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Revisiting the interview

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Interview techniques

HR Zone member and chartered occupational psychologist Denise Taylor recommends refining your interview technique to increase your skills and performance during the recruitment process.


Many people will say they are a good interviewer; it is a part of many jobs, but how good are we really? Have we slipped into some bad habits? Could we benefit from reviewing our performance? How do we really measure up to other people?

There are many different types of interview, from unstructured through to competency based. Most people have now adopted a more structured approach, which has a higher probability of predicting job performance.

So let’s now look at the different stages of competency-based interviews, take a note of good practice and review our approach.

The competencies

Competencies are often company wide, such as ‘working with people, planning and organising’, but need to be tailored to the job with different expectations depending on organisational role and level. The competencies should be more than a top level description to also include detailed indicators – positive and negative. At interview, at least two questions should be prepared for each competence.

Before the interview

You will prepare by reading the paperwork, looking for how to follow up, and thinking how you can bring out the examples from shy, quiet or less articulated candidates.

Prepare yourself by making sure you switch off from other work. Are you ready to focus 100 per cent on the candidate? You may have challenges in other parts of your work and personal life but you must put these to one side whilst you interview.

You may be given a list of questions, but do practice saying them out loud – can you say them clearly without tripping yourself up? Anticipate what you will do if the candidate looks at you blankly or says: “No I can’t think of an example”. Also make sure you have some follow up questions so you can probe for more specific details.

“We also need to recognise our biases – we all get on better with people like us, and there is a tendency to recruit in our image.”

We also need to recognise our biases – we all get on better with people like us, and there is a tendency to recruit in our image. We need to be mindful and not let first impressions influence us favourably or negatively (halo and horns effect).

During the interview

The beginning:

Do you really develop rapport or are you just going through the motions? Many candidates are apprehensive and spending time on introductions means they are more likely to perform to their best. I notice that many interviewers rush this stage; this usually means they don’t get the best out of a candidate.

Tell them a bit about you – but not too much; this is not your ego trip where you tell them how important and qualified you are but it does help if you explain your role, the process and so on.

It can often help to have a check list – water, time, notes, questions at the end, length of the interview, what happens next – to ensure you don’t miss anything out. Little things can be helpful such as pouring out the water for the candidate (if they are nervous they may spill it), and making sure there is somewhere for them to put the glass down.

The body of the interview:

Ask a question: You will prepare open questions in advance based on the competences and must also be ready to follow up and probe. As you ask the question make sure you listen carefully. Don’t assume you know what the candidate will say, and show that you are listening through eye contact, nods and other non verbal reinforcers.

Listen to the reply: Some interviewers expect to hear a particular reply and can be a bit thrown when they hear something different. For example, if a candidate talks about when they have demonstrated resilience via their personal, and not work, related life. If this is the case don’t be rude and interrupt them, trying to get the answer you want, listen carefully and see how their response matches the competence definition. Then ask a question to be more specific if necessary.

“Do make sure your notes are factual and job related. Candidates do have a right to ask to see any notes made and you may need to justify your decision.”

Sometimes we lose concentration and can’t recall what was said. Don’t make assumptions; there is nothing wrong in asking the candidate to repeat what they have just said.

Follow up: Be ready to probe and follow up, you can’t just accept what is said. You must dig below, what at first sight may be a great answer, for the specific details. This is a key area when I mentor interviewers, too many accept what is said without the detail, so ask questions such as: “Can you give me a specific example of that?” Or: “So what did you actually do?”

Take notes: Do make sure your notes are factual and job related. Candidates do have a right to ask to see any notes made and you may need to justify your decision. For some people, taking notes is such a laboured task that they lose the sense of rapport with the candidate – you need to practice so you can take (legible) notes alongside conducting the interview. There is nothing worse than asking the candidate to stop while you write. You can develop this skill through practice. For example, watch the news on TV and make a note of what the person is saying while you watch the screen. The alternative is to note down key words and then expand on them once the interview is over, but this relies on you having a reliable memory.

Controlling the interview: Interviewers can have problems in two ways: either by not taking control when candidates ramble or by being over controlling and interrupting. You need to get the balance right.

Controlling the time: In a 40 minute interview, with five competences to assess, you will have a maximum of seven minutes per competence, so keep track of time and be ready to move on. You don’t want to reach the end of the interview with limited evidence against the final competence.

The end of the interview:

Draw the interview to a close and ask if the candidate has any questions or anything they want to add. Allow time to answer their questions and remind them about what happens next.

Review your notes and classify: Before you do anything, expand your notes and make sure they are clear should they need to be referred to later.

Evaluate: It is only at the end that you actually rate the evidence, using, for example a 1-5 scale. It is too much to do it as you go along; you can’t concentrate on listening while you are evaluating. You rate the candidate using the relevant scale and summarise your notes.

You may be great at interviewing but how well do you assess the evidence? We all benefit from having someone to sit in with us to see if we really get to grips with evaluating the evidence. By seeking a mentor in this area you can both discuss the questioning technique you use; plus if you both rate the evidence from the interview you can see if you are scoring within guidelines.


Denise Taylor is director of Amazing People, which specialises in career counselling, guidance and coaching for individuals, and career management, recruitment and assessments for organisations. For more information, please visit www.amazingpeople.co.uk

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