A job interview is a way to discern whether an applicant is a good fit for your open position. Job interviews can be scheduled in person, by phone, or via video. To avoid penalties and lawsuits, it’s important to ensure your interview questions and hiring practices are fair and don’t violate any labor laws.
How the Interviewing Process Works
An interview isn’t a one-and-done event. It’s just one step in how to hire someone. Many companies conduct more than one interview and sometimes add activities (e.g., an office tour, a skills assessment, or a test) to give a job seeker a good feel of the open position—as well as to give the employer a good sense of how the job seeker will fit within the company and culture.
Once interviews are conducted, you’ll likely narrow your hiring choices down to one or two people, offering the job to your first choice (best-qualified candidate) while keeping your second choice candidate in a backup position. That’s just in case your first choice doesn’t accept your job offer.
Here are six steps you should follow to interview someone for a job if you want to build a winning team.
1. Gather Position & Candidate-related Documents
Before you schedule a job interview with an applicant, gather all the information needed to conduct an interview. That may include a job description, a copy of the candidate’s employment application, or their resume. It might also include a copy of the job ad you posted and perhaps even an organizational chart to see where the job fits within your organization.
Position or Job Description
The position or job description is a one- to two-page document that describes what the job is about and the minimum requirements of the job. It’s best if you share the job description with job seekers in advance of the interview. You’ll also want to go over it with them as a point of reference so that you can compare their work history, skills, education, and interests to the job you have available.
It’s crucial to read what interview prospects write on their job applications. For example, they may mention working for a competitor, or they may still be in school. It’s helpful to know their background before you start asking them questions in the interview.
To ensure your job application forms and job descriptions abide by federal labor and anti-discrimination laws, it’s helpful to work with an online human resources (HR) consultant like Bambee. Bambee’s HR experts can answer any questions you have about what to include or not include on these standard recruiting documents.
Note: When it comes to company job applications, we strongly recommend to use them on an as-needed basis. That is to say, many of your best candidates out there are passive job seekers (or, people who are currently employed, but who are seeking other employment). Many passive job seekers will not take time out of their busy lives to complete a lengthy job application. They will submit a resume and, at times, a cover letter and that’s about it. Do not disqualify these top candidates just because they are not completing your job applications.
Not all job seekers send a resume when they complete a job application form (for instance, you may not need a resume for a hotel maintenance worker). But if they’ve attached or sent a copy of their resume, that document can serve as a foundation for the types of questions to ask during the interview. Imagine if the job seeker had a long lapse between jobs—you may want to understand why.
Job boards like Indeed store resumes online. In fact, Indeed can even parse it so you can see how well each resume matches the job requirements. It’s free for a small business to post jobs on Indeed, so why not manage your applications and resumes there too?
Cover letters are more common with professional jobs or online job applications. You’ll often find tidbits about the candidate that you may not have found on their resume. Cover letters are typically more personal and informal, allowing you to get a glimpse of the person’s character, temperament, or work interests.
Job Ad (as Needed)
If you’ve posted a job ad online, that may be what caused the candidate to apply. It’s useful to have that ad handy so you can ask the job seeker, “What was it about our job ad that inspired you to apply?” Their answer will often give you insight into their work motivation or help you understand what keywords caught their attention as they were searching for work.
Organization Chart (as Needed)
Having the organization chart handy before you interview gives you a clear view of where the job role fits within the organization. That will help you consider who they will work with and to whom they will report. Knowing the personalities and work styles of their future manager and potential new peers will help you assess the candidate’s ability to fit within the organization and department.
2. Sharing Information With the Candidate
Smart interviewers provide candidates with information that the candidate will need to schedule and arrive at the interview prepared and on time. The more information that you can share with a candidate, the better. Surprising or tricking the candidate should never be the objective. As the interviewer, do your share to help the candidate to be successful during the interview. The goal should be that both the interviewer and the interviewee can focus on the position at hand and not extenuating circumstances.
Information that you may want to include in your interview invitation:
- Logistics: Include the time, length, and location of the interview; if you want to be really helpful, include a Google map link.
- People: Describe who they will be meeting and who they should ask for when they arrive. Will this be a one-on-one interview or a panel interview?
- Contact information: Provide the phone or text number or email account they should use if there is an emergency on the day of the interview and they need to cancel.
