Techniques for effective interviewers

Asking the right questions can help interviewers get a good sense of a job candidate's fit.
Techniques for effective interviewers

A vast amount of advice is available on how to ace interviews, but far less is written about how to be a good interviewer. Most people do not interview job candidates often, and, as result, they do not do it well. This is rather surprising because picking the right people for an organisation is one of the most important things a manager can do. So, how do you ace an interview from the other side of the desk?

1. Prepare the same way a candidate would. Candidates are told endlessly to bone up for interviews — and interviewers should, too. Familiarise yourself with the job the person is going for, and choose a half-dozen criteria you want to match the person against. Think about the sort of person you need in the broadest sense. What skills are you looking for? What skills does your team lack? What sort of person will fit in to your culture?

2. Familiarise yourself with the candidate's CV. Go through it point by point with a pen. Try to identify the things that you want to know more about. Make a list of what strikes you as outstanding, intriguing, and potentially worrying. Draw up questions based on this.

3. Make the candidate comfortable. Many people get interviews wrong in two main ways. The first is that they view them as excessively formal, and the second is that they see them as hurdles that candidates have to clear. This is not the way to get the best out of a candidate. Rather, you want to make them comfortable and relaxed so they open up and tell you about themselves and their careers. There's a public relations side to this, too. People talk about interview experiences, and even if you don't give the person a job, you want to leave them with a good impression of your company.

4. Listen more than you talk. You are not conducting an interview to tell the candidate what you think about the role. Rather, you are interviewing the person to find out more about them. So you want to engage in a conversation where you do most of the listening. Along with putting people at ease, you should ask open-ended questions. These are queries that invite expansive answers, such as "Could you tell me about your time working in Germany?", as opposed to yes-no questions, which lead to silence.

5. Ask scenario-based questions. Sometimes, open-ended questions are not enough, and you will need to be more forensic. If the issue is important or relates to a competency or skill you have identified as crucial, you will want to tie people down to specifics. Don't ask, "Is having good values important?" (They'll reply, "Of course it is.") Rather, ask candidates to give you examples of when they have had to make a tough choice between their values and the bottom line. Similarly, if they have talked about being a leader on their CV and this is a quality you are looking for, ask them about leadership roles they have taken and the challenges they have overcome.

6. Look for logical progression in their CV. Do their careers make sense and demonstrate that they are moving up and building on what has gone before? Understand what has driven them and what made them move from, say, an entertainment business to an airline. Look out, too, for overly optimistic choices and setbacks. These can often be more illuminating or interesting than periods of plain sailing. If someone has made a mistake, the way they bounced back from it will tell you about their resourcefulness and resilience. Similarly, surprising and apparently random career moves will often say more about what makes a person tick than obvious steps upwards.

7. Look for cultural fit. Many people confuse this with likeability, which is a mistake. It's good for people to be likeable. But it doesn't mean they will be good team players or will be happy in a company that emphasises collaboration over individual glory. So, again, ask them how they have dealt with situations, which will illuminate these soft skills.

8. Don't interview people forever. If you talk for more than a couple hours, both of you are likely to flag. If you feel you're hitting the point of diminishing returns, take a break or call it a day. You can always follow up later, in person or on the phone.

9. Establish several fallback questions. It's a good idea to have a few obvious, open questions that you can fall back on if the interview falters. These range from "What makes you different?" to "Describe your ideal working day" to "What are you most proud of?" Yes, to an extent, they are interview clichés. But the reason they're so popular is that they're very useful. Don't forget to ask the candidate if they have any questions, too. These will often provide good insight into how they think and what drives them.

10. Give them closure. One of the worst things interviewers and companies do is fail to tell candidates when they haven't gotten the job. Here you are not obliged to give reams of feedback (and you don't want to get involved in long conversations about why they didn't succeed). But you must drop unsuccessful candidates an email thanking them for their time and saying that, sorry, they did not get the position. It is also worth keeping on file the details of those who came close — they may be useful in the future.

Rhymer Rigby is an FM magazine contributor and author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Neil Amato, an FM magazine senior editor, at