How to conduct a selection interview

A first selection interview can provide you with nearly three-quarters of the information you need to employ the right candidate. They say there's only one chance to make a first impression, and the first interview is a crucial opportunity for both applicant and employer to sell themselves in the best possible light.


Preparing for a selection interview

  • Decide who is going to interview the candidates, and at what stage. What will be the involvement of your personnel department, future colleagues and managers? How many interview rounds do you plan to have?

  • The presence of a perceptive colleague during the interviews may provide you with a valuable second opinion. Some companies insist on the presence of a personnel manager at all interviews.

  • Ensure you and any other person interviewing candidates have the full, correct details of both your vacancy and the application.

  • Anticipate any questions candidates may ask you and make sure you can answer them.

  • Schedule time in between interviews to make notes and consider each applicant individually. Interviews require alertness and concentration; take breaks to recharge yourself.

  • Choose a quiet location without distractions for your interviews. Provide candidates with clear directions.

  • Keep refreshments to a minimum during your interviews. Provide plenty of water, but no biscuits.

  • Depending on the purpose of your interview round and the character of the vacancy, you have to choose a suitable style of questioning. Discuss interests or stick to facts, pose technical questions or set tests according to your requirements.

Conducting a selection interview

  • You may like to ask your receptionist on beforehand to provide you with feedback on the candidates' impression. We know of companies where the interviewer personally decided to cover the reception in order to observe candidates anonymously as they arrived. Allowing for tensions, a candidate's behaviour towards front office staff is often a good indication of their personality.

  • Stick to your interview schedule. Don't keep candidates waiting and don't exceed the agreed duration. Most candidates are likely to want to get back to their current employer as soon as possible.

  • Give the interviews your full, undivided attention and be sure to avoid interruptions.

  • An interview generally includes the following stages:
    1. An introduction followed by a few minutes of small talk, to help the candidate relax
    2. A questions and answers session to fill in any gaps in the candidate's CV
    3. A conversation to discover more about the candidate's character and personal motivation
    4. A discussion of the job specifics and the work environment
    5. An opportunity for the candidate to pose questions about the job, remuneration etc

  • Depending on your requirements and the character of your vacancy, you may request candidates to perform a test. Always inform candidates of your intentions and take any possible tests into account when notifying them of the anticipated duration of the interview.

  • Use open questions ('why did you??') if you would like to get more information out of your candidate. Closed questions ('did you...?') are more suited if you want a brief, simple affirmation or clarification.

  • Avoid asking questions that can be open to different interpretations. Clarify your question, if necessary.

  • Use a checklist of points you would like to cover in the interview, but remain alert and flexible.

  • Go into every interview with an open mind. Allow the candidate time to finish a reply without jumping to conclusions, gently steering them back to the question if necessary. Listen attentively and build on the candidate's answers.

  • Summarise the candidate's responses to check that you have understood what is being said. This ensures that you haven't misinterpreted any information.

  • Pay attention the body language of the person you are interviewing. Does the candidate seem confident and relaxed or ill motivated and defensive? Be aware of cultural and gender differences which may affect the candidates body language. Is your own body language positive and encouraging?

  • Provide candidates with an honest, attractive picture of your organisation. Remember an interview is not a one-way street, but an opportunity for the both of you to exchange information and form an opinion. Have copies of your company brochure and/or annual report ready to give home, for those candidates who hadn't been able to do their homework on your company on beforehand.

  • Make notes during the interview to trigger your memory later on, but don't allow the candidate to read them. Never use derogatory, racist, ageist or otherwise offensive terms to remind a candidate by.

  • At the end of an interview, check whether there is anything left you would like to ask or clarify, invite questions from the candidate and explain the next step in your selection procedure. Give a timeframe for your decision and stick to it. Check with the candidates what notice period they have in their current employment.

After the interview

  • Evaluate each candidate as soon as possible following an interview. Research shows 80 per cent of your memory is lost within 24 hours. Fill in any gaps in your notes when your memory is still fresh.

  • Record your first impressions, your gut feeling. Specify what gave you those impressions. Were the candidate's words consistent with the candidate's body language and appearance? What could have caused any discrepancies? What would the candidate be like to work with, outside the selection interview?

  • Talk to other people who have interviewed the candidate and compare notes. Are there marked differences? How come?

  • Read through all your notes again and update the candidate's matching sheet. How would you rate the candidate overall on a 1-10 scale? Do this for all the interviewed candidates and draw up a shortlist for a second interview round, if applicable.

  • Check references, if necessary, but only with the candidates explicit consent. Be highly discreet throughout the entire selection procedure.

  • Notify all interviewed candidates as soon as possible of your decision, but not before you have taken a moment to reflect on your decision. Is your decision fair and unbiased? Could any of the rejected interviewees actually turn out to be your dream employee after all?

  • Don't simply employ the candidate who came out best compared to the other applicants. If you feel you haven't yet found the right person for the job, don't hesitate to continue your search. Giving one candidate the benefit of the doubt may backfire badly in months and years to come.

  • Once you have made your decision, notify the successful candidate immediately - in a discreet manner. Make a verbal offer, specifying the terms and conditions of your offer. Invite questions and give the candidate adequate time to consider your offer.. Set a time limit within which the candidate can either accept or reject your offer. Negotiate for as long as you deem reasonable, if required. Confirm your offer in writing.

  • Build a database of applicants and update it whenever necessary. Ask suitable candidates who were unsuccessful this time for permission to keep their details on file. Next time you have a vacancy this may save you time and money.

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