How to conduct an effective job interview as an employer

Are you an employer looking for advice on how to prepare for and conduct a job interview? You will probably find lots of lists with tips like ‘make sure you are prepared’ and ‘put candidates at ease’. It may sound like an open door, but asking the right questions and knowing your own pitfalls will get you far. But how do you ask the right questions and what should you look out for? Two recruiters offer advice. 

In job interviews, many employers subconsciously place great importance on their rapport with the candidate. Still, just because you can get along, does not mean that the candidate is the right person for the job. According to recruiters Claire Willekens (KVK) and Anna Korsten (Quint), you are most likely to have a successful interview if you pay attention to the following three things: assumptions, desired behavior, and transparency. Vivianne Breed (SchaalX) adds tips for online job interviews.  

1. Avoid assumptions

Staying objective is one of the biggest challenges during a job interview, according to Willekens. “Your brain formulates your first impression within seconds. The trick is to ignore that first impression as long as possible during the job interview, to prevent assumptions from clouding your judgement.” For example, employers often have preconceptions about older staff or employees with young children. “It should not be a factor”, Willekens admits, “but it usually is.”  

Point system  

If you want to make sure you judge your applicants on their qualities, work with a point system. Come up with a few standard questions in advance, possibly with your preferred answers, that you ask all candidates in the same way. Score candidates on each question and compare their scores afterwards. “This lets you focus on factual information rather than on your gut feeling.”  

Avoid carbon copies  

“Teams function better when they consist of people with different characteristics and roles”, Willekens stresses. “When recruiting new staff, take a good look at what your current team is missing. Do you already have two employees who are great at focussing on the bigger picture? In that case, opt for a creative employee or a good communicator. This way, you will create a team with complementary members who reinforce each other.” According to Willekens, people naturally tend to choose individuals who are most like themselves. “But in the workplace, differences between employees actually create better results.”  

Postpone debriefing  

Job interviews are best held in pairs, but avoid sharing your thoughts immediately after the interview. “The natural response is to share your opinions right away”, Willekens admits, “but it is better to give it some time. Form your own opinion first, without any input from the other person. Do not talk to each other until you have drawn your own conclusion. By doing so, you avoid unwittingly reinforcing each other's assumptions.”  

2. Test desired behaviour

Avoid asking applicants about their qualities but test them too by asking open questions. “If you are looking for a well-organised applicant, have candidates give an example from their personal life or previous job that demonstrates this quality”, Korsten explains. “Or ask them to describe a person who would perform very well in the position on offer. Check whether their answer highlights the qualities that you consider important.”  

Create a persona  

Create a detailed description of your ideal candidate in advance. In marketing, this is called a persona. To create a persona, you need to know exactly what you are looking for. It may sound like an open door, but Korsten has found that many employers are not entirely clear on what they are looking for. “If you do not know what you want, you may judge applicants on your rapport with them, rather than their actual qualities. The better you know what you want, the better you can assess the candidates.”  

Hard and soft skills  

Job interviews are best conducted in pairs. Before you get started, agree who will pay attention to the candidate’s domain knowledge (hard skills) and who will focus on the candidate's personal motivation (soft skills). You can test soft skills by asking questions like: ‘What will you add to the company’, ‘How do you like working with others’, ‘What part of the job matters most to you’, and ‘What constitutes a successful day on the job?’ The answers to these questions will tell you whether a candidate is a good culture fit.  

STARR method  

The STARR method is a good foundation for effective interviews. STARR is an acronym of Situation, Task, Action, Result, Reflection. Each of the letters serves as a guideline for questions. If you wanted to test an applicant’s leadership skills, you could ask:  

  • Could you describe a situation from your previous job in which you took on a leadership role? (S) 
  • What was your task in that situation? (T) 
  • What action did you take? (A)
  • What was the result? (R) 
  • What would you do differently next time? (R)

“Ask questions about situations in the past, not the future”, Willekens adds. “After all, you want proof of a quality that the candidate already has, not one they are yet to master.”  

3. Be honest about your offer  

Have an interview planned with a promising candidate? Do not forget to tell them something about yourself and your company, being as honest as possible. Korsten explains: “Suppose you do not offer employees a pension plan. It is essential that you mention it in the interview. Next, highlight what you have to offer compared to businesses with better fringe benefits. Explain how you take care of your employees. Do you organise regular outings and get-togethers? How is the atmosphere in the workplace? Tell candidates about your approach to diversity and inclusion. These topics are becomingly increasingly important to many employees.”  

Willekens also stresses the importance of transparency. “Job interviews are also a good opportunity to sell yourself as an employer, especially in today’s tight labour market. Ask candidates what they consider important in their work and what they are specifically not looking for. Explain what your company does and does not do. Be honest to maximise your chances of finding a good match.”  

Tips for online job interviews  

Vivianne Breed, recruitment and selection consultant at SchaalX recommends paying less attention to the candidate’s body language in online job interviews. “Their answers to your questions are the most important thing to consider.”  

Regardless, candidates’ attitude and energy will always give you some sense of their personality. “Candidates who sit still and speak calmly and evenly tend to have a quiet, introverted personality”, Breed explains. “Look at how candidates present themselves on screen. You can tell whether they put a lot of thought into presentation by looking at what they are wearing or where they are sitting.”