How to interview job candidates like a pro

By Cat Robinson

While we all know the nerves that come with going for an important job interview, it can be just as intimidating when your turn comes to be the one asking the questions. Knowing what you should and shouldn’t ask, how to address potentially sensitive issues like salary expectations, and how to keep the interview on track so you get the information you really need while also getting a feel for the candidate’s personality isn’t as simple as it sounds. Here we take a look at common traps to try and avoid, as well as tips and advice to help you conduct an interview like a pro.

Understand your human tendency to fall for a ‘first impression’

We all do it! We’re biologically designed to make snap judgments about people – something that would have been very useful thousands of years ago when we had to decide very quickly whether a new person could prove to be an ally or was likely to be a threat to our family and resources. And while it might not be quite as useful now, it’s important to realize that your impression of a candidate is going to be influenced by this evolutionary adaptation. Make sure you ask all the same questions and conduct the interview just as thoroughly and with real interest whether you had an instant positive or negative reaction to meeting the candidate. Let your rational rather than your “reptilian” brain conduct the interview!

Understand your goals for the interview and keep the questions on track

Preparation for the interview is vital. Make a list of the most crucial information you need to gather. If you’re interviewing candidates for a team position, then this is an exercise best conducted with everyone together. Other team members may have invaluable input about the kind of person and the skills they need. It’s best to do this well ahead of time, so you can add to the list later and don’t have to try and come up with everything all at once in a rush.

Make copies of this essential “to ask” list, with lots of room for notes, and take one in when you’re conducting each interview. Go through the list systematically so you don’t end up missing anything. This will also help you keep the interview on track and focused on the information you need to gather.

Prepare additional candidate-specific questions before the interview

As you’re setting up interviews, go through each CV or resume in detail, and jot down notes on areas you want more info. The person may have experience in a field you’re not familiar with, in which case you might want to do a little research so you can discover how this additional knowledge may or may not be useful to your company.

Pay special attention to dates. Many professional recruiters, for example, work out the length of service at each position (if the candidate has only included start and end dates with a company) and put this in brackets next to each employment section on the candidate’s CV. This will give you a better indication of how long the person tends to spend in a particular role. An hour or so before you conduct the interview, take another quick look at the candidate’s resume to refresh your memory.

Look authoritative without appearing intimidating

Another tricky aspect of interviewing applicants is finding a balance between appearing approachable and putting a potentially very nervous yet highly qualified candidate at ease, while also remaining professional. How you dress for the interview (remember candidates form first impressions too!) is an excellent way of doing so. Take a look at specialized corporate clothing providers like House of Monatic corporate wear, and you’ve got the right idea.

What you want to do now is combine this highly professional look with a big smile and a warm welcome to put the candidate at ease. It’s a good idea to ask the candidate if they’d like to use the restroom before you begin, especially if they appear very nervous, as this gives them a chance to regroup and check their hair or makeup before the interview starts. Have a glass and a jug of fresh water ready for them in the interview room too.

Avoid highly personal questions

Stick to the facts you need to know, and never ask questions about religion, marital status or family planning unless the candidate brings it up themselves. Remember your ultimate goal in conducting the interview in the first place – finding the best person for the tasks and responsibilities they’ll need to perform.


Cat Robinson is a freelance writer lucky enough to be living on the beautiful KwaZulu Natal coast of South Africa. Instilled with a love of language from an early age, she enjoys bending her pen to different subjects, researching new topics and, hopefully, giving a touch of flair to every piece she writes!  Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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