Guide for Structured Job Interviews


Ever left a job interview frustrated? Because the interviewer seemed unprepared and asked seemingly random questions making it hard to discuss your achievements, interest in the role and how you planned to contribute to the success of the company. Or maybe you have been the recruiter who could not get ratings or post-interview notes from a manager because they did not jot anything down and could not give you any feedback after an interview they had conducted?

Getting the most out of the time you have to interview a candidate takes a lot of planning, focus and clarity on what exactly you want to establish. And yes, it also takes time management. An hour can fly past so fast without a plan!

To make interviews work well, the recruiter needs to do 3 things diligently:
  • Prepare an interview guide for each interviewer and provide them with that and any additional items such as the CV/Resume of the candidate, completed application forms and any other documents which have been provided by the candidate before the interview. Also include relevant notes from a screening call.
  • Prepare all interviewers with interview training so they can use the interview guide correctly and understand how to phrase questions and follow-up questions. Include the use of behavioral questions in the training, which are powerful in establishing what a candidate had done in previous situations given key competencies required for the role. [Providing interviewers with training on natural biases, will improve fairness of interview outcomes]
  • Follow up after the interview to collect notes and scores from interviewers. It is your summary of results that helps those making decisions about next steps in the recruitment process.

The Interview Guide

  1. Helping the interviewers plan to succeed

It is tough for interviewers to follow someone else’s plan verbatim and such an interview can come across as forced or staged. The preparation gives the interviewer a chance to consider rewording questions and possibly add their own questions. They may also want to change the sequence of questions. All of this will lead to a better and more natural interview experience for the job candidate.

2. Starting in a structured way

Setting expectations and clarity about the structure of the interview upfront is helpful for a candidate to understand the approach you plan to follow. Most candidates feel more relaxed understanding the structure that you will follow.

3. Behavioral QuestionsSTAR style

Note that it is not advised to ask more than 3 behavioral questions during a 60 minute interview. To explore answers and ask follow-up questions can take time and you do want to leave time to answer the candidate’s questions too. If doing a panel interview, divide the 3 behavioral questions among members of the interview panel.

4. Candidate questions and closing the interview

Give the candidate an opportunity to ask questions to help him or her have a clear understanding of the role and how things work at your company. Then it is time to either ask any follow-up questions you may have left to the end (checking if you have enough time left to do so). One approach that is often used to give you time to check your notes is to ask the candidate a question and giving him or her some time to think about their answer (while you check your notes).

Remember to share the next steps with the candidate i.e. when the interview phase will end and decisions will be made for the next phase in the recruitment process. Or if you do not know, let the candidate know that the recruiter will be able to answer next step answers.

Next steps

Follow through with interviewers to ensure results and scores are collected in a timely fashion to support data-based decision-making regarding next steps.

Make sure you provide interviewers with a summary scoring sheet in the Interview Guide to select scores for answers obtained based on a pre-determined rating scale. This will avoid the need to go back and forth to interviewers while trying to understand their own way of scoring candidates.

Comments

Not everyone enjoys a highly structured interview and in some company cultures or for roles in creative functions, this may be seen as an unproductive way to test the creativity of candidates or showcase the unpredictable nature of the industry or the environment. Let common sense prevail to ensure you have an interview protocol that meets the need to fairly evaluate all job candidates in a consistent manner.

When your interview guides are online and so are your scoring sheets – this greatly improves your ability to quickly access post-interview notes and scores after interviews are completed.

Do not under-estimate the training needed for interviewers to understand the recruitment process or the importance of being able to demonstrate that a fair and consistent approach was used to evaluate candidates before selecting the final candidate.

Link to another post on this blog about using a Score Sheet for scoring job candidates after interviews

Link to a post on this blog about creating a Job Candidate Summary using all scores obtained after interviews

Designing an Interview Training Workshop


(For Interviewers and Managers)

Need to provide a training workshop for managers on how to conduct job interviews? The slides I am sharing today can help you with that. You can turn it into an interactive online event or you can use it to create a face-to-face workshop. You could even turn it into a standalone training video if you provide your own voice-over to explain the various points further.

Remember, it is not a good idea to start with the slides and then just blindly using them for a workshop or other learning solutions without first considering the needs of your own intended training participants, interview process, etc.

Here are the slides:

The structure

After an initial explanation of what behavioral interviewing is and how it works, the slides focus on 5 steps that can help explain how to implement this approach as an interviewer.

