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Interview Top Tips

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re unlikely to find it!

Write down what are the essential knowledge, skills and attributes the person needs to do the job: what do they need to know, what must they be able to do, what behaviours are needed ………and what experience do they need to have had.


10 years’ experience could be 1 year’s experience repeated 10 times.

Express experience not as number of years, but as the things they must actually have done.


Prepare questions to find out if they’ve got what you need

Use a mix of questioning styles:

  • Background questions to find out what specific experience they have (eg “tell me what you’ve been doing in the roles you’ve had in the last 5 years”).

  • Scenario questions to find out if they can apply their knowledge to new situations (eg “if xx happened, what would you do?”).

  • Competency questions to find out how they have behaved in specific situations in the past (eg “tell me about the most difficult decision you’ve had to make”).

  • Motivation questions to assess whether they actually want to come and work for you (eg what attracts you to this role?).

Remember, if you don’t know why you are asking a question, don’t ask it – it’s a waste of your time and theirs.

Structured conversation

Think of the interview as a structured conversation - structured in that you must ensure you find out the right information in order to make a decision, but a conversation in that you have to help them become relaxed enough to talk. 


Keep it short and simple

Start questions with “how” and “what”.

(eg “how did you plan that project?”, “what factors did you take into account?”)


Only ask one question at a time – if you ask three, they will only answer the third.


Words to be wary of

When asking competency questions, you want to know what they did do, not what they would do.  Eg if you ask “tell me how you managed your team through a busy period”, you want the person to tell you what they actually did in a specific situation in the past. 


Phrase your questions in the past tense eg “How did you…” or “What did you…”, not “How do you..”  and “what do you…”

If they say “I would”….  “I always”….  “I usually….”, then this is not how they actually behaved, but how they want you to think they would behave in the future.


The worrying “we”

Most work is done with others; however, it is important to know what your candidate’s contribution was to the bigger task eg ask “what was your role in that”, or “what did you bring to that discussion”.


Listen!! and show you’re listening

Sounds obvious, but too often interviewers are busy thinking about the next question rather listening to and probing the answer to the current question.

Show you’re listening (some eye contact, nodding, grunting etc), but don’t give effusive praise – otherwise they’ll think they’ve got the job.


Follow the 80/20 rule

They should be doing most of the talking, otherwise you have no data on which to judge their suitability; leave long explanations about the organisation until later, when they are less nervous and more receptive.


Silence is golden

Don’t rush in if the candidate doesn’t immediately answer your question.  Give them time to think – if they don’t understand it, they will ask you to explain.  Use silence to catch up on your notes or gather your thoughts.


Take notesMake brief notes of what the candidate says in answer to your questions – you won’t remember later.  It doesn’t matter if they can see your notes, as you are only writing down what they are saying


One thing at a time

Your brain cannot ask questions, listen to answers, work out follow up questions, take notes AND judge the candidate’s suitability all at the same time.  Leave evaluation of the candidate until after the interview is over.



Assess the candidates against the essential knowledge, skills and attributes you identified for the role, based on their answers to each of your questions.  Use a rating scale – this enables you to identify stronger and weaker areas and compare candidates.


Decision time

Assuming you have more than one candidate who meets your requirements, then you will have to compare their relative merits.  It’s never apples and apples, always apples and pears. Bear in mind that it is often easier to acquire knowledge than to change behaviour and attitudes.  You might also want to consider broader issues, such as long term potential, suitability for other roles in the organisation or positive action. 




Interviewing is a skill – so practice makes (almost) perfect.


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