Interviews are the pillars of recruiting. They influence your hiring decisions more than any other hiring phase. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers to help you set up an effective interview process:
Organizing an interview
- What are the typical steps in the interview process?
- How do I set up an interview?
- Who should be involved in the interview process?
- Who should handle interview scheduling, the hiring manager or HR?
- What are the different types of interviews?
- What is a structured interview?
- What is an unstructured interview?
- What is a semi-structured interview?
- What is a behavioral interview?
- What is a situational interview?
- What is a phone screen interview?
- What is a screening interview?
Conducting an interview
- How do I start off an interview?
- How do I end an interview?
- How do I rate job interview candidates?
- How do I give interview feedback?
- How do I assess cultural fit when interviewing candidates?
- What are some warning signs when interviewing candidates?
- How do I interview candidates with no experience?
- What should I consider when interviewing candidates with disabilities?
Improving the interview process
- When should I train interviewers on the hiring process?
- How do I improve my interview skills?
- What are the best video interviewing tools?
- How do I improve my phone screen interview skills?
- How can I make the interview process more efficient?
- What are different questions to ask in a first vs. second interview?
- What are different questions to ask in a second vs. third interview?
- What are different questions to ask in a phone vs. in person interview?
- How should I ask job candidates about their salary expectations?
- How do I avoid asking illegal questions?
Organizing an interview
What are the typical steps in the interview process ?
First, prepare for the interview process. Here’s a list of actions to help you plan:
- Decide what skills you want candidates to have.
- Select interview questions to assess must-have skills.
- Determine how you will score candidates’ answers (e.g. ‘poor’ to ‘excellent’)
- Ensure you talk about job duties, benefits, company strategy and mission.
Then, use an interview checklist to prepare thoroughly for your meetings with candidates. When candidates arrive, use these common steps to guide the interview process:
- Welcome candidates and make them feel at ease.
- Introduce yourself and fellow interviewers.
- Begin with basic interview questions (e.g. “Why are you interested in this position?”) and continue with more involved ones (e.g. “Tell me about a time when you had to face an irate customer.”)
- Discuss the role and answer candidates’ questions.
- Pitch your company by describing its values, benefits and why the candidate should consider working for you.
- Give candidates a tour of your workplace or introduce them to your team, if appropriate.
How do I set up an interview?
Recruiters often schedule interviews, coordinating with the hiring team, candidates and other stakeholders. Use this checklist to successfully set up interviews for each role you are recruiting for:
|I’ve arranged times for interviews that work for both the hiring team and the candidates.
|I’ve informed the hiring manager and front office employees of candidates’ date and time of arrival [X days] before each interview.
|I’ve sent emails to invite candidates to an interview and provided important details (e.g. directions, who to ask for, what to bring.)
|I’ve booked a meeting room and prepared it for the interview (e.g. provided enough chairs for the candidate and members of the interview panel.)
|I’ve given hiring managers a checklist to prepare for upcoming interviews.
|I’ve prepared material the hiring team needs to conduct the interview (e.g. notepads, whiteboard markers.)
When arranging interviews, keep these things in mind:
- Give candidates adequate notice. They may need time to to modify their schedules, especially if they are employed.
- Choose pleasant rooms with ample lighting. Candidates should feel as comfortable as possible so that all parties benefit from a productive interview.
- Schedule reminders for hiring managers. Hiring managers are busy with their everyday duties and may forget to prepare for interviews. Help them out with a friendly reminder and/or interview prep checklist.
Who should be involved in the interview process?
Recruiters usually conduct initial phone screens to qualify candidates, while hiring managers handle the main interviews (most commonly, face-to-face interviews.) But, there are benefits in asking others to participate during the interview phases. Consider including:
- Team members. Involving team members on interview panels has a double benefit: they evaluate candidates for culture fit, while candidates get the chance to decide whether they would enjoy working with them. Also, including your team shows candidates that your company values collaboration.
- Senior executives. Arrange for a final interview, where the best candidates meet a senior executive. This executive may reinforce a hiring manager’s decision to hire someone, help sell the company to a stellar candidate or spot a red flag at the last minute.
Usually two to five people are involved in the interview process. It’s best to keep the number of interviewers on the smaller side, so candidates feel at ease during the interview.
