Hiring the right person to join your company involves so much more than simply getting a person with the right skills and experience, you also must get the right person. A thirty-minute conversation in a stressful setting is not always the best way to assess whether the candidate seated across from you is The One. And getting it wrong could be disastrous, or expensive.

Not all companies have the luxury of a dedicated, qualified HR person who would be equipped with the necessary interview skills. Often it is left up to the manager in charge of the department to conduct the interviews – and they might have the eloquence of a scientist and the people skills of a nightclub bouncer. An HR professional has expert knowledge and insight, and access to resources of the latest and most effective interview methods. But if you are a business owner or a department manager tasked with the responsibility of conducting interviews, read on for a summary of all you need to know before you enter that boardroom.


  • Phone interview: Used if the candidate is not local or for an initial screening conversation before an in-person interview is scheduled.
  • Video interview: becoming more common as a regular part of the hiring process.
  • One-on-one: The traditional interview, usually with the manager of the open position and with the focus to get a feel for the candidate to see if they are a good fit
  • Panel interview: More than one representative of the company participates in the interview, which saves time as all the people involved in the hiring are in one interview, with each getting the opportunity to ask questions related to their field/requirements.
  • Group interviews: More than one candidate attends the interview. The format is often a short presentation about the company followed by individual conversations. This saves time and gives the company a chance to see how candidates interact in the group. Are they a leader or purely task focused? Communication skills? Personality?
  • Behavioral / competency interview: The questions are geared towards seeking how the candidate would react or had in the past reacted in certain work situations. How had they shown certain competencies like leadership, teamwork, and so on.
  • Lunch interview: This is often a second interview, sometimes with other members of the team.
  • Case / puzzle interview: The candidate is given a business problem or puzzle to solve.
  • A working interview: The candidate is given an assignment. This is often used to assess the candidate’s skills such as writing, engineering, and so on.
  • Career fair interview: Impromptu short interviews during career fairs.
  • Structured interview: An impartial approach in which all candidates are asked the same questions.
  • Semi-structured: A strict list of questions is not followed, but instead an approach of open-ended questions and conversation.
  • Unstructured: The interviewer might have a list of questions, but the conversation is casual and steered more according to the answers received.
  • Stress interview: The interviewer creates a stressful environment on purpose, to test candidate responses.


  1.  This candidate is your company’s next champion

Imagine that the candidate you are about to meet in an interview is going to be the next superstar in your company. Imagine they are going to be with your company for many years and they are going to become an integral part of the success of your department. For a candidate like that, you will probably not be late, you will probably be well-prepared, you will probably give your full attention. Apply that attitude to every interview: treat every candidate with respect and go into the interview with the belief that you are meeting your company’s next great asset.

  1. Sell your company

Keep in mind that you are not the only one conducting an interview during the meeting: the candidate is also evaluating you and your company. While always being sincere and honest about your company, you have the chance here to present your company in a way that the candidate will not hesitate to accept an offer further down the line. Bear in mind that if the candidate has strong experience, skills and qualifications, yours will probably not be the only offer on the table for them to consider. Ensure that your interview is the first, clear step towards convincing the candidate to choose your company.

  1. Structure

Interviews typically follow a structure starting with you briefly outlining who the company is and what the job involves, followed by questions to the candidate and concluding with questions from the candidate. Experienced candidates will be expecting the interview to follow this sequence of events. Inexperienced candidates could benefit from you telling them upfront how the interview will progress, keeping everyone on the same page.

  1. First impressions

Granted, first impressions are important. Interviewers often decide within the first five minutes if the candidate is a good fit, based on how well-dressed or confident the candidate appears to be. But great interviewers know that first impressions can be misleading and that nothing is gained from rushing to conclusions. You might skip some questions or not fully engage with the candidate during the interview, because you have already come to some decision. Guard against a snap judgment, defer any opinion until the end of the interview.

