Getting the most out of job interviews

Most jobs are offered on the basis first of a candidate's CV and application letter and then on the outcome of an interview.

It is as important for an employer to plan for an interview as it is for the applicant. This is because an employer will need to identify the best possible person for the position from, perhaps, a number of candidates who, on paper at least, may seem to share many of the same qualifications, qualities, experience and skills.

Preparation

Whoever conducts the interview - it is useful to have at least two people asking the questions if only to help produce an objective assessment of the various candidates - should have a precise knowledge of exactly the person the business is looking for.

The selection process should draw up a list of a number of interviewees - a minimum of at least three or four - so that the interviewers will have reasonable scope for comparing and contrasting individual applicants.

Depending on the nature of the position, an interview duration of between 30 minutes and an hour should provide enough time in which to glean the necessary information and insights without revisiting the same ground.

The questions

If more than one person is conducting the interview it may be sensible to allocate the subjects or questions between them.

When preparing questions, start with the candidate's CV or application form. Identify areas that need to be expanded upon or that suggest particular strengths (or weaknesses). Shape the list of questions so that the interview covers all the topics that need to be explored: the candidate's background, their skills, their suitability for the post and their ambitions.

Questions should encourage the interviewee to talk as much as possible and should, therefore, require explanatory or descriptive answers. Such questions may include: why did you apply for this position? what did your previous job involve? what achievements are you particularly proud of? how do you see your career developing?

From the answers, the interviewers will be able to make judgments about what the candidates choose to draw attention to and what they choose to downplay or omit. A comprehensive range of questions will give the interviewers a clear idea of the candidate's experience, capacity for honest self-analysis, goals and understanding of the needs of the post for which they are applying.

But do not ask questions that may be discriminatory. Not only may the business lose out on the best candidate, it may also invite charges of unfair treatment. It would breach the rules on sex discrimination if an interviewer were to ask questions of a woman - perhaps about her family life - that were not also asked of any male applicants.

The interviewers should also be ready to answer any of the questions that the candidates themselves will ask about the position and the business. The sort of questions an interviewee may ask will say a lot about the level of their interest in the job and the amount of research they have taken the trouble to carry out in advance of the interview.

Before the interview

Care should be taken over the welcome each candidate receives on their arrival as the business will also want to create a good first impression. This will involve briefing the receptionist, laying on refreshments and making sure that interviewees with special requirements are catered for.

The interview room should be well presented, and the interviewing timetable managed efficiently. There should be no interruptions during the interviews.

The interview

The more comfortable a candidate is made to feel, the more likely it is they will give a good and accurate account of themselves.

After welcoming the candidate, the interviewer should introduce himself or herself and any other people in attendance, set out briefly the course the interview is to take and describe how the position on offer relates to the business.

Always give candidates enough time to consider and answer the questions. Follow up prepared questions with those that are prompted by the answers and information offered by the candidate.

Once the candidate has been given the chance to ask questions of their own, conclude the interview by explaining what happens next in the selection process - whether there are to be tests or second interviews - and when the candidate can expect to hear of any decisions.

Particularly strong candidates may be asked if they are still interested in the position. Thank each person for attending.

Notes

Written records should be made of the process after each interview. The notes should detail only what was said during the interview and how the selection decision was made. They should not be a record of the interviewer's attitudes towards the candidates.

An interviewee who goes on to lodge a complaint with an employment tribunal about the way they have been treated in an interview can request copies of any notes made during that interview.

The only personal data an employer may retain after an interview is information that still has a direct bearing on the selection process.