Who should handle interview scheduling, the hiring manager or HR?
Hiring managers often leave administrative tasks of the hiring process to recruiters. Recruiters are responsible for finding a time to schedule interviews that works for both hiring managers and candidates. Recruiters may have access to hiring managers’ calendars so they can schedule interviews directly or use their Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
What are the different types of interviews?
A possible way to categorize interviews is according to structure, medium, format and type of interview questions. Here’s a table with notable examples:
What is a structured interview?
A structured interview is a standardized form of interview during which hiring teams ask all candidates a set of predetermined questions in a specific order and score answers with the same rating system.
Structured interviews predict job performance most effectively than unstructured interviews. They are also more objective and legally defensible than unstructured interviews. Companies that implement structured interviews boost their hiring and keep better records of their interview process to help them improve it.
To structure your interviews for a role, follow these main steps:
- Select the must-have requirements of the role.
- Develop interview questions that evaluate each must-have requirement.
- Craft a rating scale (e.g. one to five, poor to excellent) to assess candidates’ answers.
What is an unstructured interview?
Unstructured interviews are spontaneous conversations between interviewers and candidates. Unstructured interviews usually occur when interviewers haven’t prepared any interview questions or topics to explore. Random factors guide these discussions and hiring teams evaluate candidates based on their overall impressions of them.
This type of interview may be more pleasant and less rigid than structured interviews. But, unstructured interviews are proven to be weaker than structured interviews since they encourage biased judgements based on attributes that aren’t job-related. Also, unstructured interviews are less legally defensible.
What is a semi-structured interview?
Semi-structured interviews share elements from both their structured and unstructured counterparts. In semi-structured interviews, hiring managers ask questions or explore a set of themes they have decided on beforehand. But, interviewers are also free to stray from the process and discuss different topics depending on candidate responses.
What is a behavioral interview?
During behavioral interviews, candidates draw on their past experiences to answer behavioral questions. Interviewers then try to infer future performance from candidates’ past successes and mistakes.
Answers to behavioral questions will primarily inform how interviewers evaluate candidates. To set up a behavioral interview, follow these steps:
- Decide on a few important job-related behaviors to evaluate. During behavioral interviews, interviewers assess whether candidates can handle job demands and candidates need to recall past experiences in detail. This process may be time-consuming, so evaluate only “must-have” skills. Find those important skills by studying the job description.
- Create a couple of behavioral questions to evaluate each skill. Think of situations that the person in this role will frequently face, either from your own experience or by asking those who do this job (e.g. asking sales associates about common challenges in their role.) Once you have enough incidents, frame your question with the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) framework in mind. Here are two examples:
- Have you ever had to deal with an irate customer? What did you do and what happened in the end?
- Tell me about a time you had to work under pressure to meet a deadline. How did you handle it and how did your project turn out?
If a candidate hasn’t faced the situation you’re referring to, give the candidate more detail and ask a hypothetical (situational) question.
What is a situational interview?
Situational interviews involve questions that present hypothetical situations or dilemmas to candidates to gauge their reactions. Candidates reveal their way of thinking through this line of questioning, which helps interviewers predict their future performance.
Since situational questions are hypothetical, they help you assess candidates who may not have much experience in a role or who have never faced a particular situation. Here are two things to do to set up a situational interview:
- Identify a few common situations that each role faces. Situational questions, like behavioral questions, require interviewers to develop questions based on real, job-related incidents. To save time, evaluate only the “must-have” skills. Study the job description to select the most important criteria.
- Create a couple of situational questions to evaluate each skill. Situational questions are usually based on common challenges people face in a certain position. Think of those challenges or ask someone who has done the job in question. Once you have enough incidents, frame your question using the STAR (Situation-Task-Action-Result) framework. Here are two examples:
- Imagine a customer insists on a full refund from you without being entitled to one. How would you handle it?
- What would you do if you witnessed your manager violating a company policy?
What is a phone screen interview?
Phone screens (or screening calls) are discussions about a role with candidates over the phone. Most of the time, recruiters conduct phone screens at the beginning of the hiring process. This stage helps identify deal-breakers or disqualify candidates who don’t meet the minimum criteria early on.
