Finding the Right Staff: How to Get the Most from Candidates at the Interview Stage

So, you’ve spread the word about your job vacancy and have received a steady stream of CVs from promising applicants. Now comes the big decision: which of these talented candidates do you choose to be part of your staff? 

It’s estimated that around 40% of employees who move on from a job do so within the first six months. A high proportion of these leave for positions on the same level of pay or less, suggesting that it’s often more to do with ‘things not working out’ rather than hard cash. Your aim, therefore, at the selection stage is to identify those candidates who not only tick all the right boxes on ability and experience, but also those who fit culturally within your business.

Many candidates will look great on paper — the interview is your opportunity to find out whether their written application measures up in real life. It’s also important to remember that this is a two-way process, which means giving candidates a true picture of what the role will actually entail. If there’s a mismatch between what you promised and the realities of the job, employees are more likely to become disillusioned and move on.

To make things easier, and to maximise the chances of a successful hire, small business owners and first-time hirers can learn a lot from techniques used by seasoned recruiters. With this in mind, here are points to consider when preparing for your first ever interviews.

Before the interview

To avoid a great candidate slipping through the net, you should carry out a review of all applications received once the deadline for applying has expired. To help with this, it’s good practice to draw up a detailed job description and ideal employee specification before you advertise your vacancy. This helps you be clear in your own mind about what the new job will involve, and the type of person you are looking for.

Divide the applications into two categories: those who fail to meet the criteria and those who you want to see on your shortlist. For those who don’t make the cut , always leave a positive impression of your business. As such, rather than ignoring them, send a brief message thanking them for their application and perhaps invite them to keep an eye out for future vacancies.

Conduct a telephone screening

A series of interviews can take up a big chunk of your time and you’ll want to avoid wasting that time on candidates who are not going to be suitable. A telephone screening can be a useful extra filter to avoid this happening.

Email discussions

Email the candidates you’re interested in and arrange to have a quick chat. Make sure they’re aware of what the role consists of and the hours involved.

  • Are they comfortable with this?
  • Are they still interested?

If it turns out, for instance, that the candidate ‘can’t do Saturdays’, but weekend working is an essential part of the job, at least it’s been established at an early stage that the job and applicant aren’t matched.

A full interview

Earmark a time window for the full interviews, too (for instance, two in the morning and two in the afternoon on a single day). As part of the telephone screening, check each candidate’s availability for a full interview and provisionally agree on a time slot. Remember to confirm the interview date, location, and time with the candidate via email. Give a brief overview of what the interview will consist of, as well.

Create specific questions for each candidate

Part of the interview will involve putting the candidate’s skills and experience under the spotlight. For each candidate, draw up a list of specific points to raise, referring to specific sections of their CV. Examples may include the following:

  • Why do you want to move on from your current role?
  • What do you think the biggest differences will be between working for our startup and the company you’re at now?
  • Can you tell me more about your day-to-day duties and responsibilities at [X Company]?
  • You left [X Company] after just a few months. Why was that?
  • There’s a two-year gap between [X dates]. What were you doing at that time?

These are basic questions, but they will paint you well-rounded picture of the candidate.

During the Interview

Meet the candidate in person and consider giving him a brief tour of the premises. Arranging the layout of the room so you are sitting at 90 degrees to the candidate can help to make the interview feel less like an interrogation.

Set a practical exercise

It’s easy for a candidate to claim to be proficient at the job requirements. Especially if it’s a technical role, a practical test can be a reliable way of finding out whether they are as good as they say they are.

If you are recruiting a developer, for instance, you might ask them to review an extract of code and identify the errors. For a web administrator, the task might be to upload a series of products onto a non-live section of your e-commerce store. It’s usual for such a task to be completed at the start of the assessment within an allotted time.

What does the candidate know about you?

Rather than opening with a potted biography of your business, it can be useful to ask candidates to provide their impression of who you are and what they think you do. Keen candidates with initiative will have done their homework.

What does the candidate think the position involves?

This is a wide-ranging question that allows candidates to demonstrate their understanding of your field. The ideal answer is one where candidates draw on their own experience and mention concrete examples of the tasks that are typically involved in the role. If the answers are vague, it could be a sign that the candidate has less experience than claimed.

Provide your own summary of the job role and company

After the candidates have provided their interpretation of what they assume you do, it’s the ideal opportunity for you to set out further details about the job and the company. Questions from the candidate at this stage are a good sign, too — especially ones that cover practical aspects of the job, such as the equipment you use and the processes you follow. It shows they are familiar with the practical side of the role.

What makes you a good fit for this job?

Again, rather than vague responses such as being a ‘team player’ or ‘having great organisational skills’, look for answers where candidates can draw on real experiences and relate them directly to the job in question. A roleplay scenario is a great interview device to use if the job is a consumer-facing role such as sales or customer service. You can see whether candidates can think on their feet.

Close the interview

After you’ve given the candidates the opportunity to ask any further questions, thank them for coming and try and give a realistic timeframe for when you’ll be back in touch. Analyse your choices and make an informed decision on who you think will be the best fit. This process gives your recruitment process a solid foundation from which you can explore what methods work best for you and your company.

If you want to know more about finding and attracting the right candidates? head to our help centre for practical hints and tips.

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