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Is your interview style limiting your progress?

Posted over 10 years ago by Rob Markwell
42563861 M

We’ve written a number of pieces on how candidates should prepare for interview and interview faux pas they’ve committed, but what often gets overlooked is how the interviewer should prepare ahead of meeting potential candidates.

A badly conducted interview can have just as big an impact on a candidate as a bad candidate performance can have on the interviewer. With that in mind, here’s our guide on how to get the most out of your interviews.


- It’s a two way process; sell the role & the company – why should the candidate want to work for you?

- It’s a candidate driven market – the good ones generally have choice

- Be yourself – how you are is fine, don’t try and adopt an interview style that’s not you

Preparation is Key

- Done well an interview is a fantastic way of finding out about a candidate. Done badly it provides poor, often inaccurate information which can easily lead to the wrong decisions

- Careful preparation prior to the interview massively reduces the chances of this happening

What’s in the CV?

- A thorough read of the CV prior to interview is essential... helps you familiarise yourself with the candidate & shape questions

  • Education details
  • Work History – where, how long, gaps?
  • Responsibilities – clients, activity
  • Achievements

General Interview Structure

- Put them at ease... The goal of an interview is not to catch candidates out, it’s to learn as much about them as possible. The more relaxed they are, the more open and forthcoming they will be, which often leads to insights you wouldn’t otherwise have gained

- Welcome the candidate & introduce them to others in the interview (if applicable)

- Briefly outline the structure of the interview

- Provide information to the candidate about your business, the team, the role – often a good way of putting them at ease before getting into the detail of their experience

- Explore the candidate’s potential

- Any further questions

Interview Style

- Find your own style but don’t try to be too clever... it may well backfire. This is a genuine experience one candidate had when interviewing with two companies:

Opportunity A was with a global law firm - “your experience in London is outstanding, we’re going to need to sell you why you should work for us”

Opportunity B with small regional law firm – (prior to any formal introductions) “you’ve got 5 minutes to prepare & we want you to talk for a min on each of these 3 topics – 1. Should we have the death penalty?  2. Pick a famous person who you admire & why. 3. What do you think about the war in Iraq?”

It’ll come as no surprise where the candidate chose to go to. There’s nothing wrong with setting a task or seeing how people respond under pressure, but it has to be done in context. The candidates main objection to Opportunity B was the questions had no relevance whatsoever to the job they were being interviewed for.

Criteria Based Interviews

- Criteria based interviews - widely regarded as the best means of finding out about a candidate’s core competencies & how they behave at work

- Based on the principal that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour – goal is to obtain specific examples of when and how particular behaviours were demonstrated

- It is important that questions of this kind are based on person specifications for the job

- Examples:

  • Time/Project Management - “Tell me about how you organise your work and schedule your time”
  • PR Experience - “Tell me how you went about getting press coverage for x client/product”.

- Based on answers to these questions you can then drill down into more detail. For example:

  • “So once you had a list of target media, then what did you do? What were the results?” etc.

- This style of questioning has two key benefits: helps you understand how the candidate is likely to perform in a similar situation, plus it helps you uncover any potential embellishments in the CV.

More Examples of Criteria Based Questions

Problem Solving - Describe a time when you had to analyse a problem and generate a solution.

Self Management/Motivation - Tell me about a time when you acted over and above the expectations of your role.

Objection Handling - Tell me about a difficult customer or a customer objection that you have dealt with.

Adaptability - Tell me about a time when you changed your priorities to meet others’ expectations.

Administrative - Tell me about your experience of managing a budget.

Decision Making - How do you work under pressure?

Client Focus - Give an example of how you provided service to a client/stakeholder beyond their expectations. How did you identify the need? How did you respond?

Teamwork - Describe a situation in which you were a member of a team, and a conflict arose within the team. What did you do?

Question Styles to Avoid

Closed – prompt ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers and don’t give any value to the interviewer

Leading – Questions which encourage the candidate down a predictable path, e.g. “This role requires great attention to detail. How would you fit in?”

Multiple – Asking several questions at once, or questions with multiple alternatives. These can be used to test listening ability but more often than not just lead to confusion.

Fantasy – Questions which have nothing to do with the job, e.g. “If you could be an animal, what animal would you be?” These might demonstrate a sense of humour but ultimately are irrelevant and often off putting to candidates.

Observe Behaviour

- A leading business expert once said “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn't said.”

- Non-verbal signals tell you about the person’s attitude, outlook, interests, and approach

  • Initial impressions – handshake, posture, outfit
  • Attentiveness, eye contact, and facial expressions

Legal Stuff

- Age, Sex, Race... be careful

Avoid overly personal questions at interview that could be interpreted as discriminatory such as “how do you feel about being managed by someone younger than you?” or asking a recently married young woman if she plans to have kids are a big no-no. This does happen. In fact you’re not even allowed to ask someone for their date of birth.

Wrapping things up

Once the interview has reached its natural conclusion, do wrap things up with the candidate and let them know what the next steps will be. If you like them, there’s no harm telling them it’s been a positive meeting and you’re keen to talk further. Equally, it’s fine to let them know that you’ll feedback in due course once you’ve had an opportunity to reflect on the interview.

The most important thing is the candidate knows what to expect next and leaves with a good impression about your company. Remember, even if they’re not right for you, they may well sit next to someone, or be friends with someone who’d be perfect, so you want them to go away with a positive perception.