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How to hold a job interview

28 April 2005 by
How to hold a job interview

So you've paid for all the job adverts, you've laboriously poured over all the CVs, laughed at the bad ones, ruled out the unsuitable ones, and chosen your shortlist of good ones.

The work is almost over, isn't it? Just a few interviews and you'll have your new member of staff and another vacancy will be filled, until the next one comes along.

If only it were that simple. While you're undoubtedly on the home straight, the job interview is probably the most important part of the recruitment process. This is where you will come face-to-face with the people you may have to come face-to-face with every day for years to come.

How you behave and conduct yourself in an interview is just as important as how the candidate behaves. As much as you will expect any good applicant to come prepared and reasonably informed about your company, they will expect you to be prepared and reasonably informed about the information they provided on their CV.

What is the interview for?

Once you've picked your shortlist of candidates, the first thing to do is stop and take a breather. Sit back and work out exactly what it is you want the interviews to achieve.

At first glance, the answer to this sounds obvious: "It's to find the best person for the job, isn't it?"

Well, ultimately, yes. But the interview shouldn't be thought of as the final round in a knockout competition. The opinions and information you get from the interview should ultimately be combined with that from the CVs, the qualifications, the experience, the references and anything else you have to form your final decision.

It's true that the primary aim of a job interview is to meet the applicant and work out whether they are right for the job, but this should be measured against a definite job description you should have drawn up before you even advertised the vacancy.

Less obviously, it's easy to forget that the job interview also exists for the candidate to find out more about you and your company. Anybody looking for a new job can make dozens of applications, and they may have had dozens of interviews. It's up to you to explain exactly what the job is, why it will be interesting and engaging, and why your company is a great place to work.

What you should do before the interview

Preparation is a key element in a successful job interview. First of all, don't make it difficult for the interviewee to find you. Make sure you've let them have all the information they need beforehand that will get them into the interview chair. Travel information like road maps, parking and public transport details will have them arrive relaxed and, hopefully, on time. Also tell them beforehand whether you're willing to reimburse their travel expenses.

If you're planning anything unusual, like a tour, or if they're going to be interviewed by a panel of people, then tell them the timetable in advance so they're not caught out (unless you want to catch them unawares, that is).

Make sure they have a definite person to ask for at reception, and tell reception that you're expecting some interviewees. They're usually nervous enough without having to explain to a puzzled receptionist who they are and why they're there.

All these things will mean the candidates will sit down in front of you relaxed, comfortable and with an already favourable first impression of a company that is friendly and looks after people.

The other thing to work out before the candidates arrive is where you're actually going to interview them. If you want a relaxed, informal atmosphere then maybe you shouldn't sit with a desk between you. Are you going to offer them tea or coffee? Perhaps you'll want to show them around before you officially start, very useful in hotels.

Most importantly, prepare two lists of questions. One will be of questions that you need definite answers to. For instance: "Tell us what you do in your present job" or "What other relevant experience do you have?" The second list will be of leading questions that will help you assess their personality. For example: "What made you want to join the hospitality industry?" or "What do you think you could bring to this company?"

The questions are up to you, but it's important that you know what information you need and what traits you are looking for. A list can also help the interview move along smoothly, and ensure a fair comparison between all the interviewees.

What you should do during the interview

Once the pleasantries are over, start by telling the candidate about the company and why you're looking for somebody. Open with a straightforward question that gives the interviewee a chance to get into their stride, something about their present job, for instance, or perhaps ask what they know about the company they're applying to.

Listen to the answers carefully, look at the body language. Are they being confident and self-assured or are they very nervous and closed-off. How do you think they would act if they had to welcome guests or deal with a complaint? Will they get on with the current members of your team? Don't be afraid to interrupt and get them to clarify things if you haven't understood.

But remember to move on if it's obvious they haven't got a good answer: don't torture them too much if you can help it.

Take notes through the interview, especially if you're seeing a lot of people.

When you bring the interview to a close, always remember to say something nice, thank them for coming and, if possible, tell them when they can expect to hear from you, and whether or not you'll be holding second interviews.

After the interview

Try and write down a few notes of your immediate thoughts as soon as the interviewee has left. If there's more than one interviewer, have a quick discussion to get a quick reaction and see if there's a unanimous opinion.

Try not to make any decisions until you've interviewed all the candidates. This can be difficult if the first one interviewed turns out to be excellent, but you should give everyone a chance: you never know who might turn up.

Use the assessment from the interview in conjunction with the CV, qualifications and experience to make you final decision. Just because you got on with them really well doesn't mean they will be the best person for the job.

by Andrew Davies

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