Conducting a good interview is an art every employer aims to master. Learning to ask the right questions with appropriate pacing allows you to interview more candidates more effectively, and in less time. Whether you’re hiring for the first time, or just want some extra practice, here are our 5 steps to interviewing someone.
How to Interview Someone in 5 Steps
These 5 steps are primarily geared towards the in-person interview. If you want information on conducting a phone interview, go here.
Step 1: Picking Your Interviewers
If you’ve invited a candidate into the office for an in-person interview, you need to figure out if the person should meet more than just you while balancing having “too many cooks in the kitchen” (and overwhelming the candidate).
Pick your interviewers by considering the following:
- Will the new hire be reporting to this person? If so, include them.
- Will the new hire be working with this person more than 50% of their time? Consider including them.
- Will the new hire be managing them? Consider including them.
However, a general rule of thumb is that no more than 5 interviewers should be involved, and even 5 is an awful lot for a small business. 3 is usually the sweet spot–the owner, the manager of the person, and either 1 teammate or 1 person who would be on their team.
Also, in general, never have more than 2 people interview a person at once- it can be very intimidating and can turn off the candidate to the role. So, unless there is a true reason to have a large group interview, avoid it.
Step 2: Determining the Timing and Length
Now that you’ve picked the interviewers, you need to figure out how long you want the candidate to be in the office for and how much time you want each person to interview them.
Depending on what the role is and who the interviewer(s) are, it might be appropriate to:
- Have 2 interviewers work together – for example, two co-owners of a business might interview a candidate for a key position together.
- Have the interview in an informal setting like lunch or dinner (which might then take longer than an hour)
- Have traditional 1-on-1 interviews
Let’s look at how you might typically break up an interview for timing:
|Type of Role||1 Interviewer||2 Interviewers||3 or More Interviewers|
|Non-Manager||45-60 minutes||30-45 minutes each||15-30 minutes each|
|Manager||60-90 minutes||45-60 minutes each||30-45 minutes each|
Step 3: Getting your Logistics in order
Now that you know who is interviewing and how long each person will need (or at least approximately), you’ll need to get all of the logistics in order so that the process goes smoothly.
Remember to do the following in advance:
Book your conference room or interview space –
Make sure you can have a private space for the entire duration of the interview and add on an extra 30 minutes in case it goes long. If you have an office where space is an issue, ensure you have access to the conference room before booking the interview. It will put you and the candidate in an awkward situation if you have to reschedule because someone else booked the conference room.
Book everyone’s calendars –
Make sure that all of your interviewers are available at the scheduled interview time. If you aren’t sure when the candidate is available, or if you need more than 1 candidate to come in, have the interviewers block off multiple days and times to give the candidate(s) options.
Send the candidate(s) the invitations to interview –
Share the interview schedule with them, the location, and who will be interviewing them.
Step 4: Preparing for the Interview and Questions to Ask
It may sound obvious at first, but are you prepared to interview the candidate? Additional interview question resources can be found here, where we talk about great questions to ask, and here, where we talk about the worst questions to avoid.
Our structured interview article also has a ton of sample questions you can ask (over 30!).
At the minimum, you should have (and so should your fellow interviewers) the following ready to go before the interview:
- A copy of the job description in front of you
- Decided what are you looking for from the job description
- Decided what you are looking for in terms of team and culture fit
- Drafted some interview questions based on the job description and the requirements for team and culture fit
- Drafted some unique questions based on the candidate’s resume (i.e. why did he leave the previous company after only 6 months?)
- Have the candidate’s resume, cover letter, and any other items they submitted in front of you (or you can also print off their LinkedIn profile)
While your interview questions are going to range widely based on the role and your company’s needs, the following 5 interview questions can be considered must-haves across the board. They test the candidate’s knowledge of and passion to work at your business and in the advertised position.
Top 5 Must-Ask Interview Questions
- “What do you know about our company?” – This tells you a lot about if the candidate has come prepared for the interview and if they have done their due diligence.
- “Why are you interested in the field? How do you keep current with it?” – This is good for both experienced and entry level hires to show you if they are truly interested in the field, passionate about it, and wanting to learn.
- “Would you be willing to role play the following situation such as (insert appropriate situation like customer/account manager, angry employee/HR manager, etc.)?” – This is great to evaluate if the candidate can handle a typical scenario that the job entails.
- “What do you think the position involves doing on a daily basis?” – Expectations are an important part of the hiring process. For experienced hires, this should tell you a lot of what they have done in their previous role; for new grads, this should help you to figure out what they expect and why (and for you to determine if those expectations are realistic).
- “Now that I’ve told you all about the role and the company, tell me why you think this is a great job for you.” – I like this question because it tells you if the candidate was listening to you and if they are able to accurately match their skills and talents to what you need and why. Let them do some of the thinking for you!
