How to interview a candidate: Interview techniques for selecting the right candidates

From budding startups to established ecommerce operations, one thing is true: the importance of hiring the right talent — and we’re not just talking about filling a position.

Finding the best candidates to join your team can be a game-changer, and it all starts with the interview process. Think of candidate interviews as treasure hunts for talent — and when you strike gold, the impact on your business can be nothing short of transformative.

Ready to get started? Explore practical tips and strategies for interviewing and identifying the best-suited candidates for your business.

How to interview a candidate

Recruiting new employees takes an average of 44 days, though some jobs can be hired in as quickly as two weeks.1 You can make every moment count by setting up your interview process for success.

Not sure how to conduct an interview? Here’s a general breakdown, from preparation to evaluation.

  • Understand the interview process
  • Prepare for the interview
  • Create a welcoming environment
  • Types of interview questions
  • Example questions to ask
  • Determine company culture fit
  • Assess skills and abilities
  • Practice active listening
  • Cover company expectations
  • Ask and answer candidate questions
  • Evaluate the candidate and next steps

Understand the interview process

Before meeting your first candidate, it’s important to develop an interview process. By standardizing your company’s interview framework, you can:

  • Ensure fairness by using consistent questions and evaluation criteria for all candidates, minimizing biases and discrimination.
  • Promote consistency across multiple interviews, making it easier to compare candidates objectively.
  • Stay focused on what matters, like evaluating skills, qualifications, and cultural fit, which may help speed up hiring.

Prepare for the interview

Another important part of interview preparation? Review a candidate's resume and cover letter. By closely analyzing these documents, you can gain insights into a candidate's qualifications, experience, and potential fit with your organization.

This information can also help your team craft unique interview questions that delve deeper into the candidate’s relevant skills, accomplishments, and expertise.

Create a welcoming environment

Creating a comfortable interview environment can bring out the best in potential employees. In a relaxed setting, candidates may be more likely to showcase their true abilities and personality.

By putting candidates at ease, organizations like yours can not only make better hiring decisions but also leave a lasting impression, whether the interview is conducted face-to-face or through a screen.

Types of interview questions

Effective interviewing involves a range of question types. For example,

  • Open-ended questions encourage candidates to provide detailed, thoughtful responses, revealing their communication skills and depth of knowledge.
  • Closed-ended questions often yield concise, factual answers, useful for confirming qualifications.
  • Behavioral questions probe past experiences, asking candidates to share specific examples of how they've handled situations, allowing interviewers to gauge their problem-solving, interpersonal, and decision-making abilities based on concrete evidence.

By using a mix of these question types, interviewers can gain a well-rounded view of candidates before making a hiring decision.

Example questions to ask

No matter your industry, here are some general interview questions to ask candidates:

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Can you give an example of a project or achievement you're particularly proud of?
  3. Can you describe a challenging situation you've faced at work and how you resolved it?
  4. Describe a time when you had to work collaboratively with a team to achieve a goal.
  5. How do you handle tight deadlines and high-pressure situations?
  6. What skills or qualifications do you bring that make you a strong candidate for this position?
  7. How do you handle constructive criticism, and can you provide an example?
  8. How do you stay updated with industry trends and developments?
  9. Why do you want to work here?
  10. Where do you see yourself in five years?

Assess skills and abilities

A great way to assess job-related skills? Scenario-based interview questions.

These hypothetical situations present candidates with issues they may encounter in the role, allowing them to demonstrate their skills and problem-solving abilities. Here are a few examples:

  • In an interview for a client services position, you may ask, "Can you describe a time when you successfully resolved a challenging client complaint?"
  • For a sales role you may ask, "Can you describe a situation where you successfully exceeded a sales target and how you achieved it?"

Practice active listening

By actively engaging and asking insightful follow-up questions, interviewers can gain a deeper understanding of a candidate's qualifications, thought processes, and communication skills.

Asking follow-up questions such as, "Can you provide more details about that experience?" or "How did you handle that challenge?" helps probe deeper into a candidate's experiences.

Determine company culture fit

When candidates align with your company values and culture, they tend to integrate seamlessly into the organization, ultimately contributing to a more cohesive, engaged, and thriving workplace.

Asking questions related to company values and culture during the hiring process can help identify potential hires who not only possess the right skills but also resonate with your company's team dynamics and overall mission. Discover more employee management best practices.

Cover company expectations

As the leader of your business, you want to set every new hire up for success. So it’s critical to clearly explain all company and role-specific expectations, empowering candidates to make an informed decision about the role.

When candidates have a precise understanding of what the job entails, they can ask relevant questions to clarify any uncertainties. This two-way dialogue not only ensures that candidates are well-informed but also allows employers to gauge the candidate's genuine interest and alignment with the role.

Ask and answer candidate questions

Toward the end of an interview, allow time for candidate questions. Begin by actively listening to a candidate's inquiries, ensuring you understand their concerns fully. Provide clear and transparent responses and avoid embellishment or overpromising.

If there are aspects of the role or company that may not align with the candidate's expectations, it’s best to address them openly and honestly, which may help lessen or avoid employee turnover later on.

Evaluate the candidate and next steps

To evaluate a candidate during an interview, establish predefined criteria that align with the role’s specific requirements. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Create a list of specific criteria that candidates will be evaluated against, such as technical skills, soft skills, experience, and qualifications.
  • Assign weights to each criterion to reflect their relative importance in the role. Some criteria may be more critical than others (such as technical expertise vs. soft skills), so allocate higher weights to them accordingly. The sum of all weights should equal 100%.
  • Establish a scoring system that allows you to assess candidates against each criterion. You can use a numerical scale (e.g., 1 to 5) or a descriptive scale (e.g., Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent).
  • Calculate the total scores for each candidate by summing the scores across all criteria, taking into account the weights assigned to each criterion.

After each interview, compare scores, discuss discrepancies, and make informed decisions based on the data. This approach ensures fair, uniform assessments and helps identify the most qualified candidates who genuinely meet the job's needs.

Read on to discover best practices to help you hire the right employees.

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