Screening calls include basic questions about a person’s motivation, expectations and availability for the job. Here are some examples:
- Why did you apply to this position?
- What interests you about our company?
- Why are you looking to leave your current role?
- How much notice do you need to give to your current employer before resigning?
Sometimes, phone interviews substitute face-to-face interviews in cases when you’re interviewing remote candidates. But, this format may not be as effective as an in-person or video interview, where both parties have the chance to connect and evaluate each other face-to-face.
What is a screening interview?
A screening interview may be defined as the first discussion you have with candidates. This is usually over the phone (screening call) but some recruiters may also invite candidates to a short, in-person talk. This first contact helps you select those candidates who are most qualified and move them forward to the next stage of your hiring process.
Conducting an interview
How do I start off an interview?
Interviewers often decide on a candidate’s suitability for a role a few minutes into an interview. This approach may cause you to miss out on great candidates who were just overly nervous at the beginning.
Here are a few things you could do to avoid snap judgments and make candidates feel comfortable:
- Introduce the interviewing panel. If you have other interviewers, ask them to speak briefly about their jobs and how they will work with the new hire.
- Start small. Ease candidates into their interview by asking basic questions first (e.g. Why did you apply to this role?)
- Explain the process. No matter what interview format you’re using, briefly explain how the interview will be implemented.
- Ask them if they have initial questions. Beginning an interview with the candidates’ questions may be unusual, but it will help candidates feel at ease and provide them context about the role and your company.
How do I end an interview?
When you have asked all your interview questions, let the interview close naturally. Avoid rushing, since you want to leave candidates with best possible impression. Here are a few things to do at the end of the interview:
- Ask candidates if they have any more questions. Usually, you will have already discussed the most important aspects of the job, but let candidates know that you’re open to any questions they may have. Candidates who have questions will stand out because they’ll show you that they’re interested in learning about the role.
- Deliver a pitch. Prepare a brief pitch to sell your company. Outline your company’s most desirable traits as an employer. Talk about any future plans and how they will benefit the new hire. Use what each candidate indicates is important to them in a new job to personalize your pitch.
- Talk about next steps. Let candidates know when you will follow-up after the interview. Inform them of any other steps in the hiring process (e.g. a final interview round.)
- Be pleasant. During the interview, interviewers challenge candidates so they can evaluate them thoroughly. At the end, loosen up and make small talk as you see candidates out. If appropriate, consider offering candidates a tour of your workplace.
How do I rate job interview candidates?
There are various rating systems that help you evaluate interviewees. Here are three main types:
- Overall rating. This is when interviewers rate candidates based on their overall impressions of them. For example, an overall rating system could simply mean marking candidates as “qualified” or “disqualified” (or pass/fail) in your Applicant Tracking System.
- Basic rating scale. This is when interviewers rate candidates according to the skills their looking for. For example, a basic rating scale could range from one (“poor”) to five (“excellent”) or a Yes/No scale indicating “desirable”/”non-desirable” answers to interview questions. So, if you want your new hire to possess excellent communication skills, candidates who received a “five” rating will probably make it to the next stage of your hiring process.
- Detailed rating scale. This is a nuanced rating scale that involves more in-depth characterizations beyond “poor” or “excellent.” One of those scales, behaviorally anchored rating scales (BARS), is created through defining each point of the scale using behavioral examples. For example, if you want to assess a candidates’ teamwork skills, you could define the highest rating (e.g. five) as “Talks about their own contributions but also praises all of their team members.” This definition helps interviewers make more objective evaluations.
How do I give interview feedback?
Giving interview feedback to candidates helps you shape a good company brand. But, constructing your feedback email carefully is essential to avoid upsetting candidates or inviting lawsuits. Here’s how to deliver interview feedback with grace:
- Tell the truth. Be honest about why you disqualified a candidate, but keep your feedback tied to job requirements. Anything non-job-related (e.g. body language) or too personal (e.g. the way a candidate talks) may unnecessarily upset interviewees and could be perceived as discriminatory.
- Be tactful. Give advice on how you think candidates may improve their interview skills, but avoid being condescending or making assumptions about a candidate’s overall personality.
