How to Interview: The Complete Guide

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Summary

A job interview is a formal conversation between an employer and a candidate in which the recruiter or hiring manager assesses whether the candidate has the qualifications necessary to perform the open role. 

There are a few different types of job interviews, depending on the role, hiring process, and how far into the hiring process a candidate gets. Some common types of job interviews include: 

  • Phone screen: the phone screen is generally used to make sure the candidate is who they say they are. A recruiter will verify information on a resume and weed out unqualified candidates. 
  • Video interview: either a one-way (prerecorded) or live video interview can be used with remote candidates and/or early in the hiring process to further screen applicants.
  • Automated interviews: candidates respond to a series of questions in their own time when it suits them. This usually involves some combination of skill assessment and video interview
  • Selection interview: a traditional, in-person interview where a candidate sits down with someone (usually the recruiter or hiring manager) to respond to questions about their skills and experience. 
  • Group interview: a recruiter invites a few different candidates to interview simultaneously in an effort to assess how each person works in a team.
  • Panel interview: several people at the company interview a candidate at once. 
  • Behavioral interview: questions in a behavioral interview are designed to learn whether a candidate has the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the position. 

Of course, each interview varies slightly in the format and the type of questions that are asked. In the phone screen, for instance, the questions will revolve around the items listed on a person’s resume, verifying that they have the experience they’ve claimed to have. In a behavioral or case study interview, questions will be designed to see how a person works through a problem. 

When hosting a candidate for a traditional, in-person interview, most recruiters prepare ahead of time with a list of questions that you will consistently ask every candidate. Standardizing your questions makes it easier to compare each individual’s performance. At the time of the interview, do what you can to put the candidate at ease. “Tell people in advance the topics you’d like to discuss so they can prepare. Be willing to meet the person at a time that’s convenient to him or her. And explain your organization’s dress code. Your goal is to ‘make them comfortable’ so that you have a productive, professional conversation,” recommends Harvard Business Review.

Then, start with easier questions. The goal of the interview is to give a candidate the opportunity to prove their skills. As you move through questions, try to make the interview script practical, not theoretical. Spend no more than an hour going through your questions, and make sure to leave time for the candidate to ask you for information about the company. Just as you’re assessing an applicant, so should they be able to screen your organization to learn if it’s the right fit. 

Interview Preparation 

Much of the advice focuses on helping candidates prepare for a job interview. Recruiters, too, must spend time researching and rehearsing before a job interview to give candidates the best experience possible. 

First and foremost, a recruiter should screen candidates to invite those most qualified to perform the role’s requirements. Some companies still use a traditional phone screen – but there are better ways to make sure the most qualified candidates make it through to the interview round. Automated skills assessments are a good way to screen candidates in by providing an unbiased, validated evaluation of a candidate’s ability. Use a tool like Vervoe to rank candidates based on how well they perform, instead of rejecting people outright for not achieving a certain benchmark. 

With the results of your automated skill test in hand, then you can invite the top two to three candidates to interview. Prepare for each candidate by following these steps. 

  1. Review the job description: go back to your job description to craft questions that directly relate to the role. A well thought out job description will help you verify that a candidate has the essential skills, as well as any bonus qualifications or marginal duties listed.
  2. Prepare your questions: In addition to reviewing the job description, prepare questions based on your existing top-performers. “What do they have in common? How are they resourceful? What did they accomplish prior to working at your organization? What roles did they hold? Those answers will help you create criteria and enable you to construct relevant questions,” writes Harvard Business Review. Read more on how to craft a great interview script in the following sections.
  3. Set an agenda: Internally, set an agenda for yourself so you can keep the interview moving. “Create a basic schedule so that, as the meeting progresses, you’ll have enough time to cover all the key areas you want to address. Having a rough schedule to adhere to will help you begin and end the session on time, allowing you to be more efficient and show that you respect the candidate’s time,” writes Workable
  4. Involve only a few others: Industry best practice is to have no more than three people interview a candidate. Involve the candidate’s boss, that person’s boss, and an HR representative. 
  5. Review the candidate’s application: not only should you review their CV, but also the results of their skills assessment and any pre-employment screening that the candidate has already gone through. Avoid asking a candidate the same questions to which they’ve already responded. 

