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Becoming a great interviewer: do your homework, get it right

Written by: Adam Bernstein
Published on: 30 Jan 2024

Interview

Image © sebra / Adobe Stock

Managers often consider themselves to be excellent interviewers, adept at sniffing out lies and discovering the real person before them. However, while some may be a truth hound, the reality is many might benefit from a little humility and some guidance on how to do better.

So, what is the optimal approach for conducting interviews? How should managers ensure that a fair and impartial process is followed? And how should they extract the information they need from candidates to make well-informed hiring decisions?

It should be remembered that becoming a master of effective interviewing is an essential skill for any manager. Anything otherwise will not let them get to know the candidate before them or assess their suitability for the role and its requirements – and nor will it let the manager evaluate the candidate’s compatibility with the practice’s culture.

Recruitment is expensive in terms of cost and management time – not to say that a failed hire is unfair on the candidate. Getting the interview process right can pre-empt many potential future issues.

It follows, then, that to master the art of interviewing, managers need to prepare, invest enough time, and understand the best practices to run an interview.

Preparation is everything

Going into a meeting or the like ill-prepared – we’re all guilty of this from time to time, and the results are normally the same: we either do not get the best result we could have achieved or we leave with egg on our face. The same applies to interviews.

The only solution is to make sure the manager has taken time to familiarise themselves with the job being interviewed for and its specific requirements, and well in advance. This means investing time to understand the job, its responsibilities, the experience that a successful candidate needs to succeed along with the key skills that the “perfect” candidate should possess. With preparation, interview questions can be formulated.

When asking questions, the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an applicant, either directly or indirectly, on the basis of any protected characteristics it outlines. These are age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity.

Asking questions about these elements of an individual could lead to a legal claim, unless a genuine occupational requirement (such as hiring a person of a particular sex because of the nature of the job and for reasons of privacy and decency) exists.

Do not be biased

Gone are the days when employers could be biased during the recruitment process. Today, fair interviews with objectivity and impartiality are central to getting the process right. To achieve this, managers and those interviewing must be trained to recognise and eliminate unconscious bias. This is defined as the holding of attitudes and beliefs towards groups of people that are so ingrained they become unconscious, and so lead to discriminatory views and actions.

Bias exists in all of us, but it can be removed by using what is termed “blind recruitment”, where any personally identifiable information – names, age and sex – is removed from job applications and CVs.

By doing this, each candidate will be assessed purely on their qualifications, skills and experience, rather than on factors which may lead to discriminatory decisions.

Interview 2

Image © Mangostar / Adobe Stock

Do not interrogate

The whole point of an interview is to garner information about the candidate so the interviewer can establish if the individual has right skills and aptitude, and will fit into the practice.

It follows then that an interviewer’s questions should cover what the practice really needs to know – that is, the candidate’s technical skills, soft skills, behaviour and cultural fit.

So, when devising questions, it is important to keep questions simple, avoiding convoluted or long questions. Instead, it is better to put open questions that lead a candidate to elaborate with detail about their skills, problem-solving abilities, experience and motivations. It is also worth giving candidates challenges to resolve based on real or hypothetical situations, to see how they problem solve.

At the same time, it helps to understand a candidate’s long-term career goals and the future they want to see within the practice, should they be successful. How do their ambitions match those that the practice can offer?

Similarly, interviewers should pay attention to the candidate’s responses, looking for inconsistencies and probing deeper where a response does not add up, or if more detail is needed.

Consideration should also be given to their communication skills, as this is a fundamental requirement in many roles. Here, it is worth examining not only what they say, but also how they say it.

In other words, are they able to communicate information articulately? Can they outline a complex matter in simple terms?

Shut up and listen

The art of good conversation is not so much about talking, but rather, about listening. In an interview situation, close attention needs to be paid to both verbal and non-verbal communication – both are equally valuable in a workplace.

The interviewer needs to maintain eye contact while using non-verbal cues – such as nodding – to show they are genuinely listening and engaging in the conversation.

Interviews are not one-sided interrogations; they are a two-way process where the interviewer should probe deeper when a candidate mentions something intriguing or when a better understanding of the candidate’s response is warranted. Follow-up questions and clarification shows that the interviewer is interested.

But, just as the interviewer seeks information on behalf of the practice, so the candidate will need time to ask their own questions. Any answers given should be open and detailed enough so the candidate can assess whether the practice is right for them.

Be transparent

Lastly, once the interview is over, the interviewer should give a clear timeline for the rest of the recruitment process.

In other words, candidates should have a fair idea of when they can expect to receive feedback or hear back from the practice. 

Summary

Interviews are an information-gathering exercise for all. Done well, both sides will come out of the meeting with a good understanding of each other and an expectation of the direction in which the process will head.

Few interviewers are so well-skilled that they get the process right every time. A little training will go a long way for everyone else.