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It is often a misconception that the candidates are the only ones in the spotlight during the recruitment process. While they might be facing quite a bit of competition for the role, there is also pressure on the interviewer as well to stand out amongst the companies recruiting for talent.

If you ask the candidate the wrong questions, you risk hiring a person who is the wrong fit for the role and your company culture. The wrong hiring decision could cost you dearly, which is why we have pooled our extensive experience interviewing thousands of candidates to help give you the upper hand in your next interview process.

Here is our guide to interview questions for employers:

The best way to start an interview

There can often be hidden tension at the start of an interview regardless of whether it is face-to-face or online. The candidate might be nervous and feel out of their element, also you as the interviewer might not have a lot of experience of interviewing candidates and might also feel nervous. 

In such environments, very few candidates can showcase their best selves, and that can make it even more difficult to find the candidate that is best suited for the role. To make this challenge easier, it is a good idea to make the interviewee feel comfortable in their surroundings.

Some common ways that you can do this include:

  • Always offer the candidate water, tea or coffee
  • Tell them a little bit about your career and why you’re with the company
  • What are your plans for the weekend / what did you get up to last weekend?
  • I noticed on your CV that you are an “insert hobby/interest” – tell me about that?

While it doesn’t have to be these exact ice-breaker questions, you should choose light-hearted ones to settle the nerves. Again, the point is to get the candidate to open up, relax and feel at ease during the interview process.

We also recommend explaining the high-level format of the interview. For example: “Today I would like to find out more about you and your experience, provide insight into our company and culture, and tell you more about the job role. Then I’d be keen to hear if you have any questions. I would encourage you to be as open as you possibly can”. This helps to remove the fear of the unknown and ease the nerves of the interviewee.

The four types of interview questions

Once everyone is feeling more relaxed, it’s time to get started with the reason you’re conducting the interview. Initially, you will likely run through a brief overview of the candidates’ CV and application form to clarify some work history and experience. However, sooner or later you will need to begin asking the tougher questions:

General Questions

General questions are self-explanatory and straightforward. Their entire purpose is to find out what makes someone tick. You can use them to learn more about your candidates’ interests, achievements, and ambitions can help shape your view of their character and aptitude. General questions create the foundation on which the rest of your interview rests. 

Examples of general questions: 

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to leave your current role/company?
  • What is your greatest achievement, and why?
  • Can you give an example of a time when you had to cope with a difficult situation?
  • How do you respond to stress and pressure?
  • Why do you want to work here?

As you see, general questions are precisely that, general. But that doesn’t always mean they are simple to answer. The quality of the answer matters even in the simplest of situations.

Situational Questions

Situational questions are effectively there to test how your candidate will deal with a hypothetical situation. They come down to “what would you do if…?” style questions that test the candidates’ critical thinking skills. They also give you an insight into the way that your candidate approaches a problem under pressure, their decision-making skills and their experience. 

Some situational questions you might have heard: 

  • What would you do if an employee you managed wasn’t performing to the standard expected?
  • How would you handle a change in the desired output or scope of a project you were working on?
  • Tell me about a time you had to collaborate with a co-worker who was difficult to work with.

Situational questions are essential for hiring managers who might be facing similarly talented candidates that are difficult to choose between. They can help separate the flashy resumes and highlights those who have the most practical experience and can use that experience when they are thinking on their feet.

Competency-Based Questions 

Competency-based questions draw heavily on a candidate’s prior experience and should act as a strong predictor of their future behaviour. These are open-ended questions that aren’t simple yes or no questions so they require longer though-out answers. They cover the who, what, when, where, why, and how so candidates open up and provide more detailed responses that give you better insight into how they might fit your organisation.

Competency-based questions will fall into two umbrella categories: behavioural and technical.

Behavioural Questions

As their name suggests, behavioural questions are all about assessing your candidate’s past behaviour (e.g. tenacity, collaboration, learning etc). Asking them about how they reacted to a previous situation — both personal and professional — will give you a better idea of whether or not they’re qualified for the role and whether they will fit in well with the existing team.

Examples of behavioural questions: 

  • How would you deal with a situation where you have too many to-do items on your list? How would you solve the problem?
  • Provide an example of a challenging goal that you set for yourself and how you went about achieving it.
  • Tell me about a time that you felt you had failed at work? What was the consequence, and how did you overcome any fall-out?
  • Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond in your role.

Technical Questions

Technical questions, on the other hand, are focussed on the hard skills of the candidate. These answers might differ between candidates however they are always focused on their technical knowledge. You might choose to discuss a particular part of a previous role with the candidate, this might include their implementation of a system or their ability to share the information without using buzzwords and technical jargon. 

Examples of technical questions: 

  • I see that you implemented SAP in your last role. Tell me how you went about doing this?
  • Tell me about a time you developed a dashboard that provided valuable insights?
  • Describe a time you improved a process using your technical accounting knowledge?
  • How do you respond to queries from clients who don’t have any knowledge of accounting?

Questions to avoid

While the questions that you ask are important, equally important are the questions that you don’t ask. While you should try to be as friendly as possible to settle a candidate’s nerves, you don’t want to ask questions that could be deemed inappropriate or even illegal. 

There are nine protected characteristics where candidates are legally protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010.

These characteristics are:

  • age
  • gender reassignment
  • being married or in a civil partnership
  • being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • disability
  • race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Some common questions to avoid asking include: 

  • Are you married?
  • Do you have children? Do you plan on having children?
  • Is English your first language?
  • What’s your religious affiliation?
  • How old are you?

Ideally, you should avoid any questions that might present any sort of hiring bias, either conscious or unconscious. Most people aren’t innately aware of any bias that they might have, so it’s best practice to avoid situations and questions that will reveal potentially sensitive information that might infringe on a candidate’s legal rights. 

In short, does the question you are asking help you identify whether the candidate can fulfil the role? If the answer is no, then the rule of thumb would be not to ask it.​

Leaving a good impression

Now you have had a chance to interview the candidate, the candidate must have ample time to ask their questions. As a rough guide, 5-10 minutes should be allocated for an entry-level role, with increasingly more time being set aside for senior or executive-level positions. 

Whilst this is an opportunity for the candidate to learn more about the role and your company, the calibre of questions that they ask can give you just as much insight as the questions they provided to your questions. 

For example, if the interviewee jumps straight to asking about holiday allowances or whether they can wear jeans in the office on Fridays, this may indicate their priorities may not align with yours. On the other hand, if they ask questions about company initiatives, values, and direction, then chances are they’re thinking at a higher level with a much longer-term focus.

If the interview is in person and the candidate has impressed, then it’s worth giving them a brief tour of the office and share details about the various perks and amenities the company has to offer. Remember you are selling your company as much as the candidate is selling themselves. However, if the candidate is not right for you, don’t, as it is a waste of both of your time.

Parting thoughts

The interview questions you ask matter more than you might think. However, they’re far from the only factor worth exploring if you’re looking to hire the best candidates in the market.  

Making those in the ‘spotlight’ feel comfortable during the interview process is equally important. Not only do you want to ensure that you see the best possible version of the candidate, but the reputation of your company is also on the line if you fall short of being professional and respectful. In the end, the details matter across the board and the more you invest in your hiring and on boarding process, the greater return you’ll see in your company’s performance as a result of your increased staff tenure. 

If you would like any more advice on this topic or if you’re looking for your next role, please get in touch with our specialist team today on 020 7096 8200 or email us at [email protected]

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