A guide to the most important part of the recruitment process


The most crucial part of the recruitment process, interviewing is a skill it pays to get right. A good interview will provide you with all you need to know about a candidate to allow you to make an informed decision.

This article covers the planning and preparation you need to do before conducting interviews, as well as a guide to the interview process itself. You will also learn how to avoid some of the common mistakes made by employers when conducting interviews.

What do I do before the interview process?

The planning stage is perhaps the most essential; if you don’t prepare the interview process properly, you will end up with a slew of unsuitable candidates you will have to spend time and money wading through. Follow these steps to get it right:

    • Establish selection criteria. Create selection criteria (e.g. academic background, communication skills, teamwork) and weigh the criteria according to the requirements of the job you’ll be interviewing for. For example, a member of the sales team might need good communication and personal skills, but less IT knowledge, so give these traits the weighting they require. Many companies find a number-based rating system easy to deal with and tweak as required.
    • Use a pre-interview filtering system. You shouldn’t offer every applicant an interview, as this will be a time-consuming waste of money. Have a pre-interview selection phase in place based on CVs and application form. Remember that interviews are not the only way of assessing skills – other resources like verbal and numerical reasoning tests can be cheaper and easier to manage as a way of assessing certain traits.
    • Decide on what type of interview you will hold. You can conduct a more formal interview with set questions, or perhaps a looser, less structured one to get a feel for an applicant’s personality. You could also try an assessment day to pit candidates against each other and measure them against objective criteria – although be aware that these can get too competitive. Decide on whether you will allow telephone or video interviews.
    • Select candidates for interview. Using your rating system, select a number of candidates for interview, bearing in mind that each interview will cost your business time and money.


What legal issues should I be aware of?

There are a few legal pitfalls you should avoid when interviewing candidates. In particular, you should know about:

  • Discrimination law. The Equality Act 2010 forbids you from selecting candidates based on a number of protected characteristics, such as age, sex and race. Avoid asking questions about these issues and keep discussion on the requirements of the job. The Equality Act also forbids you to ask applicants about their health during the interview stage.
  • Data protection law. You must comply with a set of strict principles when collecting and using candidates’ personal data. Applicants are also entitled to see any notes taken on them during the interview process.
  • Offers of employment. Whether or not it is in writing, offering someone a job during the interview process, which they accept, will be seen as creating a binding contract of employment. Clarify during the interview process that at no point will you be offering them a job at this stage.


How should I prepare for the interview?

When you have established an overall plan, it is time to look at how the interviews themselves will be conducted. Follow these steps:

  • Choose who will conduct the interviews. There should be two or more interviewers, as this will provide you with a more balanced view. You might want to choose people the candidate will be working with if they get the job. Remember to bring someone in with technical expertise if it is needed – for example, someone who could assess a person’s suitability for a position as a programmer.
  • Brief the interviewers. They should know the selection criteria and job outline inside out, and have training in interview skills. They should understand their own roles in the process, including who will do what and how you will come to a decision.
  • Decide on a time to hold them. Clear your schedule on that day so you will not be disturbed. Generally, an interview should last between 45 and 90 minutes; any longer than this and it will become a gruelling experience. Remember to allocate time between interviews to finish and compare notes (and to take a well-deserved breather).
  • Prepare questions. Use your criteria to develop questions – keep them focused on the requirements of the job. In addition, look through the candidate’s application form or CV to identify areas for further discussion.
  • Send information to candidates. When you have selected who you will interview, contact them with a date and time. Make sure candidates are well-briefed and know generally what to expect when they get there; springing nasty surprises on interviewees will not come across well.


How should I conduct the interview?

  • Put the interviewee at ease. Welcome them, introduce them to everyone in the room and explain their roles, and tell the candidate how the interview will be conducted.
  • Check information. Start by looking at their CV or application form and ask questions about their background, including any gaps in their career or information you’re unsure about. If they have claimed to have key skills, ask for evidence of how they have used them.
  • Explore how they will fit in. Using the information on their CV and the answers already given, explore how they will fit in to your company. Ask them to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and ask them to tell you how they will add value to your business if given the job.
  • Give the applicant information. Tell them in more detail about the job and what you would require from them.
  • Open up to questions. Ask interviewees whether they have any comments or questions about the company. Generally, they should have a few questions if they are genuinely interested in the job; unless you have been extremely thorough in your job description, a candidate not asking questions is a bad sign.
  • End the interview. Tell the applicant when the decision will be made, and check contact details. If you have not got in touch with referees yet, you should confirm that they will be contacted.
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