How to conduct interviews

“If you were a biscuit, what type of biscuit would you be?” This is one of the many unusual interview questions that I have been asked throughout my career. I still wonder to this day what the interviewer hoped to get out of asking that question. Did they think it would demonstrate how I coped in an uncertain situation, if I had resilience to deal with unusual scenarios, or perhaps they just really wanted to know what type of biscuit I would be? You too may have encountered weird and wonderful interview techniques throughout your career.

Traditionally, interviews are used during recruitment exercises when you have ainterview vacancy and you need to select the right person for the job. Interviews are essentially a two way conversation led by you, the recruiter, during which you ask specific, relevant questions of candidates to find out more about them, their skills and experiences. The questions should always be tailored around the job description and the person specification of the role you are recruiting for as these will outline what experience, skills, knowledge and / or ability the ideal post holder should possess.

However, as well as a selection method, have you ever thought about interviews as a sales process? Not only will the candidate be selling you their skills and experience, but as a recruiter it’s the perfect opportunity to sell the benefits of working for you and the organisation. Imagine if this is the ideal candidate for your role – you surely want your organisation to stand out to that candidate as the one they want to join! Don’t be tempted to oversell though…it’s not worth misrepresenting the truth about the role or the organisation, as there’s no benefit to anyone in investing time and resources inducting your new employee to find that they leave the organisation shortly after joining because you’ve failed to live up to their expectations! Read our blog on induction here.

When it comes to the actual interview, there are a variety of techniques available for you to utilise, some of which you may have personally experienced on your own career path. We use telephone interviews ourselves and with clients very successfully for initial screening after shortlisting in some senior, technical or knowledge-based roles. When it comes to face to face interviews, one on
one interviews are generally informal, which can help relax the candidate so they feel more comfortable and confident in answering your questions, however they can lead to bias in decision making, and it can be more difficult to defend your decision if challenged (more on that in a bit). Panel interviews are more commonly used nowadays, as these are seen as more robust and structured, although try and limit the panel number to around 3 or 4 – anything more can feel like an inquisition. Clarify the role of each panel member before the interview, and make sure everyone knows what questions they’re asking, otherwise you can come across as unprepared, which is not a good first impression for the candidate!

Whatever type of interview you conduct, you should apply a sound understanding of equality and diversity. The Equality Act 2010 establishes that applicants have a right not to be discriminated against, and this includes as a result of your interviewing techniques. An applicant who considers they have experienced discriminated on the grounds of a protected characteristic could bring an employment tribunal claim against you for discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 (even though they may not actually be your employee). This is an area of litigation that grows every year.

To strengthen your chances of selecting the right person and ensure you don’t expose the organisation to any risks of discrimination, a great way to start is to create, or update, your recruitment policy and procedures, review your inteleafletsrview practices and then train your managers; untrained recruiting managers can have a damaging and lasting effect on the reputation of your organisation and the old adage about news of poor customer service being heard by twice as many people as good customer service is likely just as true for poor interview and selection experiences.

Roots HR can work with you in these areas; we can also support you with any current or forthcoming recruitment activity and we’re experienced in designing interviews, selection tests and assessment centres for a variety of roles from administrator to chief executive. Please do contact us to talk through any of your needs.

In the meantime please do comment below; we’d love to hear about some of your great and not-so-great interview experiences! What’s the oddest interview question you’ve ever been asked?

And, just in case you were wondering, my answer was that I’d be a Viennese Whirl.

4 Responses to “How to conduct interviews”

  1. Deb Barrow

    Many years ago, when in my early 20’s I was interviewed for a role in Sales and Marketing and was asked a question about my marital status; at the time I wondered if male candidates were asked the same. These were very different times and as a young woman I was keen to show that I was ambitious and that an employer wouldn’t be wasting time and money on training me, so I played the ‘single girl/didn’t want babies’ card. Although I was a strong candidate the job went to a married man and the feedback I was given was that they wanted someone stable who was motivated to stay put with a mortgage to pay!
    We have come a long way since the Equal Pay Act 1970.

    • Roots HR

      Thanks Deb. It’s amazing to think that feedback like this was ever given without questioning the appropriateness, isn’t it? We certainly have come a long way since the EPA, but there’s still a long way to go!

  2. Emily

    I was once interviewed by a panel of three people to become a student nurse. The first two questions were all reasonable, but the third interviewer asked me “What kind of food do you like?”
    I was a little flummoxed, but replied that I liked most home cooking. The next two questions covered subjects that were relevant to nursing, followed by the third one. “When you say ‘home cooking’, could you be more specific?”
    I can’t recall my answer, but I got accepted onto the course.
    It was a few weeks later when I spotted the odd interviewer in the kitchens at the hospital canteen.
    It turned out that he was the Catering Manager and had stepped in to fill the shoes of a panel member who had fallen ill…

    • Roots HR

      A great example of the importance of having panel members who know about the role being interviewed for, and to prepare fully beforehand!

      By the way, our office dog, Buddy, is now quite upset with us that we didn’t enter him into your Tripe Dog 15 competition…


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