  1. Notes

Take notes: Make brief notes during the interview and take time for detailed notes immediately after the interview. At the end of a long day of interviews, you will not remember as much as you might wish. Do not think that you will be able to recall five or six conversations in accurate detail at the end of the day. Your notes immediately after the interview should include any points – both good and bad – that really stood out about the candidate, any answers or unique ideas that set them apart or that drew your attention. Once you have noted everything that you would want to remember about the candidate, you can clear your mind and start fresh with the next candidate.

  1. Listening

Concentrate on the person in front of you. Listen not only to the answer, but also to the language being used, the attitude with which answers are given, whether the answers seem overly rehearsed, or authentic. If you are already thinking of the next question you are going to ask, you might miss some key detail the candidate is telling you about. Do not feel like you must fill silences – give the candidate room to fill them.

  1. Don’t hold the conversation hostage

Do not monopolize the conversation because you could lose your chance to get to know the candidate, to see if the candidate’s personality will fit into your company culture. It is your job to ask questions and then focus on listening and really hearing the answers. If you are present in a thoughtful, focused way, the interview will be a natural conversation and your follow-up questions will be meaningful.


The candidate is arriving prepared for the interview – make sure you are too. A sample of the questions that you could consider:

  • Why do you want to leave your current job?
  • At what duties in your last position did you excel? And at which ones did you perform the worst? Why?
  • Why do you want this position?
  • What detail in the job description specifically caught your attention and why?
  • Which goal in this position would you most like to achieve?
  • Which aspects of this job would be the most difficult or challenging for you?
  • Tell me about the one accomplishment of which you are the proudest.
  • When you consider a new company, what criteria do you use in your evaluation of a potential new employer?
  • What type of work relationship do you prefer between staff and employer?
  • What motivates you at work?
  • Please give me an example of how you have used your communication / organizational / leadership skills.

Beware of the questions that you might ask during casual small talk. Asking the candidate whether they have children, whether they celebrated a religious holiday, whether they are married, might just be your way of putting the candidate at ease and connecting on a personal level. But consider from the candidate’s point of view. If they do not get offered the job, what will they think the reason for these questions could be. They could think that you don’t want anyone with children, or anyone of a certain religion, or anyone planning to get married and start a family soon. Those are irrelevant questions, they do not directly relate to the candidate’s skills or ability to do the job, so do not ask them.


  • Vary the types of questions that you will ask.
      • You can ask simple and straightforward, closed-ended questions seeking a yes or no or factual answer. For example: “How many people were employed in the department that you managed?”
      • Open-ended questions are the way to go if you would like to get to know the candidate better, what is their personality and work ethic. For example: “Why do you want this job?”
      • Or a hypothetical question to ask the candidate about situations that might arise in the job. For example: “If a big change were to be implemented in the company, how would you structure the communication of that to the staff?”
  • Most important: Do not be boring! If you ask boring, predictable questions, you will be boring, predictable answers. You only have 30 minutes, so spend them wisely. “What is your biggest weakness” is unlikely to teach you much about the candidate.
  • Include a random question like “Which famous person would you most like to invite to dinner, and why?” or “What is your favourite book, and why?”


  • Be conscious of the purpose of your questions, so that you can evaluate the answers accurately. You do not simply want to run through a list of questions that you had found on the internet. You want to understand the significance of the answers.
  • You do not want to ask an off-the-wall question like “What will you do if you won the 10 million Euro lottery tonight?” and not have an idea of what to infer from the answer. Will the answers illustrate the candidate’s creativity, intelligence, sense of humour, skills to solve problems, composure under stress, values, intuition, personality type? And are those qualities important and relevant to the job?


It is helpful to be aware of some basic principles in human psychology to arm yourself with knowledge. We can recommend further reading on these and other principles because it is an extensive field that warrants much more in-depth knowledge. Very briefly:

1. Confirmation bias

“Confirmation bias is the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their existing beliefs or hypotheses. Confirmation bias happens when a person gives more weight to evidence that confirms their beliefs and undervalues evidence that could disprove it.”

