Our guide to better interviews

Improve your interview skills

Whatever side of the desk you’re on, you can probably up your game for your next interview. For employers, it’s important to take the time to find the right candidate, so that you spend your recruitment budget wisely and build a strong team. For candidates, the right approach to interview can significantly enhance your chances of getting an offer – even if you don’t meet all the criteria on paper.

With years of expertise in finding candidates and interviewing on behalf of clients, we’ve been able to compile a list of advice and tips that can help anyone involved in an interview to work towards the best outcome. Of course, we can’t guarantee that you’ll get the job, or make the best hire, but we can absolutely share some tips that will help to point you in the right direction.

These tips apply just as much to the new way of interviewing – via Zoom or Teams or other online platforms – as they do for traditional face-to-face interviews. Body language, tone of voice and interaction remain just as important. So you can apply this advice straight away, no matter who you’re interviewing, how or when.

For interviewers

Be aware of bias – unconscious bias is all about the decisions you take and opinions you form without even realising it. Understanding your own potential biases and working hard to overcome them is no easy task, but it’s vital for conducting a better interview. We’d take exception to being told we are biased about some things, but the fact remains that we often are. According to Psychology Today, some of these biases include:

  • The perceived physical attractiveness of the candidate
  • The perceived things you may feel you have in common with the candidate
  • The stereotypes you may hold about gender, age, nationality, ethnicity, qualifications and religion
  • The assumptions you may make based on dress, voice and non-verbal signals

In order to overcome bias, and remembering that the way that candidates behave in interview is highly influenced by stress and nerves, you need to have a clear structure for the interview that is consistent across all the candidates you see. This means you will have a standardised basis for looking back at the interviews to make a decision. In theory, it should also mean that you can hand your notes to someone who wasn’t in the interview and they should be able to see who is the best candidate.

Our top tips

  1. Really prepare for the interview. Know exactly what you are looking for in the right candidate, in terms of qualifications, experience, attitude and willingness to develop. Read the candidate’s CV thoroughly, along with any other material they have been asked to submit. Look for particular areas that may need further investigation or that you think are particularly relevant to the role.
  2. Set a standard list of questions. You need to be able to compare candidates after the interview process and this will be easier if you ask them the same things. You can go off-topic to explore answers, but you should to your list to make sure you are gathering all the most relevant information. Finally, keep your questions open, so that you give the candidate a chance to explain or expand, rather than just giving ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers.
  3. Listen to your candidate. The most common problem with interviewers is a failure to listen. Instead, you’re focused on getting through the questions on your list and, in your mind, you’ve already decided what ‘golden’ responses you are looking for. We can pretty much guarantee that if you don’t listen and concentrate on the answers your candidates give, you’ll end up hiring the wrong person. As a leader, you should be able to listen to an answer and see how it reveals something that might be useful or flags up a warning sign.
  4. Set expectations – tell the candidate at the start how long you expect the interview to last and what you will be covering. If you are introducing other elements into the interview, such as the opportunity to meet other members of the team, a presentation, a test or a group challenge, you should let them know. Obviously, for some interviews, you will have spoken to the candidate ahead of time if there’s anything you expect them to prepare in advance.
  5. Stay on the right side of the law – there are questions that you are not allowed to ask in interviews because they are discriminatory. Stick to the attributes, qualifications and experience for the role.

 

For candidates

At a time when redundancies are being announced on an almost daily basis and there are hundreds of applicants for a single job role, it’s a real achievement to get to the interview stage of the process. And that’s often when the nerves kick in. At the moment, most interviews are happening via video call, which might mean that you can do them from the comfort of your own home, but also means that you’re at the mercy of the technology and that there are some new things to think about.

You may have already gone through a phone or video interview with a recruitment consultant – we speak to all of the candidates we shortlist to make sure that they are a good fit for the role and for the company. So that means you should have picked up quite a lot of background about both the company and the job you’ve applied for.

