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Interviewing Skills

Interviewing Skills

Sharpening Your Interview Skills  

Interviews are an integral part of the traditional recruitment process. The one-to-one contact can provide an in-depth impression of how that candidate will perform in your given position. Getting the most out of interviewing is a combination of preparation, suitable questioning and listening. There are a whole host of different techniques depending on how you aim to approach the interview and the purpose of it.

Methods of interviews

There are a number of different approaches to interviews, two main examples of which are:

Behavioural event interviewing: This delves into the past and examines how the applicant handled a previous task or duty. This method works on the premise that the way an applicant worked in the past will dictate performance in the future. This is a relatively simple and effective approach and is the most commonly used interview method.

Criteria or competency based interviewing: The main advantage of this is the way in which it indicates levels of candidate performance in different areas. This is achieved by constantly testing the applicant's knowledge through a series of rigid and structured questioning against key competencies identified as essential to the role and the organisation as a whole. This is an extremely formal but effective way to interview on performance alone. The downfall of this is that the interviewer needs to be highly skilled in their questioning and there may be a risk that if he or she doesn't probe enough, the whole interview could prove ineffective. This style of interviewing is usually driven as a company wide initiative in line with overall commercial strategy.


The variety in interview techniques and structures used reflects the variety of factors influencing employers when approaching interviews. Personal preferences, different objectives and the past experience of the company combine to influence the techniques employed. Planning carefully and employing rigorous questioning and listening techniques will support all of these methods. Whatever the approach however there are some key activities to undertake:

Here's a simple checklist:

Our requirements:

Think about the job specification. What specific skills are you looking for, what experience is essential and what is desirable? What are the main duties of your position and what is the scope for career progression within that role? What characteristics are you looking for? Outlining specific requirements will help to define your questions, and uncover relevant information.

Analyse the cv and/or application form in advance:

Important but easily overlooked when time is at a premium. From the applicant's written details, you can highlight strengths and weaknesses. The cv may also emphasise any gaps or issues that need to be addressed. From this, you can decide on additional areas to probe. You may also want to discover more about the companies that the applicant has worked for, and their role within them. For instance, if the position he held was that of supervisor, how many staff where supervised and how did he feel about that? How did he cope? How does he feel about supervising even more staff? Or less? Use the cv to ask relevant questions for your position.

Ensure you have a detailed brief of the job specification:

Be prepared for questions regarding this as well as the company itself. If you are assertive in your response, it will give the applicant greater confidence and trust in you, and present you in a professional light. After all, if this is the perfect applicant for your position, wouldn't you like them to have the best impression of you and the company?

The interview room:

To get the most out of the applicant, it's important to put him at ease. Choose a room where you won't be disturbed. If it is to be held in your office, divert your calls and ensure no one interrupts. Imagine how distracting it will be for you and your applicant if the telephone is constantly ringing or if there's a knock at the door. An informal setting will also put candidates at ease. Two chairs at a low table are far less threatening than the barrier of a desk.

Your agenda

Have an agenda prepared for the interview. This will help you keep to your time limit and keep you focused on the questions you need to ask. Have a plan of which questions you need to ask and when - formulate a clear structure to which you can stick.

Before commencing the interview, remember you will get the most out of the applicant when they are feeling at ease. You only have a limited amount of time to achieve this. Introduce yourself, run through the agenda and tell them how long you plan to take. Informing the applicant of what to expect should help to put them at ease. Ask permission to take notes, it is courteous and won't alarm the applicant if you suddenly start scribbling an answer down.

Questioning techniques


Who, what, where, when, how and why. Questions that explore and gather a wide range of information.


Specific questions relating to details. Check information gained through open questions.


Look for the answer to single facts, again used for probing.


Asks 'how would you feel if...' - leads the applicant to think on a wider scale. Gives a feel for how the applicant would react, although don't take their answer literally, they may react differently in the event.

You are effectively using a funnel approach. Starting at the widest point of the funnel, using open and hypothetical questions you gain a broad scope of information. You will then push this information down the funnel for more specific responses using probing, and, finally, closed questions.

Leave a lasting impression

The applicant is not the only one being tested during the interview. It is critical that you make the best impression possible. Applicants form lasting opinions of your company from the interview. Shabby surroundings, a disorganised interviewer, or constant disruptions all reflect badly on the company. As soon as you meet the applicant you are portraying your organisation's image. It is essential to be organised, well-presented and on time! Reflect the efficiency you are looking for in your applicants. Remember, if you leave them with a bad impression, not only will they not be interested in working for the company themselves but they will also tell their friends and peers about their experience.

Closing the interview

Closing the interview leaves them with their final impression of you. Invite the applicant to ask questions. He may need clarification on issues or you may not have covered an area of interest for him. Explain what is to follow next - outline a timescale detailing when you expect to make a decision and when the applicant will be notified. Discuss the interview process. Will there be a second or third interview, will there be a panel interview, can they expect any tests?

And finally?

As soon as you finish the interview, make a quick summary of what you thought, felt and any key points. Outline how you left things with the applicant. It's amazing how much you can forget if you don't do this, especially if you're interviewing more than one person in a day. This will help you when you make your comparisons for second interviews or for that all important job offer.

So - next time you're interviewing a selection of applicants or even just the one, there is no excuse to rush in sweating with absolutely no preparation! Think about the way you want to interview, analyse the cv and job spec, decide what you want to ask and how you want to ask it. Consider the impression you make and take notes. With preparation, you'll become a more successful and efficient interviewer.

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