- Format: Describe the structure of your interview, such as making a mock presentation or specific questions you want them to prepare for in advance.
- Dress code: It’s a nice touch to include dress code information, especially if your office is super casual. This prevents the candidate from overdressing and feeling out of place.
- Refreshments: If you will be taking them to lunch or serving snacks, let them know.
- Location specifics: Anything they might need to know in advance, like if parking is difficult, the office doorbell is broken, or they need a code to get through security.
3. Scheduling the Interview
Once you are sure that you want to interview an applicant for a job, you’ll need to schedule a time with them. If you want to snap up the best talent fast, it’s crucial to do this shortly after the job seeker has applied to the open position. In a tight labor market, top candidates get hired quickly.
Tools for Interview Scheduling
While there are scheduling apps to help you sync your calendar with the candidate, a person-to-person conversation is best. Call or text the individual to let them know you wish to interview them. Then follow up with a calendar appointment request, as needed.
Scheduling apps and free online calendars like Google Calendar can make your life as an interviewer much easier. You can often email the candidate with a list of open days and times and allow them to choose the interview time slot that works best for them. Keep in mind that those currently working a full-time job may need to schedule their interview over a lunch hour, or before or after work.
Once you’ve confirmed a time that works for both you and the job seeker, stay in touch. There are some really cool recruiting apps that do just that.
Consider texting the job seeker directions to your office, or send a photo showing where they should park. Job posting software like Indeed allows you to send and keep track of these communications. It’s not a bad idea to send an interview reminder the day prior and another on the day of the interview to avoid being ghosted by the job seeker—which may happen if you don’t remain in contact.
Interview Timing & Length
Before you send the invitation, you’ll need to figure out how long you want the candidate to be in the office and how much time you want each person to interview them. An hour-long meeting is the most common interview time frame when you’re doing a one-on-one interview.
Depending on what the role is and who the interviewers are, it might be appropriate to:
- Pair up: Have two interviewers work together—for example, two co-owners of a business might interview a candidate for a key position together.
- Go informal: For people-facing roles, an interview in an informal setting like lunch or dinner might be more appropriate—and may take longer than an hour.
- Stay traditional: Schedule one-on-one interviews, back to back.
Let’s look at how you might typically break up an interview for timing based on the kind of role you’re interviewing the person for and how many interviewers are involved.
Average Interview Time
|Type of Role||1 Interviewer||2 Interviewers||3 or More Interviewers|
|45-60 minutes||30-45 minutes each||15-30 minutes each|
|Manager||60-90 minutes||45-60 minutes each||30-45 minutes each|
Questions to Ask Yourself
Interviews may be done by you alone or with the help of a team. In fact, your entire interviewing process requires you to think through how you’re going to assess the candidate in total.
As you’re scheduling interviews, ask yourself these questions:
- Who is the best person or persons to interview candidates for this job? You might consider someone experienced in the role to assess technical skills, for instance.
- What other ways can we determine if this person is a good fit? For example, after the interview, you may make a job offer contingent upon a successful background check.
- How quickly do you need to hire someone? That may dictate who and how many people interview the candidate, as well as how quickly those interviews are scheduled.
- In addition to phone, video, or in-office interviews, you may want to assess a candidate’s interpersonal skills in a social setting, like a group lunch with your team.
- How will you decide on the best candidate? Will it be the person best-liked by the manager? Or the one who completed the best sample assignment?
4. Create Your Interview Guide
An interview guide can be as simple as a piece of paper with a few questions and room to take notes, or it can be an entire spreadsheet with specific scenarios and a scoring mechanism. What’s important is that you know in advance what kinds of interview questions to ask and why. It’s also not a bad idea to know which interview questions to avoid, as some may be discriminatory.
Core Questions to Include in Your Interview
- “What do you know about our company?” This tells you a lot about whether the candidate has prepared for the interview and if they have done their due diligence.
- “What keeps you interested in this field? How do you keep current with best practices?” This is good for both experienced and entry-level hires to show you they’re truly interested in the field, passionate about the role, and want to learn.
- “Would you be willing to role-play the following situation such as: (insert appropriate situation like an angry employee or customer complaint or inventory discrepancy)?” This evaluates the candidate’s ability to handle situations the job requires.