Our top tips

  1. Check your technology. If you’re interviewing online, try to use a tablet or laptop rather than your phone. Make sure you have checked that you have strong enough wifi, and if you don’t perhaps arrange to go to a friend or relative’s house where you can use stronger wifi. If you’re doing this, make sure it’s within the regulations and that you socially distance.
  2. Make an effort. Just because you’re interviewing online, you can’t assume that everything’s more relaxed. You still need to project a professional image, and that includes making sure you have a neutral background and good lighting so that there’s nothing to distract the interviewer from what you’re saying.
  3. Be prepared. Make sure you’ve checked out the company as thoroughly as you can. Look at the website, read their news pages, check out their product or service development. Follow them on social media and find out what’s important to them. Get used to their tone. You can look your interviewer up on LinkedIn now – there’s no excuse for being unprepared. By the same token, make sure you’re really confident about the role and what the company is looking for.
  4. Have your CV and any other documents ready to share. The beauty of an online interview is that you can share your screen to talk your interviewer through elements of your CV, or to showcase other work that you’ve done. If you’ve been asked to prepare a presentation, make sure it’s open on your screen and ready to go when it’s needed.
  5. Be engaged – look directly at the camera, if you’re interviewing online, or make regular eye-contact with your interviewer if it’s a face-to-face meeting. Be enthusiastic – but not over-the-top and engage positively with the questions. This is your chance to show how you can add to the business. We know that not everyone is outgoing, but if you are quieter or more introverted, you can still demonstrate passion and enthusiasm for the things that matter to you.
  6. Have some questions. This is standard interview advice, and that’s because it’s really important. Move away from basic questions about holiday or pay, and find at least three interesting questions to ask. These might be about learning and development programmes, or their attitude to sustainability, or their diversity programme. Ask questions that will help you to find out if this is a company you really want to work for.
  7. Make sure you know the next steps. You’ll want to know how soon you’ll find out about the decision and what feedback you might get. Be as relaxed as possible at the end of the interview – don’t bolt out of the door or leave the video meeting too quickly.

Whatever the role and whatever the circumstances, the interview is a critical part of the recruitment process for both sides. Approaching it with structure, preparedness and confidence can help everyone get the most from an interview, and can help both the interviewer and the interviewee learn valuable lessons for next time.

Find out more about our recruitment support here or contact us to see how we can help.


Are your children returning to school next week?

Children in England are heading back to school.

It’s been a strange – and challenging – few months for parents. You’ve not just had to manage home-schooling alongside working your everyday job at home; you’ve also had to deal with the ups and downs of children not being able to see their friends, not being able to go to their regular clubs and struggling with exam changes and the well-documented issues with results.

It’s also been a challenge for your children, who may have missed the structure and routine of school and may feel that they are going back in September disadvantaged by so much time off. And when they do go back, the school routine and layout will be different, so there’s lots to get used to.

Is this the new normal?

The state of things as we knew them at the start of the year is clearly not going to return for some time. You may still be furloughed, or you may be working at home. Redundancy and job insecurity are widespread and reports suggest that many people in the UK feel less well-off financially than they did in January.

School closures have meant that is has been difficult for parents to juggle work and child-care, especially where one or both parents – whether living together or not – are still working full-time away from the home as key workers, or as businesses start to return to the office.

So, getting the children back to school might be a relief all round, but you will need to have some contingency plans in place, in case of local lockdowns and school re-closures, in case your own business changes the way it works, or in case someone in your household tests positive for the virus and you have to isolate for a period of time. Things you might want to think about include:

  • Dedicated space to work at home: can you provide a dedicated space for your children to work if they need to stay at home? Even if it has to be shared, this will help them to have some space to do any work set for them.
  • Childcare options: if schools close as part of a local lockdown, what are your childcare options? Can you speak to your employer about flexible working or going back to work from home if you need to? Can your children’s other parent do the same?
  • Playing by the rules: lockdown easing means that we are coming into contact with many more people. So it’s important to observe rules for wearing face masks, hand sanitising, social distancing and gatherings to help reduce the risk of infection. You should also make sure that you know what rules the schools are implementing so that you can keep you and your family as safe as possible.

Now is a great time to speak to your employer about how you might manage a range of potential circumstances as we go into autumn and winter. And if you’re an employer, make sure you have spoken individually to all of your employees, and have a risk assessment and clear plan in place to help keep your business running whilst also taking your employees’ caring responsibilities into account.

For help and advice with returning to work, managing changes to employee contracts or drawing up new policies to deal with the current situation, contact us today.