by Kate Russell

The interview

Make sure you prepare for the interviews thoroughly.

  • Letters to applicants must be correctly addressed and contain accurate information.
  • Applicants should be asked to ring to confirm their attendance at interviews.
  • Make any reasonable adjustments if requested to do so.
  • Communication must be kept confidential (if you need to ring the applicant at work, give your name, but not your company name).
  • Front-of-house staff should have a list of interviewees’ names.
  • Refreshments and company reading materials should be provided while interviewees are waiting.
  • Book a suitable meeting room, where you won’t be interrupted.
  • Book time in your diary.
  • You should have read the candidates’ details and prepared individual questions.
  • You should have prepared some competency based questions (see section on Interview questions). It’s helpful to ask all candidates the same basic questions so you can compare answers. You will probably need to ask some individual probing questions of each candidate.
  • Use an answer scoring system so you can assess the quality and content of the answers as objectively as possible. For example:
    • 3 for an answer with full content that exceeds requirements
    • 2 for a good answer that meets requirements
    • 1 for an answer that contains some requirements
    • 0 for an answer that does not meet requirements
  • Brief other members of the interviewing team where appropriate.

Interview structure

An interview needs to be structured, as this helps both you and your interviewee. The opening and closing phases will be brief, but they are important.

As a rough guide, you should aim to talk for no more than 40 per cent of the time throughout the interview. Make full notes of your questions and the answers. Make sure your notes are objective and accurate. Under the Data Protection Act, candidates can ask you to produce a copy of the interview notes.


During the interview, avoid making promises that can’t be kept – they may be legally binding.

Stage 1: The beginning

Introduce yourself and then outline the format of the interview. Tell the applicant what to expect, how long the interview will last, what you want of him and what you will tell him.

Tell him that you will be taking notes so that you can keep an accurate record of what he has said in the interview.

Build rapport. A good way to do this is to look at the candidate details you have in front of you and pick out the things that naturally interest you so that you can talk about them.

Stage 2: The middle

Gather information systematically. Question the applicant in a methodical way and thoroughly probe the competencies and personality traits you have decided to explore. Do not finish questioning until you have got the information you want. See the section on Interview questions.

Make good notes. You need to record what the applicant says as accurately as possible. Take your time and write down each answer after they have finished speaking. Don’t try to do everything at once.

Control the interview. Remember you are in charge. If the applicant is not going into enough detail, ask him to expand on what is being said. If he is talking too much, ask them just to give you the important points.

If you ask a specific competency question candidates frequently answer in a very general way. Don’t be afraid to ask for a specific example or instance and then probe for more detail.

Stage 3: The ending

Do a final question check. Look through your notes and do not finish the interview until you have asked all the questions you planned.

Tell the applicant what the next stage of the process is and when he will be hearing from you.

Allow the applicant to ask any final questions of you.

Thank the applicant and say goodbye.

Common mistakes

One reason why so many interviews yield relatively poor results is that it is all too easy for the interviewer to fall into one of several traps.

Our own idiosyncrasies

We all have preferences in terms of appearance and behaviour. It’s easy to be disproportionately affected by these. But note that these minor things don’t mean that the candidate can’t do the job.

The types of thing that interviewers may recoil from include:

  • Baseball caps
  • Scruffy clothing
  • Trainers
  • Too much aftershave/perfume/make up/jewellery
  • White socks
  • Facial hair
  • Bitten nails

...and there are many more!

Cure: Recognise and put away your personal preferences and concentrate objectively on the relevant facts.

Impatience (if they’ve got a pulse!)

Some employers delay their recruitment activities until they’re really desperate for staff. This often means that the employer will accept a deviation away from the requirements of the person specification. In fact, they will accept almost anyone with a pulse to do the job. Inevitably, serious mistakes occur when you are in this frame of mind. Plan your diary properly to avoid making this mistake.

Cure: Plan ahead

Assumptions (nice strong handshake!)

Human beings tend to draw conclusions based on a variety of things, including racial stereotypes. One of my former bosses was convinced that a strong handshake meant that the person was a good leader. There is no evidence that a strong (or weak) handshake means anything of the sort.

Cure: Collect all the relevant facts presented by a candidate and compare them to the criteria for the job.

Similarities (supports the same football team)

People are drawn to people like themselves. We feel rapport and a sense of sameness with others with whom we share certain similarities. Just because a candidate supports the same football team as you, plays golf or has children at the same school it does not mean that they’re the right person for the job.

Cure: Collect all the relevant facts presented by a candidate and compare them to the criteria for the job.

Halo and horns

The halo effect results when an interviewer overrates a candidate by:

  • Failing to see problems because he has decided he likes the candidate
  • Giving a more favourable reception to those candidates with similar beliefs or background to his own
  • Believing that, because an answer is outstanding in one area, there are no problems in other areas.

The horns effect results when an interviewer underrates a candidate by:

  • Failing to see the candidate’s good points because he has decided he dislikes the candidate
  • Deciding that the answer is inappropriate, no matter what the candidate says or does.

Cure: Collect all the relevant facts presented by a candidate and compare them to the criteria for the job.

The 30-second assessment

Many interviewers pride themselves on their ability to judge a candidate immediately. All you really know about someone after 30 seconds is how they look and sound. You don’t know anything about their ability to do the job.

If, after collecting evidence, you still have a gut feeling about the candidate, explore the feeling through questions.

Cure: Put aside your immediate impression and look for evidence to confirm or deny that the candidate has the appropriate skills. Compare them to the criteria for the job.

After the interview

  • Keep records of interviews for up to six months. They can be evidence if you go to tribunal.
  • Following the interviews, send out rejection letters to unsuccessful applicants as soon as possible.
  • Arrange second interviews (if appropriate) and invite applicants to attend.
  • Alternatively, send out a job offer and take up References.

It’s incredibly important to be courteous and efficient. This experience contributes to your employer brand, which can be loosely defined as what people say about the business behind your back. If candidates feel you have been rude they may well mention it negatively on social media or a forum like Glassdoor. Recruitment is a two-way process and (unless you are Google or Microsoft) you will have to sell the concept and brand of your business and the job role to attract the best candidates.