- “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 tells you what they have done in their previous role; for new grads, it helps you to figure out what they expect and why—and for you to determine whether those expectations are realistic.
- “Now that I’ve told you all about the role and the company, why do you think this is a good fit for you?” This question shows whether the candidate was listening to you and lets them accurately match their skills and talents to the job role.
- “Do you have any questions for me?” This is a good question that helps expose whether or not the candidate has done any research about the position and whether or not the candidate has unanswered questions at the end of the interview.
Keep in mind that federal labor laws restrict the kinds of questions you can ask. In addition, some state laws prohibit asking about or discriminating based on a candidate’s prior salary history, criminal background, or sexual orientation.
The most important aspect of your interview guide is the questions you need to ask to assess the job candidate’s technical and interpersonal skills. If it’s a customer service job, are they naturally friendly? How do they handle angry customers? If it’s an equipment-operator job, do they have the proper licensing and certifications? If the job requires physical strength, like lifting 50-pound boxes, are they able to do that?
We agree that a behavioral interview is often the best way to assess a job applicant’s experience. It includes questions about each of the job-related skills needed to be successful and asks the candidate to tell about a time when, for example:
- They overcame a client objection.
- They organized and completed a large complex project.
- They trained a team learning new software.
- The found and resolved a safety issue.
- The said “no” to their manager and why.
Sample Work Assignment
Another consideration for your job interview is to identify a real-life, work-related project or task you could assign to the candidate during or after the interview. A sample assignment is a great way to learn how your job seeker tackles a task and how well they can complete it.
Examples of sample work assignments might include:
- Translate a customer welcome letter into Spanish.
- Identify three menu items you’d recommend to a diner who can’t eat gluten.
- Tell me the name of each of the plumbing tools on the desk—and how they’re used.
- Suggest three keywords your business might purchase to optimize website performance.
- Create a one-page flyer to promote a new financial product offering.
- Complete an online Excel test.
Another option is to use assessment tools that measure technical skills, personality, trustworthiness, and any number of other skills, such as the ability to use software like Excel. These tools can prevent you from hiring someone who looks good on paper, sounds great in the interview, but ultimately can’t do the job.
5. Conduct the Interview
You have a few options when conducting a job interview. As mentioned above, you can do it one-on-one with the applicant, or have a few people participate in a group interview with the job seeker. Often, the first interview is best done one-on-one, as it’s less intimidating for the candidate. It also requires less time from others whom you might want to save for interviewing your final candidates only.
Regardless, here are some do’s and don’ts on how to interview someone for a job:
- Greetings: Welcome the job seeker; introduce yourself and all interviewers.
- Set the stage: Create a welcoming environment to put the candidate at ease.
- Clarify the process: Explain how your interview process works, e.g., kinds of questions you’ll ask, any tests or assignments you’ll request, and multiple rounds of interviews.
- Pace the interview: Take a deep breath, relax, and get to know the candidate.
- Don’t just talk, listen: Allow the candidate time to respond; don’t be afraid of silence.
- Observe: Pay attention to the interviewee’s body language as well as their answers.
- Summarize: Clarify what the next step is, e.g., another interview, an email, or a sample task.
- Thanks: Thank the candidates for their time, expressing appreciation for their interest in your company and in the job role.
- Display bias: Avoid asking questions unrelated to the job itself. And never scribble notes like wedding rings (married?), a stick figure family (kids?), or anything with racial implications. In a lawsuit, these would surely be seen as an indication of discrimination.
- Interrogate: Don’t pepper the candidate with questions to see how they do under stress. That undermines your hiring process; they might assume you and your team are jerks.
- Ask for free work: If you ask for an assignment to be completed, prepare to pay the candidate for their time. Don’t let your employer brand be undermined by bad online reviews when the job seeker reports that your firm is a scam to get the candidates to do “free work.”
- Go silent: Don’t simply stare at the candidate as you read off your interview questions. Instead, engage in a friendly two-way dialog as you would with a family member.
- Leave them in the dark: If you’re still interviewing other candidates, let them know.
- Burn bridges: Even if the candidate is a poor fit for the job, treat them with respect.
Types of Job Interviews
There are three commonly used interview approaches when recruiting. A phone interview, an online interview (which can include video or not), and an onsite interview are used most often.
