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Getting Started With Interview Questions

Getting Started with Interview Questions

There’s a fine balance between getting to know someone on a personal level and finding out whether someone is the right fit for a job. More often than not the interview process is designed to be a mixture of the two; seeing if someone is competent and able to do the role, whilst establishing if they are also compatible with your company and culture.

Becoming proficient as an interviewer will probably take lots of training and practice and it is something that you will continue to hone your skills at throughout your career.  To get you started, we’ve listed some of the most common questions that you could ask when interviewing a candidate. We have designed them to specifically extract the right kind of information so that you can make an informed decision on their capability whilst establishing their fit within your business.

Some additional information to note first:

  1. Before you start, refresh yourself with the core the Equality Act 2010
  2. Don’t ask any discriminatory questions and recognise any prejudices you may have in advance to help you put them aside.
  3. Have a plan with structured questions (like the ones below) that you can ask every applicant you interview, this can help to avoid potential discrimination claims against you.
  4. Record the answers to your questions and practice active listening.  A fair and consistent scoring system can help demonstrate your recruitment decisions should the need arise. A simple guide can be downloaded here
  5. Understand the auto-enrolment scheme and what prohibited recruitment contact is

On with the questions:

Questions to break the ice:
  • Did you get here ok? Did you take the bus? Etc.
  • Did you see X on television last night?
  • Where did you go travelling?

Breaking the ice is really important in the interview set-up. Interviews are daunting and can be a nerve-wracking experience for applicants and in many cases the interviewer too. Nerves can hinder the applicant's performance, resulting in an ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ and display awkward body language. Try to put the applicant at ease and ask a variety of open and closed questions that the candidate will find easy to answer. You can also offer a drink, explain what the interview will consist of in terms of timings, types of questions, what the job is about and reiterate that this process is a two-way dialogue of “getting to know each other”. You may also want to ask some easy and conversational questions around what their interests are, where they have travelled, what books they have read, what films they like etc. Build rapport, demonstrate empathy and put both of yourselves in a comfortable place for the main body of the interview.

Questions to test skills or competency:
  • What degree/qualifications / certificates to you have in relation to this post?
  • What experience do you have that is most relevant to the role?
  • Tell us about a situation where you had a great idea but it was rejected, what happened?

There are a variety of interview methods you can adopt, the most common ones are the biographical or normal interview (unstructured interview) and the competency based interview (structured or behavioural interview).

All these questions above delve into the skills and competencies of the applicant.  However, the first two questions above are biographical/normal interview questions.  These types of questions allow you to gather information and gain an overall impression of how you think the candidate will fit your business. They are useful in the interview process but can be a little bit more subjective.

The third question is a competency based interview question. This question is targeting a specific skill (in this case it is rejection). The applicant is asked a question relating to their behaviour in a specific circumstance which they will be required to demonstrate an answer with real life examples. You may need to probe deeper and ask further questions to get the response you require. Before the interview, it is important that you identify the competencies for the job role and determine the type of answers that would score for or against the candidate. There are many online sources to help you and https://www.wikijob.co.uk/wiki/competency-based-questions gives you a good overview for more information.

Questions to test character:
  • How do you take advantage of your strengths and compensate for your weaknesses?
  • Why are you leaving your current role?
  • Why should we hire you?

There are hundreds of personality tools on the market which many employers use to identify personality or behaviour traits and then benchmark against their current teams.  Some are more accurate than others and before you jump in, we would recommend that you do your research and get to know the frameworks and the accuracy of the tests.

There are some biographical questions you can ask in an interview to establish a person’s behavioural preference too. Something as simple as whether they identify their own strengths and weaknesses will help you understand how the individual sees themselves in relation to others.

The interview is a great opportunity to probe deeper into their motives for leaving their current role and establishing if there is anything that you need to be concerned about.  This may help you get more from your reference requests when speaking to their previous employers too.

The final question is short, sweet and to the point, you are asking the applicant to sell themselves to you, this will result in a summary of their experience and the skills they perceive they have.

Questions to test commitment:
  • Have you visited our website? What intrigued you about it?
  • Please describe what you want to be doing at our company in one year
  • What is your 5-year plan in terms of your career?
  • Why do you think we are the right company for you?
  • What would you do if your current boss offered you more money to stay?

Hiring someone new is a big step, it’s an investment in money, time and resources and it is a commitment for both parties. We have included the types of questions that will establish if the applicant has done their homework on your business before the interview and gained an understanding of the short and long term career aspirations of the applicant to enable you to see a match with your own business plans.

Questions to prevent surprises:
  • What questions do you have for me?
  • What reservations (if any) do you have about the job?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Starting dates/notice periods?
  • Check contact details, holidays, other job interviews etc.

If the applicant has prepared for the interview they will probably have some questions to ask you and it is best practice to offer the applicant the opportunity to ask you questions.

Before you close the interview, it is also a good idea to check the specifics and find out if the applicant has any reservations, ensure you are on the right salary page and find out about future holidays etc. If there are fundamental reasons why the applicant will not fit with your company, it is vital you find out sooner rather than later. You can also use this opportunity to overcome any objections the applicant may have so that if you were to offer the job you know they would accept.

All these questions are a useful starting point for extracting the appropriate information from a candidate enabling you to make the right decision. By all means, add more questions, omit others but keep it relevant, ask open and closed questions and keep it within the law.

Finally, we would recommend that you don’t ask questions where the answer is subjective. For example, the following ‘quirky’ questions have been asked in interviews, but what do they actually tell you about the person you’re hiring?!

  • Who would win in a fight, Superman or Batman?
  • What dinosaur would you like to be?
  • Is a Jaffa cake a cake or biscuit?

Other tools you may also want to use in the recruitment process to establish the best person for your job may include presentations, written exercises, in-tray exercises, case studies, assessment centres, video interviews and psychometric tests. We will be covering some of these in more details in the months ahead, as we share our in-house knowledge and experience so that you can make all the right steps to find great quality hires.

In the meantime, we hope you have found this week’s blog insightful and can take away some valuable skills for your future interviews. For more great recruitment tips and advice, you may also like: