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The Ultimate Guide to Conducting Job Interviews

Interviews are the heart of the recruitment process. They are the gateway to what could be lifelong employees, great coworkers, and amazing growth opportunities for your business.

They are first impressions and two-way conversations where you and candidates can get to know each other and decide if it’s the right fit. 

Just as most candidates get the pre-interview jitters, it can also be nerve-wracking as an employer to prepare for these important meetings.

At CareerPlug, we know that learning how to conduct interviews is crucial in every industry for making the right hires. Whether you’re brand new to interviewing or simply looking to sharpen your skills, we want to share some important steps for conducting great interviews that can help you grow your team. 

Inside the ultimate guide to conducting job interviews 

Let’s break down each of these important stages in detail from important pre-interview preparation to candidate evaluation. 

Creating an Ideal Candidate Profile 

Before you start your interviews, it’s important to figure out who you are looking for to fill your open roles. At CareerPlug, the planning stage is an important part of the hiring process and involves creating an Ideal Candidate Profile using the following components: ​​specifics for the role, key culture drivers, and the job description.

Here’s an example of an Ideal Candidate Profile for a sales position at CareerPlug:

example of ideal candidate profile

You can’t know if you’ve found the right candidate if you don’t take the time to figure out what you’re looking for! Making these considerations before you interview can help you ask the appropriate questions and make better hiring decisions. To get you started, we’ve created a free Ideal Candidate Profile template you can use for your own hiring needs. Download it by clicking the button below.

For more on creating your Ideal Candidate Profile, check out this quick video from Natalie Morgan, our Senior Director of Human Resources: 

Interview formats and types

Once you have a better idea of who you are looking for, it’s time to decide the specifics of your interview process. There are several different interview formats and types to choose from. Deciding on how you’ll interview in advance can help you give every candidate a fair and seamless experience. 

Interview formats

An important step in conducting great interviews is getting to know the different formats of interviews and deciding which format is right for you. 

Structured interviews are when an interviewer prepares a fixed set of questions to ask candidates. The interviewer does not deviate from these questions at all, which can be helpful for providing an equal interview to all candidates. The downside of this somewhat rigid approach is that it can limit what an interviewer can learn from each unique candidate as they can’t ask custom or follow-up questions. 

Unstructured interviews are the opposite. This is a more natural conversation style of interviewing where interviewers can follow their curiosity and ask more tailored questions. Of course, this can lead to interviewers getting led away from the core criteria and unintended hiring bias

Hybrid interviews are a combination of both structured and unstructured interviews. These can take a little more skill as they require an interviewer to know when they should stay on course and when it’s ok to deviate. This can be an excellent way to get to know your candidates on a deeper level and ask all candidates the same primary questions; however, for new interviewers, we recommend sticking to a more structured approach. 

Interview types 

There are several interview types to choose from when conducting interviews. More than likely, you will utilize more than one type of interview. The types of interviews you decide to use will likely depend on the number of candidates you have and the nature of the role you are trying to fill. 

Here are the main types of interviews: 

  • Phone screen 
  • Face-to-face or video interviews (if hiring remotely)
  • Panel
  • Group
  • Out of Office 

At CareerPlug, we often start with a phone screen to initially get to know candidates and make sure that the role and compensation is a good fit. From there, we move candidates into virtual face-to-face interviews. Panel interviews with our leadership team round out our hiring process

For more on interview formatting and types and tips on how to decide what is right for you, check out another video from Natalie Morgan: 

Interview questions 

Once you’ve decided on interview formats and types, it’s time to think about the questions you’ll ask your candidates. Asking everyone the same questions makes it easier to evaluate your candidates and avoid hiring bias. It also helps interviewers feel prepared and can make the interview run smoother.

Natalie discusses the types of interview questions in this video: 

There are four main types of interview questions that Natalies goes over. Let’s dive deeper into those types and how you can apply them.  