Here’s more on each type of job interview and when to use them:
Telephone interviews are best for prescreening applicants as part of your recruitment process. In fact, you may want to do a quick phone screening interview with as many as five to seven potential candidates to see which ones appear to be the most interested and competent. Each telephone interview may take between five and 30 minutes, helping you cull your list before scheduling more time-consuming, in-depth meetings with your top two to three prospects.
An online interview makes sense when your candidate has another job, lives in another state, or is interviewing for a remote or work-from-home job role. It also works when you’re doing a group interview with managers who are not co-located—you’ll use video conference software instead. Of course, an online interview can be done at any time to make your interviewing schedule more manageable.
An onsite interview is done in person and makes sense when the candidate is in the same location as you. It is the most expensive because it requires a conference room or meeting space. And if a candidate is out of town, you’ll need to reimburse them for their travel costs. It’s also not any more likely to produce a top candidate because in-person interviews are notorious for interviewer bias—hiring someone because they’re like us.
When conducting onsite, in-person interviews, it’s best to ask interview questions that measure the applicant’s job-related skills and try not to get distracted by how “comfortable” or “uncomfortable” you are with the candidate or how much you have in common.
Practice Your Interviewing Skills
It’s not a bad idea to practice asking your selected questions in advance with a peer. That helps you prepare for the kind of responses you’re likely to get from candidates. It can also prevent you from getting off track during your interview or veering into dangerous territory with your follow-up questions. It further builds your confidence in how to ask questions and pausing to hear the response. And best of all, it gives you a sense of how long it will take to conduct the interview.
6. Write Your Interview Notes After the Interview
An interview evaluation form is the best way to capture interview feedback because it helps you document how the interviewee responded to different questions throughout the interview. That lets you rate and rank candidates in an unbiased way and select the best candidate for the job instead of the first, last, or the most animated person you talked with.
7. Follow Up With the Job Candidate
Every interaction you have with a job applicant impacts your company brand, and it’s therefore crucial to follow up with job seekers. The more personalized your response, the better. For example, if the rejected candidate is your second choice and your first choice had significantly more accounting experience, it’s okay to express that you really liked them but chose the more experienced person. It’s helpful to explain what you liked best about the candidate’s skills and experience—and then, wish them well in their job hunt.
Job Offer or Offer Letter
The offer letter is the communication you send to your top-choice candidate. It likely will include a start date, salary range, and benefits information as well as a little bit about your company and culture (to entice the job seeker to say “yes”). In fact, it may not start out as a letter at all—it may be a phone call or a text you send to offer the candidate the job. Ultimately, however, to seal the deal, it’s best to document your job offer in writing.
The rejection letter is equally important and may be even more so if you want to maintain a good employment brand. The purpose of the rejection letter is to inform job seekers that you’ve chosen another candidate. It’s also used to thank them for applying and leave the door open for them to reapply to other positions that may come up in the future.
Spreading goodwill will never hurt your business. And you never know—the job applicants may be current or future customers or may be a great fit for another role at your company someday.
What Happens After Making the Job Offer?
Assuming the person you’ve interviewed accepts the job, your next priority is to keep that person engaged until their start date. Beyond that, you’ll want them to have a good first experience with onboarding, orientation, and training. You’ll also want to be sure to have your payroll process ready to go using HR or payroll software, or a third-party payroll service.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About How to Interview Someone for a Job
What are the most common mistakes interviewers make?
Untrained interviewers are quite likely to ask questions forbidden by state and local labor laws. One of the most common mistakes is to ask a person if they have a disability. That violates the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). What you can do is ask all candidates whether they can do the “essential functions of the job—with or without reasonable accommodation.”
Another common rookie mistake is to ask questions that end up being discriminatory or perceived as such. Examples include asking about a candidate’s marital or family status, asking how old they are, or even asking something as simple as the origin of their last name (which can be seen as ethnic discrimination).
Do you have an example of a rejection letter?
We have an entire article on how to write a rejection letter. However, here’s a quick format you could use.
Hi [first name],
We appreciate your interest in [company name] and the time you’ve invested in applying for the [role title] opening.
We have decided to move forward with another candidate whose background and experience more closely matched our needs at this time. We’d like to thank you for talking to our team and giving us the opportunity to learn about your skills and accomplishments.