- Praise when you can. If there were things you truly liked about a candidate, don’t hesitate to tell them.
- Be specific. Avoid overused phrases like “We wanted a more diverse skill set.” Consult your notes to find examples from their interview that will help the candidate improve.
- Use language that won’t invite litigation. Before you send a feedback email, think about whether what you’ve written could be misconstrued as discriminatory. For example, if you’ve interviewed a pregnant woman, saying that “We wanted someone who would be available to work overtime” may be grounds for a lawsuit.
How do I assess cultural fit when interviewing candidates?
It’s important to hire people who will thrive in your company’s unique workplace. Yet, culture fit is often a subjective perception that differs between interviewers. So, when evaluating culture fit during interviews follow these steps:
- Convert culture fit into tangible attributes. Think about what “culture fit” means to you and discuss it with fellow interviewers. Write down actual traits like “collaborative spirit” or “taking initiative.” Also, compare how your team’s culture differs from the overall company culture.
- Choose appropriate interview questions. Select questions that are linked to the desirable traits, e.g. “Do you prefer working alone or as part of a team?” Or, ask candidates about their preferences (e.g. “Describe the type of work environment in which you are most productive.”)
- Look for red flags. Some candidate attributes may not match your company culture. For example, if you’re hiring a manager for a team that works well without being micromanaged, a candidate who has an authoritarian leadership style may not be the best fit for that team’s culture.
However, hiring strictly for culture fit may result in homogenous teams that don’t benefit from diversity’s advantages. Look at culture fit as only one of several desirable attributes.
What are some warning signs when interviewing candidates?
When interviewing candidates, don’t focus on nervousness or lack of excellent social skills (unless they’re a must-have for the job.) It’s natural for interviewees to feel a bit uncomfortable. But, there are warning signs during interviews that may indicate a candidate isn’t a good fit:
- Being late without an explanation. Candidates who are more than 10 minutes late to an interview may not leave a good first impression. But, it’s more important to focus on how they handle the situation. Did they call to let you know they will be late? Did they apologize and provide a good reason? Evaluate all situations on a case-by-case basis.
- Being arrogant or aggressive. If a candidate’s aggressiveness or self-importance makes you doubt whether they would work well with your team, trust your read on them. New hires who collaborate with peers are more likely to boost morale among fellow team members.
- Complaining. Candidates know that they have to present their best selves during interviews. If they can’t help complaining about their previous or current jobs, teams and employers, this is a red flag. Ask questions like “How did you handle a conflict with a coworker/manager?” and gauge their responses.
- Being dishonest. If you spot inconsistencies between a candidate’s resume and what they’re saying during the interview, ask clarifying questions. If you’re not satisfied with the candidate’s answers, consider other candidates instead.
- Not paying enough attention. Understanding what your interlocutor says is essential for most professions. People who constantly interrupt, ask you to repeat your questions or give unrelated answers may lack the focus required for the role.
How do I interview candidates with no experience?
When interviewing entry-level candidates, lack of work experience will be a common trait. Find ways to focus less on experience in your evaluations. Here are some ideas:
- Use situational questions. Unlike behavioral questions, situational interview questions are hypothetical. They allow you to evaluate candidates’ skills and way of thinking without relying on past experiences.
- Find substitutes for work experience. Imagine you want to evaluate candidates’ leadership skills. If they don’t have much work experience, explore their other activities. For example, they might have led sports teams, student groups or university projects. Ask questions to learn about how they approached their extracurriculars.
- Provide candidates with skills-based assignments. Use job simulation, work samples or simple exercises to assess how candidates apply their skills. This approach helps you see candidates’ skills first-hand.
Keep in mind that entry-level candidates may not be as experienced in searching for a job as more senior candidates. Be a little more lenient when spotting resume mistakes and consider a candidate’s potential to grow within the role.
What should I consider when interviewing candidates with disabilities?
The law obliges companies to treat candidates fairly despite possible mental or physical disabilities. This means that you must:
- State that you will make reasonable accommodations. Let candidates know right from the start (e.g. through your job ad) that you will help candidates with disabilities who are invited to interviews.
- Be consistent. Make the same accommodations for candidates with the same disabilities to avoid being accused of other kinds of discrimination (e.g. based on gender.) A company policy will help you establish consistent guidelines.