Verification interview questions

What: These questions are used to verify a candidate’s credentials and experience. They can be thought of as “fact-based” questions. 

Why: Ask a few verification questions to make sure you understand a candidate’s resume and skill set. 

Why Not: Ask too many of these questions and a candidate may simply repeat their entire resume. You can lose the opportunity to dig deeper and learn something that you don’t already know! 

Examples:

  • What were your dates of employment? 
  • What were your job responsibilities?
  • Have you ever worked with X software? 

Opinion interview questions

What: These questions ask about a candidate’s perspective (or opinion). These also include situational questions.

Why: Opinion questions can provide valuable insight into how a candidate thinks, what motivates them, what values they hold, and how they solve problems. 

Why Not: A candidate’s answer to an opinion question may not match up with their actual behaviors.

Examples: 

  • What would you do in X situation?
  • Where do you see your biggest opportunities for improvement? 

Behavioral interview questions

What: Behavioral questions ask for examples of how a candidate has behaved in the past. 

Why: Assuming that past behavior is most indicative of future behavior, you can use behavioral questions to predict a candidate’s success in a new role. 

Why Not: We recommend using behavioral questions, but beware of asking ten or twenty in a row. This can be exhausting for candidates, so make sure you’re asking the most important ones.

Examples:

  • Tell me about the last time you received feedback and how you responded to it.
  • Tell me about a time it was particularly important to make a good first impression with a client. 

Random interview questions

What: Want to go totally bananas? Random questions are the catch-all deviations from traditional questions. 

Why: Random and problem-solving questions fade into and out of popularity, but there can be some merit in throwing one into your interview to gauge skills like creativity, the ability to maintain composure under pressure, and comfort with vulnerability. 

Why Not: One or two of these are fine, but don’t take up too much of your interview space with these questions. You’ll typically learn much more about a candidate from the first three types of questions. 

Examples

  • Problem Solving Question: How many cows are in Canada? 
  • Bizarre: What do you think of hula hoops? 
  • At CareerPlug: What would you title your life story? 

Deciding what to ask

Most interviews will have a mix of verification, opinion, and behavioral questions. When deciding which questions are right for you, first return to your Ideal Candidate Profile. Review the desired skills, talents, and behaviors for the role — what questions will help you evaluate those criteria? 

You can also match interview questions with your company’s core values to ensure you’re hiring people who align with your company culture.

CareerPlug Inside Look: We rely heavily on behavioral questions in our interview process and have seen the payoff. For example, we often ask candidates to tell us about a time that they failed. We like this question because it reveals how someone deals with adversity, how they process and learn from setbacks, and how self-aware they are about past mistakes. 

One candidate, when asked, thought about it for a minute, and then replied that they had never failed. For us, this was the wrong answer. It was easy for us to tell that they didn’t have the growth mindset we were looking for. We moved forward with other candidates. 

Important note: There are some questions that you shouldn’t ask. Stay up to date with hiring compliance and make sure to avoid questions about things like age, marital status, and sexual preference (just to name a few). 

Preparing to conduct interviews 

You expect candidates to come to interviews prepared: having researched the company, written down questions, and appearing energized and professional. Interviewers need to do the same. 

To get ready to conduct interviews:  

  1. Review the Ideal Candidate Profile and make sure you have a firm grasp on the role. Know what you need to evaluate and be able to answer candidate questions that may arise. 
  2. Prepare your interview questions ahead of time. 
  3. Review the candidate’s resume, cover letter, and any other relevant data you may have collected (like assessment reports or phone screen notes).
  4. Share the candidate’s information with other interviewers so everyone can walk in as prepared as you. 

Here’s some more advice on interview preparation: 

The candidate experience 

It’s important to keep the candidate experience in mind all throughout your hiring process. In a recent survey of job seekers, we found that creating a positive candidate experience can greatly impact your ability to make the right hires. In fact, 80% of candidates said that a good candidate experience has influenced their decision to accept a job offer. 

impact of positive candidate experience

Obviously, interviews are an important aspect of the candidate experience! So what makes a great candidate experience? 