We will be advertising more positions in the coming months. We hope you’ll keep us in mind and we encourage you to apply again.
We wish you good luck with your job search and professional future endeavors.
Our many thanks,
[Lead Interviewer Name]
What do I tell the backup candidate (my second choice)?
Many companies will tell the candidate next in line that they’ve made a job offer to someone else so that person isn’t sitting in limbo. Others will stay mum until the first candidate offered the position accepts (keeping the backup person in the queue just in case).
Are one-on-one or team interviews best?
Both designs of interviews are valid. One-on-one interviews are less stressful for the candidate and are easier to schedule. However, group interviews allow all interviewers to assess the candidate’s answers and then collaborate on their post-interview feedback. This benefit not only may speed up the hiring decision, but also can allow for multiple team leaders to share unique and different perspectives on the candidate as to how he or she may fit into the team.
Although multiple team interviews are more common in higher-level job roles, for entry-level roles, you may need to schedule only one or two one-on-one interviews to ensure the job seeker has the minimum qualifications for the role, such as a server or clerk.
Note: Concerning team or panel interviews, be sure to keep the size of your interviewing panel to a reasonable number of people. For most positions, four or five people on an interviewing panel at any given time should be adequate.
How long should I wait for a candidate who is late for the interview?
A job seeker may have a reason for showing up late: traffic, getting lost, or a family emergency. However, a proactive person will plan for that by arriving early (even if they have to sit in the parking lot or lobby). If a candidate shows up 15 minutes late or more (without calling), it’s best to reschedule or forgo the interview. You’ll likely be pressured for time, and you may not want to hire someone who lacks basic time-management skills.
What if a job candidate shows up unprepared?
It’s possible a job candidate applied to your job out of obligation—such as to fulfill a requirement for unemployment. If it’s clear the candidate is not qualified, is unprepared, or simply not a good fit, it’s certainly okay to end the interview early. For this reason, the phone interview methodology for first-round interviews may be best. They can be brief and the interviewer can quickly disqualify obvious candidates who will not be considered for the position.
It does not have to be uncomfortable or difficult to end interviews. You might say, “I appreciate you taking the time to come in and see us. However, it appears you’re unprepared for the interview and I don’t want to waste your time. I encourage you to look for additional job postings that may be a better fit for you in the future.”
If a rejected job seeker wants to know why they weren’t chosen, should I tell them?
It’s nice to be able to provide feedback to help someone up their interview game, but it’s a slippery slope. They may not agree with your assessment, and they may become argumentative or accuse you of discrimination. It’s best to state what you did like about the candidate, and then suggest that another person more closely met the specific job requirements. Don’t get too specific beyond that. And, of course, wish them well in their job hunt.
Are some interview questions against the law?
Yes—some interview questions are seen as discriminatory and may result in your business being sued for unfair hiring practices. There are federal laws as well as laws that vary by state and sometimes by location. Here are a few examples:
- Protected classes: Any question about a person’s race, religion, age, or marital status is best avoided. These are likely to be perceived as discriminatory.
- Pregnancy: Even if a woman presents as pregnant, you cannot ask her when she is due or how she plans to care for the baby. Those often violate pregnancy discrimination laws.
- Salary: Many states have added laws to encourage equal pay. One example is that job applications and interviews may not inquire about a person’s salary history.
- Disability: You may notice a person’s disability, but you may not inquire about it. Workers and job applicants are entitled to protection under the ADA and HIPAA.
- Gender identity: In many states, asking about a person’s gender or gender identity violates anti-discrimination laws.
- Location-specific: For example, in New York City, you can’t ask a person to change their hair or discriminate based on their hairstyle. Best not to ask about it.
- Genetic information: In other states, you may not inquire about or look into a person’s genetic information as a basis for hiring.
How can I train my managers to interview better?
You can start by printing out an online guide like this one and scheduling time to review it with your managers. Focus on avoiding discriminatory practices. Once they understand what not to ask, share your best-practice interview questions with them and have them practice with a peer.
Conducting an effective interview takes planning and practice. An interview is little more than a structured conversation that helps you evaluate which candidate is the best for your open role. It should be based on the job description and focus on job-related skills and experience. It can also help you learn about the candidate so that you can see whether their work style and values mesh with what’s needed in your business.