dreams for your business and will bring not only the right skills but the right mind-set for your business?

Quick coffee or full day assessment centre?

These are, of course, extremes.  And each will be appropriate in certain, probably quite limited circumstances.  But there are a lot of alternative options falling in between these two strategies and most interview processes will fit happily into the middle ground.

In our view, business owners and managers will learn far more about people if they feel at ease. No matter how much you try to tell someone not to be nervous, interviews put people under pressure.  This can lead to enhanced performance, but more often than not, people come out of the process feeling that they have not really done their best.  What is more important, however, is they probably haven’t been “themselves”.

If you can help them relax (as far as possible and not so far that they doze off) you are likely to see who they are and be able to better judge if they are the person you are looking for.

Where appropriate, we prefer a two-stage interview process, with the first interview a fairly informal affair and the second more focused on their technical experience and establishing what they can add to the role and your business.  Finding out who they are and what makes them tick first gives you a much better idea of their individuality and will also help you to frame your questioning for the next stage.  Coming out of an initial, stressful, interview learning very little about the person in front of you leaves you nowhere to go in terms of drawing more out of them in Round #2.  You’re effectively starting again.

When possible, include a tour of the workplace. This can change the dynamic of the meeting and inspire further questions, comments and conversations that will all help you reach a conclusion.  It will also give you a valuable insight into who they are in terms of how they interact with others.  If that will be an important part of the role, there is nothing wrong with extending the assessment to the “shop floor”.  You’ll want to know whether they are at ease with your staff and whether they acknowledge everyone they come across.  Are they interested in other people’s roles, how things work, what else is going on?  Whilst bearing in mind that nerves make people do strange things, if the role requires them to work with a wide range of different people, all of this extra information will help you to assess how they will fare in that role, and will enable you to ask some more focused questions about teamwork, delegation and working alongside different types of job role.

What kind of biscuit would you be?

Creating a standard set of interview questions is an easy task, but it is unlikely to lead you to the information you really need.   You’re likely to want to know more about a person than what they tell you their strengths and weakness are (of course their “weakness” will always turn out to be a strength in disguise) and what super power they would have if they could only choose one.

Whilst tailoring the questions to each candidate may seem like a chore, it really is time well-spent.  With the specifics of the role in mind, combined with the information you have gathered during the first meeting, you should be able to create common themes to question each person invited to the second interview.

Anything else?

People get better at things with practice and some are more practised than others. You may feel that some answers feel very rehearsed.  Don’t be afraid to ask for another example of a skill or achievement, or think about questions in a different way.  With the rehearsed answer finished, ask another question which arises out of the answer.  This will help to move away from stock responses because if you’re also asking questions naturally in the course of conversation, it is less likely that the answer will have been pre-prepared.  For example, the candidate has just told you about something that went particularly well (because you were nice and asked them to tell you about something they would love talking about).  Your next question could then be, “And what would you have done if [INSERT CATASTROPHIC EVENT] had happened instead?”

If you intend to show them around your premises, could you get someone else to conduct the tour? This could be someone they will be working alongside, or in another department.  People do often relax a little more when they are not talking directly to the interviewer or decision-maker.

It’s worth saying it one more time.  Interviewers do often love to spend a lot of the interview chatting and telling candidates all about the business.  Try to notice if you’re doing more talking than listening.  You want to get to know the person as well as possible in a limited time.  At the end of their interview, ask whether they have any questions and, hopefully, this will be your time to shine.

Watson Evans Associates

We tailor our services depending on our clients’ situations and demands. We work with employers as closely as they require. From creating job descriptions, advertising and shortlisting through to assisting with interviews and selection.

Watson Evans Associates is a recruitment consultancy based in Cornwall providing experienced and qualified accountancy & finance, HR, marketing and admin staff to businesses throughout Cornwall and Devon.

To learn more about how we can help please get in touch with Oliver Watson at Watson Evans Associates on either 01872 306111 or

When you are looking for the next move in your career please get in touch for a confidential chat with Oliver Watson on 01872 306111 or

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