- Train interviewers to combat biases. This type of training is important to avoid discrimination during the interview process.
Improving the interview process
When should I train interviewers on the hiring process?
Interview training is always beneficial for hiring teams. But, in some cases, it may be crucial. Here are a few examples:
- When candidate experience is consistently poor. If you’re using candidate experience surveys or follow candidate feedback on social, you probably have an idea of your interviewers’ success. If a hiring team gets consistently poor feedback, consider interview training to boost their skills.
- When metrics indicate issues. Monitor recruiting metrics to spot inefficiencies and problems. For example, you might notice that a hiring team takes too much time to move candidates from the first interview to second interview. Or that, despite a diverse candidate pool up until the interview phase, male candidates are more likely to get a second interview. In this case, your interviewers may need training in combating gender biases.
- When the hiring process changes. If your company decided to use structured interviews or video interviews more extensively, your hiring teams may need training in the new formats. Schedule workshops, meetings or provide hiring teams with relevant resources.
How do I improve my interview skills?
Here are some ideas to improve your skills as an interviewer:
- Prepare thoroughly. Start by setting aside an hour in your calendar to prepare for interviews. Use an interview checklist to ensure you address every important point (e.g. read resumes, look for effective interview questions.)
- Combat biases. Implicit biases may affect your hiring decisions. Take Harvard’s Implicit Association Test and learn through videos and experiments how biases work. This is the first step in fighting your own biases.
- Practice. Mock interviews help inexperienced interviewers develop their skills. But even experienced people will benefit from using mock interviews to address candidate feedback.
- Test a structured interview format. Structured interviews help interviewers make better decisions. Implement this interview format on a small scale first (e.g. a couple of senior roles) and test the results. Start learning more about this interview format.
- Ask recruiters for help. Recruiters may be able to arrange for professional trainings, workshops and resources. They can also give hiring managers tips and checklists to help them prepare for interviews.
What are the best video interviewing tools?
Your company’s individual needs should guide your search for the most appropriate video interviewing tool. Google Hangouts or Skype work well, but other types of software may have more functionalities (e.g. assessment templates, options to leave comments) and may also integrate with your Applicant Tracking System (ATS.) Ask for a demo or read reviews online to select the best tool. Here are some video interviewing platforms to look into:
How do I improve my phone screen interview skills?
Here are some ideas to improve your skills in evaluating candidates through phone screen interviews:
- Prepare well. Read candidates’ resumes thoroughly and write down your concerns or questions. Put your interview questions in order of increasing difficulty, to help candidates warm up to more complex material.
- Open with a pleasant tone. Candidates can’t see you smile or shake your hand over the phone, so employ other techniques to set candidates at ease (e.g. tell a joke, greet them enthusiastically or ask them if the quality of the call is good.)
- Pay attention. Phone screens are short conversations. Focus on what candidates say and their tone of voice. Also, it’d be good to chime in with phrases like “That’s interesting,” or others, to convey you’re listening.
- Encourage candidates to speak. To evaluate candidates over the phone, get them to speak as much as possible. Avoid asking questions they can easily answer with a yes or no, and ask probing questions when answers are unclear.
How can I make the interview process more efficient?
An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) can make the interview process more efficient. An ATS can help you:
- Streamline administrative tasks. Recruiters can see hiring managers’ availability to schedule interviews, easily send messages to candidates and use templates to save time.
- Communicate collaboratively. Hiring teams leave comments and see each others’ feedback on interviews, saving time when discussing candidates and making hiring decisions.
- Create a candidate database. An ATS keeps all candidate information in one place, so that hiring teams can easily prepare for interviews.
- Improve your interviews. Hiring managers can create and print ATS interview scorecards to ensure the team knows what questions they should ask and in what order. Scorecards also help teams standardize the way they rate candidates.
What are different questions to ask in a first vs. second interview?
First interviews evaluate candidates’ basic qualifications for the role. Second interviews are more in-depth and may involve senior management as interviewers. Based on this disambiguation, here are some sample questions for each interview:
- First interview questions:
- Why did you apply to this job?
- How much notice do you have to give your current employer?
