Starting The Interview

So, you have chosen an interview method, and have invited shortlisted candidates for interview. Your colleagues are ready, the interview room is set up, and the candidates are beginning to arrive. First impressions count for you and the interviewee, so what do you need to do to make sure the interview starts well?

Greeting and relaxing candidates

As candidates arrive for interview, make sure that there is someone on hand to greet them.  A candidate is likely to feel nervous on arrival, and it creates an unfavourable impression if they are kept waiting in an empty reception area.

Waiting for an interview is never a pleasant experience.  Ask whoever greets the candidate to offer them a glass of water, or even tea or coffee if the wait is likely to be longer than a few minutes.  Have some company literature handy for the candidate to read, or get them started on any forms or tests that you want them to complete.  Now is as good a time as any to sort out administrative details like reimbursing travel expenses, if appropriate.

When you are ready to interview, go and meet them yourself.  Don’t send someone else on your behalf unless they are also part of the interviewing team.  On meeting the candidate, be polite and direct.  Introduce yourself, saying something positive like:

“Hello.  I’m Peter Harris.  We spoke on the phone.”

A short walk along a corridor will seem like a mile to a nervous candidate, so try and fill the silence as you both walk to the interview room.  You do not need to practise your small talk, but try asking about where the candidate has come from, how their journey was, or anything else that might break the ice initially.  Once in the interview room, show the candidate where they should sit.  It is not always obvious.  By all means offer the candidate a drink, but a glass or jug of fresh water is probably sufficient.  Making tea or coffee will either mean leaving the candidate on their own for another five minutes, or it will mean an interruption during the interview when it is delivered.  Offering biscuits or sandwiches during an interview is not a good idea.  It is difficult to listen, talk and eat at the same time. Imaging the embarrassment if you, or the candidate, spat food whilst saying something.

Building rapport

The skill of the first few minutes of the interview is to relax the candidate, and to build rapport with them as quickly as you can.  You could start by outlining the structure of the interview.  If there are several interviews or tests involved, you could describe these briefly.  You might want to refer to the number of applications you have received, and the number of candidates you propose to interview.  You are giving the candidate an idea of how far they have come already, and about what lies ahead.  If they are particularly nervous, you might want to put them at ease by starting straight away with a positive statement or question arising from their CV or application form. For example:

“I see from your CV that you enjoy playing for the local football team.  What position do you play?  How are the team doing this season?”

You might even want to refer to their state of mind directly:

“I remember being eaten up with nerves at my first job interview, so I can imagine how you are feeling right now.”

You could also start with something positive that they have achieved:

“I see you completed your Diploma in marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. You did well to find the time for this, while you were working full-time at Longbridges.”

The rule is very simple.  The quicker your candidate relaxes, the more productive the interview will be.  Even the most qualified candidates get stage fright, and can come across as totally unsuitable for the job.  So do not neglect this important part of the interview process.

There are books devoted to the subject of building rapport, so you are unlikely to crack rapport-building from these paragraphs alone. However, your goal is to make your candidate act as naturally as they can, so that you see them as they really are. It is much easier to interview someone who is behaving naturally, rather than acting like the person they think you are looking for. If you can make the candidate relax, and speak up, it will help you decide more quickly whether they are the right person for the job or not.

Being prepared

There is no excuse for not preparing thoroughly in advance of the interview.  Before the interview you should have reminded yourself why you short listed the candidate, noted the questions that you plan to ask and begun to consider where their strengths and weaknesses lie.  You should not need to pour over the candidate’s application form or CV during the course of the interview, apart from towards the end when you are making sure that you have covered all the points you intended to raise.  Poor preparation will be obvious to the candidate, and will make them think twice about working for you.  Signs of poor preparation include:

  1. Asking factual questions that have already been addressed within the CV or application form (e.g. Which University did you go to?  What did you study?)
  2. Reading through the candidate’s application in order to find questions to ask
  3. Long and embarrassing pauses between questions
  4. Asking a series of unrelated questions, jumping from topic to topic
  5. Neglecting to ask a question about an obvious shortcoming that might affect the candidate’s ability to do the job (e.g. ‘The role requires a degree of book keeping, and I don’t think you have mentioned book keeping in your application. Do you have any basic management accounting experience?’)

Any of these will give the candidate reason to think that you do not take their application very seriously.  They may even decide that they will turn down a job offer from you if you make one.  Simple preparation will make you and the candidate feel more comfortable throughout the interview.

Starting the interview: Checklist

  • Has the person on reception greeted the interviewee politely?
  • Do you know how to relax an interviewee as you meet them for the first time?
  • Could you engage the interviewee in small talk while you walk to the interview room?
  • Are you any good at building rapport?
  • Are you sufficiently prepared that you could ask a candidate an appropriate question without referring to their application?