A job interview can make or break a candidate’s experience. An unprepared interviewer can destroy the candidate experience and undo any employer branding your company has already achieved. Prep before meeting a candidate, ask thoughtful questions and give each interviewee the chance to do their own vetting. 

The Interview

A great interview feels more like a conversation, rather than an interrogation. Especially in the current competitive job market, you want to sell your organization to a candidate as much as test their ability. As a result, design your interview process to be concise, and don’t make too many demands on the time of your interview candidates. The best interview process includes three to five phases. These steps are part of the larger overall hiring process. Here’s an example of what a typical interview process involves. 

Step 1: The Phone Screen

Some companies use phone screens to verify a candidate’s qualifications. “In just a few quick questions, phone screeners allow you to vet a candidate and make sure they are a strong match skill-wise before you decide to invest further time in them,” writes Glassdoor. Phone screens can be time-consuming, and many companies are forgoing this step in favor of moving straight to the skills assessment.

Step 2: The Skills Test

A skill assessment or automated interview may include one or two pre-recorded video interview questions. Automated interviews and skill tests prevent recruiters (and candidates) from wasting time on phone screens and in-person interviews. Automated hiring software that deploys these tests make it easy to schedule and conduct effective interviews instantly. This step can take as little as 4 days from start to finish and can be done from anywhere in the world.

Step 3: The In-person Interview

The first in-person interview moves beyond validating a candidate’s skills. Traditional interviews should only comprise a small part of the hiring process and are a useful way to build a relationship with candidates after their skills have been verified. The first in-person interview can be used to answer unanswered questions from the hiring process. In this step, “Interviewers can determine if the candidate’s personal values mesh with your company values and find out what motivates them at work.” 

Step 4: The Team Panel

Some companies use a team panel, case study, or group interview to further evaluate candidates. The team panel will involve multiple people from the department for which the candidate is interviewing. For coders or software developers, this step may include a pair programming task or live coding challenge. The goal is to assess how the individual would fit with existing team members. 

Step 5: The Final Interview  

Finally, the candidate may meet with the hiring manager or senior leadership – the person or people in charge of authorizing the position and who will be the manager once the candidate comes on board. “In the earlier hiring manager screen stage, the hiring manager will have assessed the candidate’s general qualifications and aptitude for the role, but this stage gives the hiring manager the chance to explore the candidate’s traits and working style to really get a sense for what their working relationship would look like. Keep in mind that this is an opportunity for both hiring manager and candidate to evaluate each other, so the hiring manager should be open about their management style and expectations,” writes The Muse.

The most important steps are the skills assessment and traditional interview: each phase can be customized depending on the role and the organization.  

Questions and answers 

The questions you ask each candidate will depend largely on the role itself. Interviews are a useful tool to build a relationship with candidates after their skills have been validated. Use your interview questions to fill in any blanks remaining from the hiring process. Here are some examples of good and bad interview questions and answers. 

Characteristics of good questions

Good interview questions ask for real solutions. They are behavioral and situational in nature, meaning you ask a candidate how they would respond to a specific scenario. Good interview questions are forward-thinking, open-ended, and about a person’s actions. Here are some of our favorite interview questions

  • Why are you excited about joining our company?
  • What does this opportunity mean to you?
  • If you join our company, how can we invest in you?
  • What do you think of the people you’ve spoken to at our company so far?
  • Do you have any feedback on our product? 
  • When I call your references, what are they going to say?
  • What would make you leave our organization?

Another option is to give the interviewee a problem your team struggles with, and ask how they would approach it. The goal isn’t to stump your candidate: keep it open-ended and give your candidates a chance to show their talent. 

Characteristics of bad questions

There are a significant number of bad interview questions that aren’t predictive. These questions don’t allow candidates to provide information beyond their resume or application. Bad interview questions fail to glean deeper insight about a candidate: all they do is test whether or not a candidate has prepared a canned answer to a common, and often outdated, query. These are some bad interview questions to avoid: 

  • Why should we hire you?
  • What’s your greatest weakness?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? 
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Tell me about a time when you failed.
  • Among the people you’ve worked with, who do you admire and why?
  • What are your superpowers?
  • If we don’t hire you, what do you think the reason will be?
  • In five minutes, explain something that is complicated but that you know well. 
  • When was the last time that you changed your mind about something important?