Step 5: Reducing Candidate Stress and Problems
I once had a client who liked to tell candidates the wrong suite number to see how the candidate coped and if they were still on time–I hated this! Not only is it stressful to someone who is already in a nerve-wracking situation, but it also doesn’t show a good impression to the candidate nor does it help you figure out if the candidate is a good fit for the role. Worse, the candidate will think you have no attention to detail as a company if you don’t even know your own address!
Give candidates the information they need in advance, including:
- The time, length, and location of the interview (if you want to be really helpful, include a Google map link).
- Who they are meeting and who they should ask for when they arrive.
- The phone number they should call if there is an emergency on the day of and need to cancel.
Optional pieces of information:
- If you will be throwing any sort of special questions at them, like making a mock presentation, you could send them the question to prepare in advance.
- Dress code parameters can be a nice touch, especially if your office is super casual and the candidate comes in a suit and might feel out of place.
- If you will be taking them to a meal, like lunch, tell them.
- Anything they might need to know in advance like if parking is difficult, or the office doorbell is broken, etc.
Next Steps: After the Interview is Over
Once the candidate has left the office and the interview is over, you should be left with three situations:
- The candidate was a rock star and you want to extend an offer.
- The candidate was good, but there’s some debate. Not all interviewers may feel the same way, or perhaps there have been a few candidates that were very similar.
- The candidate was a clear “no.”
Here’s what you’ll want to do in each of these situations.
Situation 1: The Rockstar Who Should Get the Offer
If the candidate was a rockstar, everyone is excited, and it’s unanimously agreed upon that they should get the job offer, then waste no time.
Get the candidate an offer letter within 24-48 hours at the absolute most. If you think this candidate is a rockstar, there is a strong chance another company does too.
You can also call the candidate to give them a verbal offer and inform them that paperwork, like an official offer letter, will come by email within 24-48 hours; this is a nice touch to keep the candidate excited.
Situation 2: The Debate Candidate(s)
If there are several “good” candidates up for a role, or a candidate you think is 80% there, or maybe a candidate where it’s a 2 to 1 vote one way or another, you’ll need to have a meeting, and you will need to have it as soon as possible after the interview(s). Why? Because people’s memories fade and change with time which can create bias and lead to wrong decisions.
You might even want to schedule this meeting directly after the interview in advance, and then you can use the time if needed or use it to decide on an offer amount if you are in situation 1.
You can also prevent this entire debate if you try a structured interview, which creates an unbiased interview process with candidate scoring to prevent debates like this. Not sure what a structured is? We take you through what it is and how to try it at your small business in this article.
However, if you need to have a discussion on a candidate, keep the debate focused on the job description and cultural fit, as well as on clear but constructive feedback. For example, if someone goes down the road of “Well, I just didn’t like Claire, she seems snobby”… that is not a constructive comment.
Constructive comments should be focused on things like:
- “Claire was really spot-on with how she answered the question on email marketing. I also like her skills in HTML code, and she showed me some examples of email templates she created.”
- “Claire seemed like she might not be a cultural fit for our marketing team. The reason I think this was because how she didn’t shake my hand at the beginning of the interview, nor at the end, and was not very good at building a rapport. Our marketing team acts like a family; what did everyone else think?”
Situation 3: The Rejected Candidate
Follow up with a phone call or email within 24-48 hour to let the candidate know that you will not be moving forward with them. It is a bit tacky to send the rejection right away after the interview; waiting until the next morning is my general rule of thumb.
Here is a sample rejection email:
Thank you for taking the time to go through our interview process and for coming into our offices yesterday. While we enjoyed meeting you, we will unfortunately not be moving forward. We are simply looking for someone who (insert 1-2 reasons why they are being rejected).
Thank you again and best of luck in your search,
Alan at ABC Company
Some companies prefer not to say why a candidate was rejected; however, it is best practice to include it. It helps justify your eventual hiring decision and can be good feedback for the candidate in their future job search.
If you think the candidate could be a good fit down the road (just not right now), call them and tell them why they are not getting the offer now and what you think might change down the road. This is much warmer than an email and an appropriate situation for a phone call.
Top 5 Interview Do’s and Don’ts
Throughout the interview process, here are major do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
Top 5 Interview Do’s
- Be friendly and professional – Shake the candidate’s hand, be friendly, and start the interview with an open-ended question like “Tell me the story of why you entered our field.”
- Ask behavioral questions – Ask a candidate how they reacted to criticism of a project that failed or what role they played on a team and why. Asking about how they handled specific scenarios in the past can clue you in to how they would handle the responsibilities of this position.
- Ask situational questions – For instance, ask a candidate what they would do if a client got angry or a customer sends their food back. Again, these questions can help you predict behavior.
- Leave time for questions – The interview isn’t a one-way process. The candidate should get some time (at least 10 minutes at the end) to ask you and other interviewers about the company and the role. Their questions can also show if they are truly interested in the job.