Designing an Interview Training Workshop, use these steps as a guide:

  1. Define the group of people who are the intended participants in your training workshop – what do they know, what do they need to know, (if they have done interviews already) what goes wrong, what goes right when they have done interviews in the past? What does all of that mean for what you need to accomplish with this workshop?
  2. Define an overview of what you intend them to know and be able to do after the workshop. (You can only do so much during a workshop so be realistic on what the outcomes might be).
  3. Define what will be included in further detail and exercises during the workshop (bullet points should help you further) in order to meet the goal(s) you have set in point 2 for the group you have defined in point 1.
  4. Set a date when the workshop will be made available so you can remain focused on deadlines that help to meet that date.
  5. Start working on the next level of detail – Consider that you may want to do a combination of training solutions like assigning some online training before they come to the workshop to cover some knowledge you want them all to have at the start of the workshop. Also, work out your bullet points into a “storyline” that logically structures the sequence of topics to be covered and exercises you will use to help build competency in using specific tools or approaches.
  6. Use the slides I have attached for download (above). Using your answers to the points above – maybe you need ideas about how information can be sequenced? See if any of the sections in the slide deck help you fill in some of your planned learning areas. Maybe some of the exercises could be useful for your workshop?

A friend of mine always says (in Dutch) – you can better creatively borrow ideas from others than come up with something yourself, which is lesser. So use this slide deck, and borrow ideas from it to get your budding Interview Training Workshop to the next level!

Tips for that interview


It is about knowing what you want to say when you answer the questions, but it is also about how you say it. Your credibility and success will depend on both – contents and delivery. While you can get feedback from others on your written answers (contents) and feel confident about that, until you have practiced the delivery, you are only halfway ready for the interview to get the job or role you so desperately want!

Steps

Collect maybe a handful of typical questions asked at interviews (there are several sites that would offer you suggestions for questions to prepare for). Also, look for some specific questions that are logically tied to the role description for the job.

Examples of typical questions include:

  • Give me a summary of your career history and why this role is right for you.
  • Tell me more about yourself.
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 yrs – career-wise?
  • Why are you interested in this role?
  • What is the achievement that you are most proud of in your life?
  • Tell me about the last time you got angry with a colleague?

2. Use the STAR methodology to construct answers on paper/screen to the typical questions you picked. If the question is not in the format “tell me about a time when” – you can still use the STAR method by answering “The situation was… X, I had to do Y, Here is what I did… Z, and the outcome was AA and this is why I believe/want/have this approach… (explain your answer)”. In some cases, STAR may not the be right way to go about giving an answer. (Link to explanation of how STAR methodology works)

3. Use structured messages (especially if STAR may not be the right approach for your answers) See post about how to structure messages. In principle – look for 3 key points you want to bring across to answer the question or explain something. The power of using 3 points is that humans remember 3 points and it satisfies something primal in us to hear answers in 3’s. Tell us first “There are 3 reasons why” and then tell us that one by one.

4. Practice your prepared answers a few times until you feel that you have reached a satisfactory level of delivering the right message in the right way – answering the questions you have selected.

5. Time to record yourself. Get out your video recorder/tablet/phone and record yourself answering the questions one by one.

How to use the recording(s) of yourself answering the questions:

How to review your recording

Turn off the sound! – Watch your body language and look for moments when you find your body language possibly distracting from your message. It could be that you keep sweeping your hair behind your ear, or you fiddle with a pen or your glasses or you do not make eye contact. Make notes about that to yourself.

Don’t watchlisten! – Watch it again without looking at the screen, just listen to your answers… does your voice sound steady? Is it clear? Do your answers come across crisply and credibly? Make notes for yourself.

Watch and listen! For the 3rd time, watch the recording with the sound on. How does your body language compliment your answers? Where do you wish you didn’t play with that object in front of you because it made your answer sound tentative? Or did you look away from the camera while saying something important? Make more notes.

6. Use your notes and adjust your answers as needed to improve on the contents. And practice answering them in a new way.

7. Find someone who has interviewed others in the past to listen to you. Ask him/her to ask the questions one by one and deliver your answers (updated words and delivery as per your adjustments). Ask for specific feedback on areas where your answers or delivery could be better.

Having made the adjustments and delivered your answers to the best of your ability on the day of the interview does not always mean the job is yours. There are many reasons why good candidates do not go to the next level of interviews. Do make sure you learn from your experience if you are not successful. Ask for specific feedback after the interview – regarding areas where they felt you did not meet expectations. Then use that as a checklist for the next time you prepare for an interview.

