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Recruiter’s Interviewing Secrets Revealed


Hugh JoslinIn the first of a series of regular articles written for HR Zone, Hugh Joslin, Managing Director of Media Contacts (Recruitment Consultants) Ltd shares the secrets of ‘Interviewing’ in the recruitment business.

The interview is the lifeblood of recruitment consultancies. Having interviewed thousands of candidates over the past 20 years, few are as qualified as Hugh Joslin, Managing Director of specialist recruiter Media Contacts, to comment on the art of their interviewing techniques.

A major publisher has an excellent opportunity for a talented senior sales person to make a move into a demanding and rewarding management role, with responsibility for one of its flagship consumer titles. Leading a small team, you will be responsible for using your strategic and commercial skills to the full, and developing business across a broad portfolio of blue chip clients and agencies. £32K + car + commission.

Interviewing applicants plays a major role in the service consultants provide and their success depends on being able to provide shortlists of suitable candidates to match clients’ needs.

Importance of interviewing

It is a well-worn cliché that whatever business you are in, people are the most valuable asset. But many clichés are the truth oft repeated. So how do you pick the right people for the job? In the media world, for example, people’s personality, creativity and their abilities form the core of the company’s business.

At Media Contacts, whether the candidate is a graduate trainee or board level director, each is interviewed at least three times before they are put forward to a prospective employer – usually at one of Europe’s top media owners.

Sound interviewing practice is central to successful recruitment policy. The interview should unearth essential information about the applicant, their abilities, strengths and weaknesses. This will enable you to form an opinion about their suitability and provide a basis for making decision about whether or not to hire them. It is a skill that requires a specific approach and certain ability on the interviewer’s part. It is very easy to do a bad interview, and good people are always in short supply.


Every interview must be prepared and have a structure. The candidate’s CV is a guide to the interviewer and a route map for drafting questions. It is important to check the CV thoroughly for any gaps, inconsistencies and eccentricities. For example, if you have a candidate applying for a senior management position who lists hobbies such as trainspotting, breeding hamsters, collecting Barbie dolls or gurning, it may cast doubts as to their suitability. One candidate claimed recently to be interested in piano playing, rugby, canoeing, and lap dancing! Although upon further examination, the final hobby transpired to have been a typo. The applicant in question has a grade seven certificate in tap dancing.

Flying and parachuting are often used by people who want to make themselves look more interesting and exciting. But when pressed it usually turns out that they flew once when they were 12 years old and they only ever made a single parachute jump for charity. Many self-professed theatre-goers struggle to recall the last production they saw. The most popular hobby at the moment seems to be badminton.


The interviewer’s approach should be assured and forthright, but not over-bearing. A good interviewer would ask a simple, open question first, such as ‘Tell me about yourself’ or ‘Describe a typical day where you work at the moment’, to see what the applicant has to say. You can then pose supplementary questions to ascertain the specific details you need. If you get the interviewee relaxed, you will end up knowing much more about their experiences, personality and qualities. If someone is not interviewing well, find easy, open-ended question to ask to put him or her at ease.

Always cover the most recent job first and then work backwards. It is their most recent experience that is going to be most pertinent to your company, and will be foremost in the applicant’s memory. Always make sure the answer is consistent with their CV.


The interview questions often depend on the type of position the applicant is applying for. Sometimes it is necessary to test the applicant’s ability to overcome a difficult situation they would normally encounter in the working environment. It may be appropriate to ask aggressive or confrontational questions. Essentially these questions will show that whether they can be put onto spot and still cope. The ‘question from hell’ could be: Tell me a joke, your most embarrassing situation or what would you change about yourself?

Larger organisations such as the BBC, British Airways, Rover, HSBC and the military have interview boards or panels. Each member of the board has a particular skill and asks questions relevant to the discipline they work in. So in a panel consisting of an accountant, an HR manager and a marketing manager, for example, the accountant would want to ask about the money management side of things and budgets, the HR manager people orientated questions and the marketing manager may be asking strategic questions.

Doubling up on interviews makes good sense. Having two people conducting the interview affords you an immediate second opinion. Many clients in my sector practice the ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop’ routine, where one puts the interviewee at their ease, whilst the other tries to catch the candidate unawares and to see how they handle pressure.

Always leave time at the end for questions and ask the applicant if they have anything to add to what has been said.

When different people in a company involved in interviewing conduct a series of interviews, it should generally be in a junior to senior order and again generally personnel professionals should interview before line managers.

Every interview should be balanced and a near equal amount of time spent talking by each side. The interview should be a conversation, not a one way monologue.

Selling the company

An interview is also part of the commercial process. Therefore is very important to sell the role and the company. You should allow at least five minutes to talk about the company. It is a form of presentation where you are describing the company and the role positively, highlighting all the benefits and achievements. It is designed to impress and make the candidate feel ‘This is a company worth working for!’ But be aware, there are dangers of overselling – you do not want disillusioned recruits leaving after a month – so the personal delivery is crucial.

One West End publisher that I know interviews in pairs, with each interviewer giving the other an obscure and irrelevant word, such as ‘plinth’ or ‘gunwale’, which they must use during the process, or forfeit a pint. But that’s another story.

Hugh Joslin is the Managing Director of Media Contacts (Recruitment Consultants) Limited, a recruitment consultancy group specialising in recruitment for the media, new media, graduate, events, and editorial sectors.

One Response

  1. Separating feedback from personal criticism
    We may have fundamental differences surrounding your comments on this article Jeff. I would not deny your right to form an opinion about it. I would not deny you the freedom to express your opinion. But I would urge you to consider the balance of your comments.

    Mr Joslin has built a successful business over a period of time. He has applied his own learning and experiences in building that business. His recruitment activities centre around the Media industry, an industry in which he has developed some understanding. It is surely from that perspective that he shares his views with us? Others will work from other perspectives, but that does not mean that they should denigrate Mr Joslin’s experienced viewpoint.

    Accepting that you have disagreement with the content of the article, are we to take it that you would deny that there are useful elements also? For example: Should a recruitment consultancy in the Media sector consider how to plan the interview? should they consider how to draw out the applicants abilities, strengths and weaknesses?

    For a readership of HR people, Mr Joslin’s views on Interviewing gives that readership the opportunity to select those parts which may be useful for their own situations whilst choosing to leave those parts which do not suit them.

    A couple of quotations spring to mind, and I would ask you to please consider them.

    “The principle is competing against yourself. It’s about self-improvement, about being better than you were the day before.” ~ Steve Young

    “It is a man’s sympathy with all creatures that truly makes him a man. Until he extends his circle of compassion to all living things, man himself will not find peace.” ~ Albert Schweitzer

    Compassion is a powerful way of living. In our society it is very easy to be judgemental of others and assume that they are a certain way, and that we know a better way. The problem here is that we are seldom completely right ourselves.

    I look forward to the next article.

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