In this article we’ll break down how you can assess candidates in a job interview with ten practical and important tips. Use the following strategies to make sure you hire the right person for the right role, every time.
The interview is central to the recruitment process. For many jobseekers, it is the most nerve-wracking and grueling part of finding the next job—and many interviewers also find it hard work themselves! Conducting a job interview involves keeping many things in mind, from candidate history to hard skills to soft skills to cultural fit to behavior and more. It also means that you have to make a qualified and unbiased assessment of every individual candidate and how fit they are for your open role, which puts a lot of pressure on you, the interviewer, to get it right… because hiring the wrong candidate is simply too expensive to risk!
That’s a lot of work. To make it easier, in this article we’ll break down how you can assess candidates in a job interview with ten practical and important tips. Use the following strategies to make sure you hire the right person for the right role, every time.
Your work in assessing a candidate begins before the job interview itself. Make sure you set expectations so that a candidate knows what they’re walking into. A job interview shouldn’t feel like a pop quiz. Most of the time, we don’t work blind: why should a job interview be different? While you want your candidate to be prepared and seek the initiative, it’s a good idea to let them know exactly what the interview will involve. For example, is it just a first step fifteen minute sit down? Is it a more in depth interview with multiple people from the hiring team? Will the candidate be expected to perform some kind of assessment or task? Should they prepare anything to bring with them?
If you give your candidate a good idea of what the interview process will include, chances are you’ll see them at the top of their game, rather than surprised and panicking. It’s also a way to show that your organization is transparent, communicative and collaborative, increasing the candidate’s drive to work with you!
Make sure you’re already comfortable with the candidate’s professional and educational history via their CV, cover letter and any other information they’ve shared with you. Check out their LinkedIn and portfolio well in advance of the interview.
This has two great effects that help you assess your candidate. Firstly, you can cut down time-consuming get-to-know you questions and make your interviews more efficient by skipping basic questions. Secondly, you can spot in advance any questions you might have about the candidate’s CV, like gaps in their professional history, or a course they took that you might be particularly interested in. It allows you to hone in on the points relevant to the role at hand.
And finally, this is another tactic that makes your company look good. If you obviously know who you’re talking to, that gives a highly skilled candidate the impression that you’re taking them seriously and gives you a leg-up on any competition!
Just like you should know who you’re talking to, the candidate should know who they’re applying to. You want to make sure the candidate is not sending cookie-cutter applications to any open role on the market, and that they are genuinely interested in the role you’re offering. One of the best ways to do so is by asking them to describe your product or service, as well as why they’re interested in working with you. A candidate doesn’t need to know the ins-and-outs of your business, but they should show that they have researched you and understood enough of your offer that their choice to work with you is genuine, and not an automatic “I need a job” application.
An interesting side effect of this tip is that you might get a sense of where your product isn’t clearly communicated to the outside world. If a candidate has clearly researched you but doesn’t completely understand what you do, this is a great place to get customer research feedback! Just another reason why the product team and recruitment team should stay in close touch.
An interview is all about questions, so you need to make sure that you’re asking the right ones! As you know, you’ll need to assess a range of different qualities with each candidate, including soft skills, professional history, cultural fit, hard skills, and more. Therefore, it’s a good idea to prep for the interview beforehand by making lists of the kind of information you need (behavioral, cultural, skills and knowledge, etc.) and breaking the questions down into categories to ensure you’re covering every area.
Needless to say, an interview needs to be tailored for the role at hand. You won’t be asking a potential marketing manager the same questions as a software engineer. And you won’t be asking a senior engineer the same questions as a junior engineer! So make sure you have a specific list of questions for each individual roles that tackle every aspect of the candidate you need to assess.
Just as there are questions you definitely should ask, there are also questions you definitely should not ask. Employment and discrimination laws vary by country and state, but there are questions that you typically need to avoid because they are considered illegal under discrimination law. They have no relevance to any job performance and are protected characteristics which cannot be mentioned.
Don’t ask any questions related to:
The candidate’s answers don’t have to be the only thing you’re assessing. Keep an eye on a candidate’s body language, which often gives you a good sense not just of what the person is like, but how they would be to work with. This should start from the moment they arrive at your organization (or join the video call!). Are they friendly and smiling? Do they make eye contact? Do they fold their arms and seem closed off? Do they put you at ease, or make you feel awkward?
Body language is a great way to get a sense of a person, so it should definitely be part of your assessment criteria. But at the same time, remember that many people find interviews stressful and nerve-wracking, so don’t judge your candidate too harshly for their nervousness! Body language should only be assessed in combination with other, more objective factors.
It’s an unfortunate fact of life that people lie. Sometimes a candidate might seem great on paper and in the interview, and you won’t find out until they start the job that they’ve exaggerated or outright lied about some of their qualifications. That makes it really important to verify everything a candidate says. Take note of the details they give you during an interview and then find ways to prove them later, whether by checking their employment histories or conducting a reference check to get verified and trustworthy back-up on their professional history from someone who has already worked with them.
It’s a good idea to keep your candidate informed about the reference check process. Let them know during the interview (at the very latest!) that you need to conduct a reference check, and give them time to provide the best references.
On average, organizations interview between 6 and 10 applicants for any role. For more general roles, this number might go up! It’s important to make sure that you assess every candidate in exactly the same way. Only then will you have an accurate benchmark against which you can compare candidates, free of bias, to find the person most suited for the role.
How do you do this? Ask every candidate the same set of questions (you could tailor follow-up questions to their specific experience, but your basic list should be the same). Ask every candidate to complete the same assessment task. Ask every candidate’s references the same set of questions. And then make sure that you’re comparing the candidates based on their objective answers and assessments, and not on a vague “vibe” that you get or recency bias (wherein the last person you talked to always seems like the best).
Unless you’re a one-person company, one person is probably not sufficient to accurately assess and hire the right candidate every time! The bigger your organization, the more people you need to loop into the hiring process. Making sure that there’s a hiring team who considers each candidate, rather than just one recruiter, gives you better chances of spotting weak areas or red flags, avoiding bias and asking all the right questions. This becomes even more important in specialized roles. If you’re hiring a software engineer, for example, you’ll want someone with the same expertise and skillset to be part of the recruitment process at some stage, so that a hiring manager with no technical experience is not the only point of assessment for a technical role.
To avoid taking up lots of time from everyone, a good way to assess candidates thoroughly yet efficiently is to break the recruitment process into stages. The first interview, for example, might be just with a hiring manager, assessing soft skills, personality and verifying background details. Then the second interview could be with someone more specific to the role in question, ensuring that you cover lots of ground without wasting anyone’s time.
It might seem contradictory, but an important part of assessing candidates in an interview is not to rely entirely upon the interview! That’s simply too much pressure to put on one short interaction. Ultimately, you should be assessing your candidates based on lots of other data, including personality tests, cognitive assessments, pre-employment screening and more.
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