How to structure a job interview.

The days when somebody saw an ad for a job in a newspaper, was subsequently told to pop round for a quick chat and was hired on the spot , depending on whether they claimed to have some experience and whether the employer ‘liked the look of them’,  are gone. Anyone running their recruitment policy along those lines today is asking for trouble.

The key phrase today is ‘competency-based’. There’s no room for subjective opinion or ‘gut feeling’ in modern recruitment. In 2011, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of gender, marital status, disability, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or age.  The only question you should be asking is: does the candidate have the right skills and qualifications for the job?

However, before you ask your competency-based questions...

  • Ensure that you make time to go through the candidate’s CV – do not leave it until the last moment
  • Offer the candidate a glass of water before the interview starts. Everyone is nervous at these times, which can result in a poor interview and you letting the best candidate slip through your fingers
  • Explain to the candidate the structure of the interview, which may put them at their ease and give a better interview
  • Tell them a little about your company. Ask a little about them, including the information on their CV. Be wary of any inconsistencies with between the candidate’s CV and what they’re telling you. Don’t be afraid to challenge – it’s estimated that one in four people in the UK lie on their CVs
  • After the interview, give the candidate to opportunity to ask you questions. Many will bring some already written down – this is perfectly acceptable
  • Do not at any point give the candidate the impression that they’ve got the job. Any decision must be kept until the final analysis of candidates
  • Before the interview ends, tell the candidate what the next step will be. Is a round of second interviews scheduled? When are you likely to give them your decision?

Competency-based interviews

The Equalities Act 2010 brought in a raft of safeguards for interviewees and established employees that the canny employer should make themselves aware of.

Take for, example, the case of Mrs A, who applies for a job as a receptionist. She is 45, Afro-Caribbean, and is returning to work for the first time in 10 years. The other candidate is Mrs B, who is 46, Caucasian, and is returning to work after 5 years.  Mrs A gives a reasonably good interview but implies that she doesn’t like working in teams and prefers not to depend on others. She also criticises her former employers. Mrs B gives an altogether better interview and so you offer the job to her. Mrs A then calls you to ask why she didn’t get the job and accuses your company of racism – suggesting that you haven’t employed her because she’s black.
Of course, this is untrue, but the simply applied policy of Competency-Based Interviewing will remove the danger of any accusation of discrimination based on age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation.

  • Each candidate should be interviewed by a minimum of two people, preferably three, to avoid skewing results. Never interview alone.
  •  Each candidate should be asked exactly the same questions – between six and 10 - which should be prepared and agreed in advance. It is permissible to explore answers with supplementary questions but this should be kept to a minimum.
  • Ensure that each interviewer has a written copy of the questions and who’s asking them in which order.
  • DO NOT ask questions such as “Are you a team player?” The answer will invariably be “yes” because that’s what the candidate thinks you want to hear. Instead, ask “Can you give us an example of when you last made a contribution to a team effort?” (This can mean in the workplace or socially). This requires the candidate to expand on their answers and for you to establish better whether they’re being honest.
  • Mark each question with a score of:

    3 (fully satisfies the criteria)
    2 (partly satisfies the criteria)
    1 (does not satisfy the criteria)

  • After the interview, the scores for each question are added together and an average taken. The candidate with the highest total score is offered the job and the score sheets stored away in case an unsuccessful candidate asks why they didn’t get the job. Your answer is simply ‘because another candidate scored higher than you on questions X, X and X’.