Bad questions are also those which perpetuate bias in the hiring process – or may even be illegal. Hiring managers are prohibited by federal law from asking questions that are related to a candidate’s: 

  • Age
  • Race, ethnicity, or color
  • Gender or sex
  • Country of national origin or birthplace
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Marital or family status or pregnancy

Skip questions that may open up your company to a discrimination lawsuit and focus on behavioral questions to find the best fit for your organization.

Characteristics of good answers

There are a few things to keep in mind in assessing a candidate’s interview performance. First, competence is context-dependent. As we’ve outlined in previous posts, there is no such thing as a “good graphic designer”. Whether or not a graphic designer is “good” depends on their particular context: that context might be unique to your company, or it might be broadly applicable to companies in your industry or of a similar size, for example. When assessing a candidate’s answers, you must keep their previous experience and context in mind. 

Secondly, job interviews are stressful. A job interview is a high-pressure situation that can cause some candidates to slip up. Candidate error is just one factor in the overall equation, and it’s all too common to make a mistake under pressure. It’s up to the recruiter to decide whether an error is due to anxiety or a sign that the candidate is a bad match for the organization. Forgive mistakes that will have no real impact on their role as an employee as much as possible. 

With these caveats in mind, the best interview answers share some common characteristics. Good job interview answers:  

  • Use specific examples
  • Focus on the job for which they are interviewing
  • Are direct and to the point
  • Are self-aware
  • Are open and honest
  • Show some awareness of the company to which you are applying 

Good interview questions are succinct, use anecdotes and details from past work experience, and show that the candidate has done their homework on the role and the company. 

Characteristics of bad answers

“Subpar responses to interview questions reveal flaws in your attitude, preparation, interest in the job, or qualifications to get the work done well,” write the experts at The Balance. Bad interview answers are those that are ambiguous or lazy. Don’t speak ill of past employers or bash anyone in answering questions about why you left a job. Vague interview answers are also bad: talk about skills you have using specific examples. 

Lastly, be honest in your answers. It’s a known fact that candidates are never 100% honest in their interview answers. Do your best to answer questions with self-awareness and transparency. This can help a recruiter assess if you’re the right fit and prevent turnover. 

Benefits of video interviewing

Video interviewing is when a candidate answers questions about their background and experience either on live video with a recruiter or via a pre-recorded video. Video interviews shorten time-to-hire and help recruiters broaden their candidate pipeline, allowing remote candidates to make it further in the hiring process. One survey reported that 47% of hiring managers use video interviewing to shorten the time it takes to make a hire; 22% of those surveyed reported they “use video interviewing to help them reach candidates from other geographic regions.”

Many candidates also love video interviewing. Candidates don’t have to take time off work to attend in-person interviews. They can respond at the time and place of their choosing. The convenience of video interviewing is what stands out most. Make it easy for candidates to complete your video interview and limit video questions to three or less.

Video interviews provide a good opportunity to sell the job. Include a video of the hiring manager talking about your company or their future job to manage the expectations of your candidates. In one case study, Orica, the world’s largest explosive company, created a branded video showing what it would be like to work at Orica. They also consolidated multiple application steps into one to simplify the process. Eighty-six percent of candidates completed Orica’s online interviewing process.

For more information, check out our post on how to make candidates love your one-way video interviewing software and read more about video interviewing in our Complete Guide to Video Interviewing. 

Interview Guides

Looking for more advice? Check out our customized hiring guides for hiring salespeople, administrators, designers, and developers. 

Sales

Sales Manager

Junior Sales Representative

Sales Leader

Administration Assistant

Executive Assistant

Personal Assistant

Virtual Assistant

Admin

Call Center Agent

Customer Success Manager

Designers

Product Designer

Developers

React Developer

Java Developer

PHP Developer

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