Reference checks


After interviews have taken place you will want to take a few more steps before you decide whether to make an offer to one of the job candidates you have for a vacancy. You may want to ask candidates to complete assessments or you may want to get the perspectives of their former colleagues before you make a decision.

Additional steps after initial interviews or between rounds of interviews could include:

  • Tests or assessments.
  • Practical exercises like a business case or even a presentation to be made to some senior leaders or experts at your company.
  • Reference checking with former colleagues, former direct reports or former supervisors of the candidate(s).

Checking References

The (download) template I am sharing below contains a few questions to help you understand whether one candidate may be preferred compared to another given their experiences and approaches.

Background checks are used in some countries but can be harder to obtain in countries or regions where data and privacy protection laws exist. In most cases, criminal background and/or financial history information can only be obtained if the prospective employer can show a direct link between the requirements of the role and the information it wishes to obtain. Reference checks are typically easier to conduct in most countries, but be mindful of the kinds of information that you would be reasonably able to obtain given local laws.

Be mindful to:

  • Ensure that you notify any impacted job candidates (i.e. in areas such as Europe) about the data you wish to obtain and how you would process this data to avoid the risk of non-compliance. Job candidates need to know this at the start of the process and they must (actively) agree with your proposal for collecting data before you are able to proceed.
  • Ensure that all data obtained during the recruitment process is archived or destroyed after the process has been completed for a specific vacancy. All HR personnel who deal with such data would need to understand that this also includes any data that have been saved to their individual computers during the process.
  • Make sure the data you wish to obtain is relevant to the hiring decisions you wish to make. And make sure that those who would speak with candidates or possible referees can explain the connection.

Assuming that you have taken all precautions to ensure you are not incurring any risks with your planned reference checking approach, use the questions you have selected (the download template above can help) when you contact the list of referees provided by the job candidate.

You can use the template in a few ways:

  • Set up a time to talk to each referee via phone or Skype and go through the questions, capturing his or her responses.
  • Send each referee a form and ask him/her to complete it and return it to you – typically via email. Be aware that this approach does not offer you much opportunity to ask further questions to clarify without creating a few extra emails to the original string.
  • Set up the questions as an online survey (for example using www.surveymonkey.com) and share the link with referees. Note that data interpretation may be an issue here – not knowing what a referee meant by a specific score or comment. This also means you would have to contact referees again to clarify feedback. One way to improve data interpretation is to build in comment fields to explain scores.

Finally, it is important to understand that a reference check is just one of the data points that could support decision-making related to hiring the best candidate for the vacancy.

Feedback may be incomplete for a number of reasons:

  1. The referee wishes to avoid any unpleasant situation with the former employee and wishes to be cautious in his/her responses.
  2. There may be laws in the country which specifies what referees can or should say and what they cannot comment on.
  3. The previous company may have clear policies about what can be shared by referees, which may be limited to job title and years of employment at the company.

Getting feedback from those who previously worked with a job candidate can still be valuable – understanding how the candidate’s knowledge or work methods would fit in with the job requirements or the company culture. For this reason, it can be good to get more perspectives. Just be aware of possible risks given the changing legal environment as you obtain feedback from referees.

Job Candidate Summary template


After interviewing some candidates for a vacancy it is easy to start getting confused about how the candidates compare to each other. If you have used the template for capturing information during interviews Job Applicant Interview Record then you will have a stack of records from those who have interviewed the candidates you are currently considering. How to bring it all together?

The template I am sharing here will help you with that:

Interviewers can also use this sheet to score each candidate they interview for a vacancy and then provided completed sheets back to the recruiter who consolidates all input received into one summary for final discussion and decision-making.

Change column headings in this template to match the key criteria that you have used in your Interview Records for this vacancy and use the average scores that each of the candidates have obtained from interviewers when you create this summary. The Totals column adds up the overall score for each candidate so you can see how the scores compare and which candidates have scored better than others. This template is useful to the recruiter in advising the Hiring Manager on the outcomes of interviews in order to plan the next steps for that vacancy.

Variation option:

You can add a row for weighting specific criteria in the spreadsheet. For example if you believe that one of the items is much more important than the others – could be language skills, or supervisory experience – you can decide to give it a higher importance by adding a higher “weighting” to it. (All of the weights for each of the rated categories together should add up to 100)

The overall scores are now created by multiplying the score for each category with the weighting that you have assigned – based on the higher importance of some items.

The Job Candidate Summary template can help you create one simple document which contains all of the feedback received about a candidate during the interview phase. And this greatly benefits a focused discussion about next steps with the Hiring Manager.