Effective Interview Strategies

The interview is one of the most important aspects of the hiring process, which is why conducting it well is critical to the search process. Interviews can be just as challenging to conduct as they are to participate in, so it is important that you prepare as much as you can to ensure you are making the best use of your time with the candidate.

Creating the Interview Process

Planning a thoughtful interview process is important to ensure you gather all necessary information about the candidate while providing a positive candidate experience. When planning, think about:

  • How long is the process from start to finish? Being short-staffed can be really taxing on your team. The longer a process is, the more likely you will lose out on top talent.
  • Is your process intentional about what you are trying to evaluate? Take some time to reflect on what are the necessary components of the evaluation process. For example, if your candidate only needs to give a presentation once a year, is requiring them to create a presentation from scratch for the interview necessary?
  • How many interviews should you conduct? The number of interviews will vary from position to position, with more senior roles leading to additional interviews. It is important to consider how much you are putting the candidate through, particularly for an entry-level or early-in-career role.
  • How long should interviews be? Generally speaking, we recommend planning for an interview to last for about 45 to 60 minutes. With few exceptions, anything longer than an hour is likely unnecessary.

Interview Search Committee

Who to select to be on your interview committee? Interviews are exciting – new employees bring a wealth of new ideas and experiences to pull from. It is a delicate balance to pick the right people to help you evaluate your candidate. That said, refrain from including so many people that the candidate or search committee is overwhelmed.

Create an interview process that is as consistent as possible to ensure all candidates have the same experience. A best practice is to keep the interview team and questions the same for all candidates. You may want to consider creating a rubric with all questions and columns for each candidate.

We recommend the interview groups consist only of those people who will work directly with the candidate on a daily basis. Customize your search committee as appropriate–consider an interview with the supervisor, a meeting with direct colleagues, and any students with whom this person might have a meaningful connection. A thoughtful approach to your committee gives your candidate and your team the best experience possible.

As a best practice, determine who are the key players and decision-makers and use that as a guide in determining what the process may look like.

Preparing the committee for the interview is critical to ensure a good experience for all involved. Consider soliciting questions from your committee. Then, review the questions with an eye for bias and discriminatory language and ensure the final list of questions can fit within the time constraints of the interview. 

At least 48 hours prior to the interview, send your committee:

    • Candidate Application Materials
    • Interview Questions 
    • The itinerary
    • List of search committee
    • Any assessment forms you might be using in your process

This gives everyone the opportunity to review information about the candidate.

Wrapping up your search. Be sure to send a thank you to the committee for taking time out of their day to interview your candidates. You should also keep them posted on the next steps and when a hire is done – let them know their voices were heard in the decision-making process.

Conducting the Interview

Sticking to a schedule when conducting an interview is important to ensure you and the candidate have time to understand each other. Prior to the interview, eliminate distractions: put your phone on “do not disturb,” pause notifications in Slack, etc.

Keep in mind, interviews offer the candidate the opportunity to learn about you, the team, and the organization. A good interview is reciprocal.

A sample interview schedule might look like the following:

Number of Minutes Activity
2-3 Interview panel and candidate introductions, outline of conversation
3-5 Explanation about the role, the office, the team, etc.
20-35 Interview questions with the candidate
5-15 Time for the candidate to ask questions
1 Information about next steps in the process

Types of Interview Questions

When preparing your interview questions for your candidate(s), consider the types of questions you are asking. Generally speaking, there are three types of interview questions: Yes or No, Hypothetical, and Behavioral.

Yes or No Questions

Sometimes you do not need candidates to elaborate on a specific topic at length. Yes or no questions are best utilized when asking about direct experience with specific topics, certifications, etc.

For example:

  • Do you know how to create a pivot table on Excel or Google Sheets?
  • Have you ever used Banner?
  • Do you have any concerns with the evening components of the schedule?

Hypothetical, Philosophical, and Culture Questions

These questions do not involve a specific experience and are meant to gauge what a candidate would do in a situation or to capture their general mindset and see how it relates to the office/organization. We caution against the use of too many of these questions as sometimes a candidate will opt to provide what they think the “right answer” is as opposed to revealing their true mindset.