- Leave time for breaks – Remember to ask the candidate, especially if they have more than 1 person they are meeting, if they need a restroom or water break. Better yet, bring them some coffee or have coffee, water, soda, etc. available in the room.
Top 5 Interview Don’ts
- Don’t be overly nitpicky – If there was a red flag, that’s one thing, but make sure you are not just nitpicking or taking a bad mood out on the candidate. If one small question wasn’t answered exactly how you would have wanted, it doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate shouldn’t be considered for the job.
- Don’t be biased – Easier said than done right? In interviewing alone, there have been several proven biases. The most common that I have seen are similar to me bias (where you like candidates who remind you of yourself) and confirmation bias (where you take an assumption from a resume or social media profile and then ask questions to confirm your bias). Here are some resources on biases which can help you to become aware of them and, ideally, reduce their influence: 4 Type of Biases and From the Academics
- Don’t be afraid to practice what you are going to ask – This will help you from saying something you didn’t mean to, getting off track, or accidentally saying something inappropriate.
- Don’t get too personal – Keep the conversation like you were meeting your future in-laws for the first time – no politics, no religion, nothing related to someone’s personal situation. If a candidate goes some place uncomfortable or starts to overshare, stop them by saying something like, “I hate to interrupt you, but I would like to stay on track and keep to learning if you are good fit for the job itself. Now, tell me more about what skills you learned in your last role that you could apply here [or move on to another job related question].”
- Don’t burn bridges – Don’t forget that even if you don’t think this is the right person, they are still a person and they still can review your company on Glassdoor. You want every candidate leaving the interview wanting to work for you, even if you don’t want them to.
How to End an Interview Gracefully
Very few things are more awkward than bringing in a candidate for an interview and realizing it’s a horrible fit. Unlike on the phone, you can’t just quickly end the call. You need to have an exit plan in order to not waste time, both yours and your team’s and the candidate’s as well.
Scenario 1: The Candidate Makes a Bad First Impression
Maybe the candidate shows up 10 minutes late without calling or shows up dressed inappropriately. Either way, your first impression is that this candidate is not a fit. You have two options here:
- You can tell the candidate as such by saying, “While I am very sorry you came all this way, it is clear that you are not the right fit for our role because you showed up late.” While this is harsh, it’s also giving the candidate the feedback they need to improve their future job prospects.
- You can give the candidate the benefit of the doubt. For example, a lot of people in technology tend to show up in casual dress. Also, they may have had a genuine reason for being late, like a family issue or a bus that broke down. If you think the person’s resume is great, have the interview still, but also check references before giving any offers!
Scenario 2: The Candidate Is Not Prepared
The candidate looks sharp, and you get ready to go, and you start the interview with a question such as, “Welcome to ABC! So, what have you read about our company that makes you think you will be a good fit here?” and the candidate can’t answer or admits they did not do any research… The unprepared candidate is a frustrating situation. You also have two options here:
- You can tell the candidate, “While I am very sorry you came all this way, it is clear that you are not prepared. Should we reschedule?”
- You can give the candidate some leeway and tell them about the company. Ask them to now answer the question and continue on with the interview.
Scenario 3: The Candidate is Unqualified or Not a Good Team Fit
Depending on how dramatic the skills gap is, you also have a few options here:
- If it’s clear right away that this candidate cannot be your new hire, end the interview after 30-45 minutes, even if a longer time is booked. Thank the candidate for their time, and explain that you have to cut the interview short due to an unexpected client meeting (or something of the like). If you’d rather not lie, tell them outright why you are ending the interview.
- If it’s made clear over the course of the whole interview, no big deal–this is why you interview! Send them a rejection email or call within 48 hours of the interview.
Different Kinds of Interviews (and When to Use Them)
Maybe the candidate is remote and you can’t do an in-person interview, or maybe you want to be sure a candidate is right before inviting them in. Read our table on the kinds of interviews and when to use them:
Different Kinds of Interviews & Their Purposes
|Kind of Interview||When It's Useful|
|Phone Screen||For a first round interview
To distinguish a lot of resumes that look the same
If the interview is for a role that requires phone communication like an
|Video||For a position that is remote
For a first or second round interview
If you travel a lot, getting on Skype or Google Hangouts with the candidate can solve your hiring delays
|In-Person||For a second, third, and/or final round
For roles that require in-person service like a restaurant’s General
For roles where the candidate will be working with other team members or managing a team
|Structured||All around a good option and can be used on video, in-person, or on the phone
For people who have never interviewed before
For positions where certain items must be asked about and confirmed prior to hire
For companies that want to eliminate bias, or who are at risk for bias issues
The Bottom Line
Interviewing is a necessary part of the hiring process and there is a right and wrong way to do it. Remember what it was like when you were interviewing for jobs? Try to remember that as you think about how to interview someone. Feel free to share your favorite interview tip or question here!
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