If you already have some idea or opinion about the candidate, you will look for and find proof during the interview that confirms that opinion. You will seek out information that confirms your existing opinions and ignore facts or data that refute them.

2. Halo effect

“The halo effect, also referred to as the halo error, is a type of cognitive bias whereby our perception of someone is positively influenced by our opinions of that person’s other related traits.”

The candidate has brilliant coding skills, but he is a poor communicator and unable to work in a team. Your perception of him is influenced by your being impressed by his one skill, overlooking the deficiency in other areas.

3. Social comparison bias

“People constantly evaluate themselves, and others, in domains like attractiveness, wealth, intelligence, and success. According to some studies, as much as 10 percent of our thoughts involve comparisons of some kind. Social comparison theory is the idea that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others.”

You might feel resentful towards a candidate if you perceive them to be better than you in some way. You might view such a candidate as somewhat of a threat or competition. You can overcome this bias by being aware of it: remind yourself that this candidate is not a threat or aiming to get your job, but instead focus on their potential and what they can mean for your company.

4. Affect Heuristic

“The affect heuristic is a type of mental shortcut in which people make decisions that are heavily influenced by their current emotions. Essentially, your affect (a psychological term for emotional response) plays a critical role in the choices and decisions you make.”

What can you do to prevent your emotions from influencing your decision making? Simply being aware of the phenomenon might be helpful. If you know that you tend to be swayed by your feelings and emotions, you equip yourself to make more objective and clear-minded decisions in the future.

How can you guard against these behavioural principles influencing the outcome of the interview?

  • The interview being conducted by more than one interviewer is a good step to take to reduce the possibility of subjective judgment.
  • Being aware of these biases is already a step in the direction of guarding against them.
  • A structured interview helps to focus the interviewer on objective information.


1. Give time for questions

You now have another opportunity to sell your company, and to assess the interviewee’s interest in your company, when you give the opportunity for questions to be asked.

2. Close

Let the candidate know what to expect and when. Will there be more interviews, with whom and when. What is the timeline for when they can expect a decision. Make a commitment that you will be in touch with the candidate at the expected date. Even if there is no exact date, give an estimated range. Commit to the date that you will contact them, whether a decision has been made or not. Make sure you stick to that! It would be bad manners not to, and bad reflection on your company.


1. Get a second opinion

Talking about a candidate can help you formulate your opinion about the candidate. Also, if someone else’s opinion is considered, your possible blind spots can be addressed and fixed. Consider asking several colleagues to meet the candidate, to get different perspectives. Especially if the candidate is going to work and interact with many people in the company.

2. References

Try to find references beyond the ones the candidate has supplied. Someone who had worked with the candidate who knows how they treat their colleagues, how they handled stress, what possible weaknesses they have.

3. Looking for perfection

Are you trying to find the best candidate among those who you are interviewing OR are you trying to find a perfect candidate that you had imagined? If you keep on interviewing, you will keep doing it until filling the vacancy becomes urgent. You could have employed a candidate that could have been trained, but if that candidate is talented, they have probably found another job in the meantime. Don’t hold out for the “perfect” candidate.

4. Diversity

To nurture a culture of innovative thought in your company, you must have people who think differently. Look for the opposite of who you are, look for people with different perspectives. The more perspectives you have available to you, the more chances of success you have in a competitive market. Cast a wide net: it could be beneficial to have people with unique and unusual experience. Guard against the unconscious bias of hiring a copy of yourself. Rather find someone who complements your skills.

5. Your instincts

You might feel pressure to fill the role quickly. You know that there is no perfect candidate, and that the candidate who you decide on will most likely not tick all the boxes. But, be mindful of any nagging doubts that you may have. There is a fine line between the candidate not being perfect (because no one is) and the candidate bringing some aspect of character to your company that you most definitely do not want. Trust your instincts.

If you would like to speak to one of the recruiters at StaffMatters for our expert insights and experience, please get in touch at +357 25341383 or admin@smstaffmatters.com. We are here to assist in any way we can.

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