Human Resources

The art of the interview – how asking the right questions will help you hire the right people

By Victoria McLean,
Human Resources
Published: 12 June 2018

First impressions always count. But, relying on them when recruiting can be a poor strategy. According to a study conducted by Dr Frank Bernieri at the University of Toledo (), most interviews are ineffective because interviewers spend 99% of their time trying to confirm whatever impressions they formed in the first 10 seconds. In psychology, this is known as confirmation bias.

Interviews should never be purely subjective – and certainly not discriminatory. Rejecting candidates on the basis of an awkward introduction, or because you didn’t like their handshake, is not the best way to hire the right people. The goal of any interview should be to assess how well the candidate will perform once they join your team.

Measuring skills and assessing cultural fit in interviews is always difficult. In a recent Recruitment and Employment Confederation report, nearly 40% of employers admitted that their own staff needed to improve their interviewing and assessment skills. I’ve worked with many organisations over the years on a consultancy basis, and here at City CV we run a hugely effective ‘Interviewer Training Programme’.

Here are my top five tips from that programme to help you ask the right questions to hire the right people.

Identify interview skills training needs
Interviewing a potential new member of the team is a big responsibility. Spotting your future employee amongst an avalanche of applications takes time, effort and an expert eye. But have you, and your current team, been professionally trained on how to ask effective interview questions?
They need to be as well prepared as the interviewee. Their interview questions should be planned, written, and tested in advance. They need to be relevant to the job, efficient and frequently refreshed. Asking the same run-of-the-mill questions won’t draw out the best person for the job.

Know what you can’t ask
Is your team fully up-to-date on the interview questions they can and can’t ask? A shocking number of companies still break the law by asking female candidates if they have or plan to have children. It’s also against the law to discriminate on the basis of age, disability, race, religion or sexual orientation. If your whole team doesn’t know how to conduct and document a legally compliant interview, you run the risk of a discrimination case.

Be consistent and fair
Structured interviewing is a process where candidates are asked a consistent set of vetted, high quality questions and recruiters use clear criteria to assess the quality of responses. The idea is that any variation in candidate assessment is a result of the candidate’s performance, not because an interviewer has higher or lower standards, unconscious bias, or asks easier or harder questions. Google’s hiring team have found that structured interviews are better at predicting how someone will perform in a job than unstructured interviews. Also, both candidates and interviewers see them as fairer. But the strategy and structure needs to be clear and each team member needs to understand their role in the process. There is no point asking candidates the same questions in each round of interviews, yet I still see this happening 90% of the time.

Open up the conversation
You probably have a clear idea of the technical skills and competencies your business needs. But what about assessing candidates for the personal attributes and motivations you’re looking for? It’s essential to prepare some behaviour based questions to delve deeper into cultural fit.

Don’t just stick to questions where yes or no is a reasonable answer. Equally, don’t ask questions that are so broad it’s impossible to assess the answers objectively. Instead, ask candidates to describe prior achievements that match the skillset of the vacancy or prepare some hypothetical job-related questions. Open questions give candidates the opportunity to share their story. If you probe deeply into their answers, you can discover a huge amount about their attitudes and motivations. But you’ll need to listen carefully, pick up on nonverbal communication and know when – and how – to check responses and dig deeper.

An interview is also an opportunity to sell your company
As well as understanding the mechanics of the hiring process, your team needs the skills to ask questions and react to responses in a way that leaves all interviewees feeling great about your company. They should all be aware of common pitfalls that put off potential employees. These include the interviewer being late, jumping straight into questions before ensuring the candidate is comfortable and settled or – worst of all – yawning, looking bored and distracted with no eye contact.

Conversational interviews require a high level of interaction. It’s not about making quick judgements in a high pressure situation. You can’t make an offer to all candidates, but you can make them feel as though they have been listened to and given a fair chance.

Every interview is a PR opportunity to pitch your company at its best – and to attract and hire the talent you need. Remember, feedback works both ways. Giving effective post-interview feedback to unsuccessful candidates reassures them and shows your company in a positive light – and they’re likely to tell their friends about their amazing experience with you. At the same time, collecting feedback from candidates can inform and improve your organisation’s interview format.

About the author
Victoria McLean is the CEO of, global award-winning career expert.

Interviewer Training Programme –