The job interview might seem, at first glace, to be a fairly basic procedure. But there are actually a lot of different interview techniques to choose from, depending on the nature of the job, the candidates in question, and the interviewers. Thinking your interview technique through is well worth your time – having the right process in place ensures you’re getting as much as possible out of your candidates so that you can make an informed hiring decision.
To help, here’s a quick three-step guide to choosing the best interview technique for your next hire.
1. Select a format
The first step in developing an effective interview technique is choosing the right method. Here are the main options:
Solo interviews are the most common format for job interviews. They allow you to develop a rapport with the candidate, read their body language, and go into detail about their experience and skills. The downside is that they can be time consuming for the hiring manager – especially if the position requires additional interviews with relevant stakeholders. Also, one-on-one interviews are more susceptible to bias affecting the final decision.
Similar to the solo format in tone and style, a panel interview simply has more than one interviewer present. “You have a variety of people on the panel that would potentially work with the candidate in different ways,” says HR consultant Leah Fochuk of Calgary’s Salopek & Associates. “They’re going to be able to assess that person from their perspective.”
The disadvantage is that the candidate may feel overwhelmed by the number of interviewers. There’s also the possibility of panel members clashing on specific topics or questions, so it’s important to plan ahead and choose who will lead the interview and who will ask follow-up questions.
In this format, there is more than one candidate interviewed simultaneously. This can be useful when there are a lot of candidates for a role, or when a company is making multiple hires at once. The group format can often help to put candidates at ease, and also shows how they conduct themselves in a team setting. However, it can also spark a competition between the candidates and potentially drown out the less assertive candidates. In a group setting, it’s important to train hiring mangers to see beyond the extroverts and assess all the candidates fairly.
Phone or video
New technology makes it easier than ever to interview from afar. For the most part, phone and video interviews are used as an initial screening method to pare back the long list, rather than a final job interview method. However, it’s a great option for hiring managers looking to connect with top talent in other locations, or remote companies looking to make their next hire.
2. Decide between structured or unstructured
Job interviews can be divided into two types: structured and unstructured. In a structured interview, the hiring manager or recruiter has written down exactly what to ask, how to ask it, and what kind of response they’re looking for.
An unstructured interview is the opposite: the interviewer doesn’t have a set-in-stone list of questions. Instead, they let things flow organically, more like a conversation than a job interview.
A word of warning: while the unstructured format might seem like the one that would get a candidate away from rehearsed answers, it actually ends up revealing less, according to professor Julie McCarthy of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “As much as we like to think that we’re very accurate in assessing people with our gut feeling, the data suggests that it’s completely inaccurate,” she says. “With unstructured interviews, their predictive capacity is very low.”
By comparison, structured interviews offer a more in-depth evaluation of the candidate. “You’re really figuring out through a job analysis what core competencies are required for the job. You write consistent questions for everyone, ask them in the same way, have a scoring key, and look at things that are important for the job. When we do that we can accurately predict who the best candidate is,” she says.
3. Choose your question style(s)
There is no shortage of interview questions to choose from, but knowing the benefits and challenges of each type can help you mix-and-match accordingly. Here are four of the most common question styles:
As we’ve mentioned before, this type of question is designed to uncover insights beyond technical skills. It is based on the idea that past behaviour will be a good predictor of future prowess, so the questions are aimed at eliciting real examples from the candidate’s past – for example, “tell me about a specific situation when you had to go above and beyond your call of duty in order to get a job done.”
However, behavioural interviewing isn’t perfect. “If they’ve done their research and know what you’re expecting to hear, they can tailor their answers in that way,” says Fochuk. “People can practise for it and tell you what you want to hear, rather than being truthful.”
In a competency-based interview, you focus on the candidate’s job-related skills. For example, if you’re hiring a developer, you would test their abilities with key software. The disadvantage of this type of question is that it’s very uncompromising. If the candidate is lacking in any of the skills, it can put them in the “no” column before they get a chance to showcase their strengths.
With this type of question, candidates are given a case study and asked to analyze and solve it on the spot. Depending on the details of the case study, it can be a great way to get the candidate away from their rehearsed answers and show their problem solving abilities in real time. However, it’s important to choose a case study carefully – otherwise it can just be an irrelevant time-waster. “Case studies should only be used if a certain case study has been found to predict later performance, and is relevant to the job in question,” says McCarthy.
Similar to behavioural and case study questions, these questions present the candidate with a series of situations and ask what they would do. They’re more hypothetical than behavioural questions, but they’re still intended to bring up examples from the candidate’s past to indicate how they will perform in the future. They also have the same disadvantage as behavioural interviews – candidates can come prepared with rehearsed (or worse, fictitious) answers to your questions.
Taking the time to create an interview technique for your hiring process ensures that you’re getting the most out of your candidates – and making the best possible hire.