For example:

  • Why do you believe confidentiality is important in a role like this?
  • What is your leadership and communication style?
  • What would you do in your first six weeks in this position?

Behavioral / STAR Method Questions

By far, behavioral interviewing is the most recommended way to assess a candidate’s experience and ability to perform in a role. STAR is an acronym that helps ensure thoroughness and provides structure to the answer.

S - Situation. Give the interviewer context for what was happening.

T - Task. What was the task that needed to be completed?

A - Action. What did you, the candidate, do?

R - Result. What happened as a result of the action?

Consider telling candidates about the STAR method and framing your questions in a way that will allow them to answer them completely.

Behavioral interviewing requires the candidate to speak to specific experiences in their career due to the way the questions are formatted. This is most helpful to you as a hiring manager because it allows you to see what someone did in a situation as opposed to what they think they would do. Most of these questions begin with something like “Tell me about a time when you….”

For example:

  • Tell me about a time when you managed a project from start to finish? How did you create an action plan and how did you meet goals?
  • Think back to a time when you did not have enough information to complete a task or project. How did you identify what you were lacking and how did you solve the issue?
  • Tell me about a time when you needed to be adaptable. Tell me about the situation and what you did to overcome any challenges.

Developing Your Interview Questions

Ask yourself what you are trying to assess. The first part of creating interview questions is identifying what you need to know in order to determine if a candidate is going to be successful in the role. Ask yourself: what does someone need to know in order to perform this job well? What skills does this person need to bring in order to hit the ground running? What kinds of previous experiences will inform someone in this role? Once you determine what you need to evaluate, you will be able to determine how to evaluate for these criteria.

Frame your questions in a way that allows the candidate to provide accurate and meaningful responses. Are these questions written in a way that allows the candidate to share their best self with you? Consider asking questions about positive outcomes or resolutions from challenging situations. Solution-focused questions allow candidates to share how they engage with others, make the best of adversity and more.

Examples of questions that are not solution-focused are:

  • Tell me about a time when you had a difficult boss. Why were they so challenging?
  • What is it about this position that worries you?
  • What is your biggest weakness as a worker?
  • What type of people do you dislike working with?

Consider reframing these questions to get at the core of what you are looking for while highlighting the candidate’s attitudes and experiences.

  • What are you looking for in a supervisory relationship?
  • When you are worried about a project or task, what do you do to feel more comfortable addressing it?
  • Tell me about a time when you faced adversity at work. How did you reach a solution?
  • As people, we are all constantly growing. How have you worked to improve yourself in your career?
  • What types of people or work environments do you thrive around or in?

Remove the opportunity for bias. Ensure that your questions remain compliant with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. If you have concerns about how to phrase your interview questions, contact your Talent Acquisition team member.

Avoid trick or silly questions. Questions like “what kind of kitchen appliance are you” do not add value to the interview. What is the right answer to that question? How does this question relate to demonstrating the effective competence of the candidate? These types of questions are often used to see how a candidate thinks on their feet but does not allow them to draw on previous experiences to inform their answer.

Have someone else proofread for comprehension. Ask a colleague to review your questions to ensure they will help you obtain relevant information. A second set of eyes always helps! This can also be a great professional development opportunity for members of your team!

Documenting the Interview and Assessing Candidates

Taking notes during an interview is important in order for you to organize information about multiple candidates as well as allows you to make an informed decision at the end of your process about who to offer the position.

  • Keep notes consistent. Consider creating an interview template on Google or printing out worksheets for yourself to take notes on during an interview.
  • Be mindful of what you document. You do not need to write down everything a candidate shares. Make sure you document information that is relevant to the hiring process.
  • When assessing candidates, use your notes. Rely on what was said, not your “gut feeling” about a candidate. If something a candidate says is cause for concern, of course, pay attention to that, but relying on vague and general feelings about a candidate may be indicative of implicit bias. The more you are able to rely on what was said in an interview, the stronger your assessment of the candidate will be!
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