So you’ve identified a vacancy in your business, written a fantastic recruitment advert and got a shortlist of possible candidates. The next stage of the process has to be an interview.

At its best, an interview should be a two-way sharing of information to work out whether the candidate is the right fit for the role and your business. Preparation is the key to finding out what you need to know.

Before the interview

Prepare your questions

Ideally you’ll already have a job description that details all the skills and qualifications you’re looking for in the role. Your recruitment advert should give you a good starting point if you haven’t. Also, think about previous employees who have carried out this role, particularly the top performers – what qualities or skills did they have that you want in your new recruit? This should give you a list of skills, qualifications and attributes that you’re looking for.

Prepare your list of questions in line with this list of skills. Review the candidates’ CVs and application letters to try to get a feel for where their strengths may lie, and direct your questions accordingly.

Aim for a combination of questions about the candidates’ experience, as well as situational and behavioural questions, to get a rounded picture of what they can do. Situational questions ask candidates about real workplace situations and how they would react to them in the future, while behavioural questions focus on their past work experience. Read our article on interview questions for more details.

Decide who does what

Decide who will conduct the interview. If possible there should be more than one person, but no more than three, as this allows you to compare notes afterwards. In larger businesses, it’s also a good idea to include an interviewer who will be working directly with the new employee, as they will have a good idea of the skills and personality traits required.

If there will be more than one interviewer, decide who will lead the interview, manage the introductions and keep time. Also think about whether specific people will ask specific questions.

See our report to find out more about Which? Trusted traders’ experiences of taking on employees. Read on for more interview tips and examples of questions that you should and shouldn’t ask.

Interview tips

Make a good first impression

Although interviews are notoriously nerve-wracking for candidates, it’s a good idea to reduce stress if possible. Putting people under pressure isn’t going to give you a true reading of who they are and what they can do. You may want to give them an idea of what you’ll be asking about to let them prepare various topics.

The interview and how it’s conducted will give candidates a lasting impression of your company – good or bad. You want the best people to want to work for you, so do your best to make a good impression. How you ask the questions, your tone of voice, the working environment, your behaviour and that of your colleagues will all influence how they feel about your company.

Put the candidate at ease

Try to carry out the interview at a time that’s convenient for the candidate, and let them know the dress code so they don’t have to worry about what to wear.

Conduct the interview somewhere comfortable – a meeting room, or a separate room where you won’t be interrupted by phone calls, customers or colleagues.

Start with some simple questions to put the candidate at ease. Ask them about their journey to the interview, their current role – anything to settle their nerves.

Find out about them

You may want to tell the candidate more about the role and what you’re looking for as an opener. But be careful not to talk too much – your priority is finding out about them.

Try to ask open questions – using what, where, when, and why – rather than closed yes/ no questions. This will encourage your candidate to talk and you can get a feel for who they are.

Take notes during the interview. You can review candidates’ responses afterwards, and you’ll have a record should any of the candidates ask for feedback. You may want to use a form with the questions already printed on it to write your notes on.

End on a positive note

Interviews are a two-way process – the candidate is also assessing whether your business is a good fit for them. To conclude the session, remember to list the positive benefits – interesting work, great colleagues, flexibility, or whatever else your business has to offer.

At the end of the interview, it’s useful to round up the process and let the candidate know what the next steps are, and when they should expect a response from you.

After the interview

Keep any notes you’ve made for a period of 6-12 months. If a candidate asks for feedback, you can use your notes to remind you of their performance and give accurate comments.

Always contact candidates via phone or email about the result of their interview, even if they haven’t got the job. It’s polite and leaves a positive impression of your business.

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