Guide to interviewing candidates

While candidates have to be well prepared, you, as the interviewer, must also take steps to ready yourself for the interview process.

There are two stages to preparing to interview a candidate. First is the information to provide to the interviewee.

  • holidays. You need to be able to say how many weeks, when they can be taken and any restrictions you intend to impose
  • illness. Explain what will happen if your employee is away from work because of illness
  • starting date of the job, if this has been decided
  • hours of work
  • salary matters, such as when they are paid, any rules on overtime, bonuses or commission, if applicable.

The second stage is what you want to ask them. Some possible questions to ask candidates are:

  1. What is the best part and worst part of your present job, and why?
  2. What bit of your work do you find difficult and what bit the easiest?
  3. How do you rate your present boss?
  4. Describe your ideal boss.
  5. What do you consider to be your greatest success and why?
  6. What do you consider to be your greatest failure and why?
  7. When were you last angry at work? What caused the anger? What form did your anger take?
  8. What is most important to you about the job you are looking for?
  9. What will your family and friends think of your new job?
  10. What are your greatest strengths?
  11. What are your weaknesses?
  12. What worries you most about the job?
  13. What excites you most about the job?

Roughly, a useful interview could run along the following lines:

  1. Spend a few minutes putting the applicant at ease, for example, talking about his or her interests
  2. Ask open questions which the person you are interviewing will have to answer with more than a yes or no. The questions you ask should allow you to get some idea of whether the person could do the job well
  3. Also ask closed questions designed to test a candidate’s knowledge and skill, specific questions such as ‘On what date …?’ and hypothetical questions, ‘If you were …’
  4. Try using silence sometimes as a way of getting the person to expand. For example, once the person has finished explaining something, do not always leap in with another question but remain silent. Sometimes, the person being interviewed will be prompted to be more revealing
  5. Keep in control of the interview while doing little talking, perhaps less than a third of the total time
  6. Concentrate on listening and observing your applicant. This helps you to judge the replies and to pinpoint areas where you need to probe more. You should also reflect on what the person has said and feed it back to them
  7. Be flexible; do not stick rigidly to a planned script. Try to develop what your interviewee has said
  8. Take notes. They do not need to be very comprehensive, but sufficient to jog your memory when assessing the interview afterwards (Bear in mind that the applicant has the right to see your notes)
  9. Give a little detail about the job and how it fits in your business. You can miss out this and the next stage, if you have already concluded that the person is not suitable and thus save wasting time. It is important not to do this stage before asking the questions. If you do, you may have fed the person with sufficient information, so that he or she knows how to answer your questions
  10. Ask the job applicant if there are any questions, or if he or she wishes to tell you anything else about suitability for the job, which has not been brought out by the questions
  11. If the person seems promising, spend some time making sure that the job would be accepted if it was offered. After all, the person is selecting a new job in the hope that it will last for a while and will want to be confident that your job is really the best choice.

See also: UK businesses reveal their biggest interview bugbears

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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