Communicate with all candidates 

Honesty and transparency regarding the specifics of the role and compensation are key. Job seekers also want more communication sooner, so communicate openly with candidates about what to expect. For example, let the candidate know the purpose of the interview, who they will be meeting, and if there is anything specific that they need to prepare. You should also plan how you will communicate the timeline and potential next steps at the close of the interview.

Interview etiquette  

A little hospitality can go a long way to show that your office and team is a welcoming and respectful place to work. Here are some interview etiquette tips that can greatly improve your candidate experience: 

  • Be on time for the interview
  • Offer candidates something to drink
  • Stay present (don’t check your phone, smartwatch, or do work on your computer)
  • For long interviews, offer the candidate breaks 
  • Leave time for candidate questions 

In our candidate experience survey, we found that “having a negative experience with people in the interview process” was the number one reason candidates turned down job offers

As an employer, taking the time to improve interview skills and learning to conduct great interviews will have a positive impact on recruiting efforts and make it easier to make the right hires. 

Standardize your hiring process 

Having a standardized hiring process can help things go smoothly. Consider documenting the steps of yours and making sure all interviewers and hiring managers are on the same page. An interview scheduling tool can be useful for making sure that nothing falls through the cracks. 

Remember that candidates are evaluating you during this process as well. A little preparation before the interview plus communication and etiquette throughout can go a long way in providing candidates with a positive experience and showing them that you are a good place to work. 

Evaluating candidates 

Use an applicant screening software to ensure that all candidates that make it to the interview stage have the skills, availability, and work authorization you need for your roles. From there, you can focus on how candidates perform in interviews. 

At CareerPlug, we use three major evaluation points to score candidates: ability, motivation, and culture fit. There are three simple questions you can ask yourself to evaluate each of these points. 

  1. Can they do it? 
  2. Will they do it? 
  3. Will others do it with them? 

Interview scorecards

The main objective of using interview scorecards is to create a consistent set of questions so you can evaluate candidates fairly and objectively.

A good interview scorecard should include specific questions that are role-related and general questions that are not role-related. Through these questions, you should be able to evaluate the hard skills and soft skills the candidate has, along with whether they are a culture fit.

We’ve created a free interview scorecard template to help get you started. You can download it by clicking the button below.

Growth potential 

Though certain technical skills are needed for some roles, try to hire for growth potential when you can, meaning give candidates with the right motivation and soft skills a chance. 

This is where asking questions that help you determine a candidate’s motivation and trajectory can be really helpful. Giving a candidate a shot can be a great way to earn a loyal and hardworking employee. 

Natalie Morgan goes into more detail about hiring for growth potential in this video: 

Avoiding bias 

We all have inherent biases that impact how we live and work. During interviews, we should do our best to actively mitigate these biases to help us make the best hiring decision. 

How to address potential bias: 

  • Educate yourself on common biases that show up during the hiring process
  • Rely on structured interviews by asking every candidate the same questions
  • Don’t be the only interviewer in the room 
  • Do a phone screen first so you’re unable to unconsciously judge appearance 
  • Don’t rely on your memory — take notes. 

Make the right hires 

To conduct great interviews, start by getting clear on the kind of person you need to fill your open role. Educate yourself on the interview formats and types and decide which combination works best for your business. Standardize the questions you’ll use throughout interviews, but be willing to adjust as necessary. All of these things will play a role in providing a good candidate experience, along with timely communication and transparency. 

Have a system in place for evaluating your candidates and make sure to send polite rejections to those candidates that aren’t your top choice. For those that you want to hire, it’s time to close the deal

If you’ve taken the steps to standardize your hiring process and provide each candidate an excellent candidate experience, then you can feel confident that your offer will be accepted. 

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