- What excites you about this role and what do you think you can bring to it?
- What’s your ideal workplace?
- Second interview questions:
- Tell me about a time when a project’s priorities changed suddenly and you had to adapt.
- Do you have any suggestions for improving our product/service/website?
- Tell me about the most significant project you worked on. How did you manage it, from start to finish?
- Who are our competitors and what makes us different from them?
What are different questions to ask in a second vs. third interview?
A third interview is often the final interview (most commonly with an executive joining the interview panel or interviewing finalists on their own.) Candidates who reach a third interview stage are qualified for the job, since they have already passed through the more role-specific questions of the second interview. Here are some second interview questions to ask:
- Describe a time when a manager approached you with a problem they couldn’t solve. What did you do?
- Tell me about a time you went the extra mile for your job. How did you do it?
- What would you do if you were assigned multiple tasks with the same deadline?
The third round interview questions help you ensure that your new hire understands your company’s mission and will contribute to the company with ideas and expertise. Third interviews are also a good opportunity to clarify details about the position and answer candidates’ questions. Here are some third interview questions to ask:
- If hired, how would you want to grow within the company? How do you think you’d do it?
- From what you’ve learned about our operations, what do you think we can improve?
- What is more important: delivering an OK project on time or delivering a perfect project after the deadline?
What are different questions to ask in a phone vs. in person interview?
Sometimes, phone interviews substitute in-person interviews (e.g. in cases of remote candidates.) In these cases, interviewers aren’t able to ask questions that require in-person activity, like writing on a whiteboard or seeing an object (e.g. sell me this pen.) With this exception, phone interview questions are usually the same as questions asked in-person.
In other cases, phone interviews are used as an initial screening to select those candidates who should move on to other hiring stages. So, interviewers ask different questions over the phone than during in-person interviews. With the phone screen, the interviewer’s goal is to:
- Ensure candidates meet the minimum requirements for the role.
- Do you have experience using this software in any of your previous jobs?
- What’s your experience in sales?
- Verify candidates are available to work for a company (e.g. legally authorized, willing to relocate.)
- Would you be comfortable with traveling twice a month?
- Are you legally authorized to work in this country?
- Spot any discrepancies or deal-breakers early on.
- This is a contract position with potential for full-time employment. Are you still interested in the role?
- How do you feel about changing industries?
- Explore motivation for and knowledge of the company.
- Why did you apply to this job?
- What interests you about our company?
- Clarify points.
- Could you tell me about this two-year gap in your resume?
- Why do you want to leave your current position?
How should I ask job candidates about their salary expectations?
The right way to broach the salary for a role is to be upfront about what you can offer. Do this as early as possible – ideally during the initial phase of your hiring process – to make sure both candidates and recruiters want to proceed with the hiring process.
Often, recruiters and hiring managers ask candidates “What are your salary expectations?” But that isn’t the best question to ask, especially early in the process when candidates don’t know enough about the role to answer accurately. Here’s another way to phrase this question:
- “I wanted to let you know the salary range for this position is $X-Y. Does that work for you? If so, I’d like to set up an interview to speak about this role.”
Keep in mind that questions about salary history (e.g. “What do you currently earn/What did you earn in your previous position?”) are illegal to ask in some places. These types of questions are known to perpetuate the gender pay gap.
How do I avoid asking illegal questions?
Illegal interview questions may unwittingly creep in during interviews and expose companies to legal risks. Here are some ways to avoid them:
- Know the law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commision has developed guidelines for employers. Keep abreast of those guidelines by regularly checking its website, following the EEOC account on Twitter or subscribing to industry newsletters (e.g. the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) which provide updates on relevant issues.)
- Ask HR to review questions. Hiring managers usually develop their own interview questions. It’s best to give those questions to your recruiters for review before you use them in interviews. Recruiters should follow Equal Opportunity laws and be able to tell which questions may be seen as discriminatory.
- Keep questions job-related. Illegal questions are often irrelevant to the job and reference protected characteristics (e.g. “Do you plan to have a family soon?”) Preparing questions based on a list of job-related requirements is a good way to ensure you ask legal questions that actually evaluate job performance.
Looking for more? Read our list with the best interview questions to ask candidates.