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How to get the most out of your interview questions

Allen Associates, News & Blog

When it comes to interviews, knowing what to ask can be tricky. How long should the questionnaire be and how much ground should you attempt to cover are just a couple of the questions we are frequently asked. In our latest blog, we set out some of the ground rules and advise on how best to structure your interview questions to ensure that you and your interviewees get the most out of the experience and, importantly, that the process is fair and consistently applied.

Structuring your questions

While it may be tempting to ‘wing’ it and treat job interviews like conversations, a more structured approach is better. A carefully thought out questionnaire that is closely aligned to the job description will ensure that you cover all the key points needed to assess the candidate’s suitability for the role and the personal attributes you’re looking for to achieve a great team and cultural fit. Set questions will also help you to stay on the right side of the law and enable you to evaluate different candidates’ responses fairly and consistently.

“To craft structured interview questions, you design a set of questions that are connected to the job-related traits you’re looking for. Then, you ask all your candidates the same questions in the same order and rate their answers using a standardized scoring system.”

Source: Workable

As you start to prepare your interview questions, you should always try to envisage your perfect candidate – the ideal person for that particular role. If you are clear in your mind about who you are looking for, you can start to build your interview questions around those specifics.

While larger businesses will almost certainly have interview templates that ensure standardisation of interview questions, it is still important to reflect on how those questions will work practically for different job roles. For example, an administrative assistant may be required to work independently whereas a marketing professional may be expected to fit into a busy team, so you may need to adapt the template to suit the role currently on the table.

If you’re a smaller business without a dedicated HR resource, it’s still worth taking the time to create a questionnaire. By making sure that each applicant is asked the same questions in the same order, you can make valid comparisons between candidates. You can also reduce the impact of any unconscious bias.

Breadth and depth

According to HR software firm Workable, your interview questions should be broadly split into five key areas:

  1. General questions e.g. what attracts you to this particular job role?
  2. Technical skills questions e.g. how has your training prepared you for this job?
  3. Behavioural questions e.g. have you had to manage a challenging situation – if so, please tell me how you handled it?
  4. Situational questions e.g. what would you do if you found out a disgruntled ex-employee was criticising you on social media?
  5. Managerial questions e.g. what is your leadership style and how do you get the best out of your team?

These questions cover a wide range of different scenarios and start to reveal more about the person you are interviewing – their skills, their style, their approach and their experience in dealing with different types of issues. They enable you to gain an insight into the applicant and understand more about their working practices. They also allow you to explore the applicant’s personality and potential cultural fit within your business and the specific team you are recruiting for. Regardless of whether you are working remotely or in the same location, getting the right personalities in place is often as important as finding the right skills for the role.

The topics you should always steer clear of

When it comes to interviews, there are many topics that you should steer away from. For example, you should never ask any questions which relate to protected characteristics such as age, race, marital status, or sexuality.

Large companies often involve HR professionals to keep interviews on track and above board. However, smaller firms may not have this luxury. If you do not have an HR manager to advise you, then structured interview questions will help to guide you. Structured interview questions will also help to protect you from any future claims by providing proof that each candidate was asked the same questions in the same order and that their answers were scored using the same metrics.

For more detailed advice on what to ask (and what never to ask) in an interview, please have a look at The intricacies of interviewing: A guide to conducting the perfect interview

Who should be involved in the interview?

Having structured your interview questions, you’ll want to consider who to involve in the interview itself, whether it is taking place face-to-face or remotely.

For smaller firms, this may be the managing director or the line manager that the role reports into. Larger companies may need to consider whether to bring in the line manager, departmental head and HR representative. Regardless of size, businesses sometimes like to include a team member who may be working in a similar role and is more closely involved with the specific duties that the task involves. When you are bringing a role in-house for the first time, you may like to consider involving a third party with specific expertise in that area.

When you have multiple people on an interview panel, you should all agree how the interview will run. You may choose to have a ‘chair’ whose job it will be to keep the conversation moving. You will also need to factor in how you plan to judge the candidate. Each member of the interviewing panel will have their own expectations and will be looking for different attributes. You should determine what each person’s ‘must-haves’ are before the interview. For some, having experience in a specific piece of software may be crucial, while others may be prepared to invest in further training.

It may sound obvious, but it is essential that every member of the interviewing panel has reviewed the candidate’s CV. Your interview questionnaire should go beyond the CV to explore the detail behind each candidate’s claims, focusing on the experiences they gained from previous roles and how they have grown as a result of them. This will help you to identify transferrable skills and personal attributes that may be key to finding your ideal candidate.

Throughout our website, our news and advice centre is packed with informative articles and guides to help you make the most of your interviewing strategies and other HR questions. Our team of dedicated advisors are also available to offer one-to-one support at every stage of the recruitment process. To find out how we can help, please get in touch

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