This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
Knowing how to interview someone for a job—whether in person, by phone, or via video—will help you discern whether an applicant is a good fit for your open positions. It is a fairly straightforward process that involves gathering the needed documentation, scheduling the interview and sharing information with the candidate, conducting the interview, and then evaluating and following up with the candidate.
Use our downloadable checklist for reminders before and after the interview.
For a detailed look at the interviewing process, view our video overview or read through the seven steps below.
Step 1: Gather Position & Candidate-related Documents
Once you are sure that you want to interview an applicant for a job, you’ll start gathering all the information needed to conduct the interview. That may include a job description, a copy of the candidate’s employment application, and a 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.
If you want to snap up the best talent fast, it’s crucial to set up an interview shortly after the job seeker has applied to the open position. In a tight labor market, top candidates get hired quickly.
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 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.
When it comes to company job applications, we strongly recommend using them on an as-needed basis. That is to say, many of your best candidates may be passive job seekers (or, people who are currently employed but 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.
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.
If you’ve posted a job ad online, 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.
Having your company 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.
Step 2: Determine Interview Type & Schedule It
Once you have your information together, you’ll need to decide on the type of interview you want to conduct and then schedule a time.
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 on-site interview are used most often.
Here’s more on each type of job interview and when to use them:
Telephone interviews are best for pre-screening applicants as part of your recruitment process. 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 on-site 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 may 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.
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.
A form of on-site interview is the group interview. This is perfect when you are hiring for multiple roles or multiple candidates for one role. A group interview will save you time by combining the same interview for multiple candidates at one time. Note that group interviews can also be conducted virtually as a team interview for a candidate that is remote.
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. Consider texting the job seeker directions to your office, or send a photo showing where they should park.
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. Job recruiting software allows you to send and keep track of these communications.
Interview Timing & Length
Before you send the interview 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 hourlong 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 for and how many interviewers are involved.
Average Interview Time
Type of Role
3 or More Interviewers
30-45 minutes each
15-30 minutes each
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.
- 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.
- How will you determine if the candidate is a good fit for your culture? 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? This should be determined based on the candidate’s skills and experience. Choosing a candidate based on someone you “like” could create a hiring bias.
Step 3: Share Information With the Candidate
Smart interviewers provide candidates with the information they will need to schedule and arrive at the interview prepared and on time. The more information you can share with a candidate, the better. As the interviewer, do your part to help the candidate succeed 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, including a Google map link to your offices or link to your virtual meeting.
- 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. Will they be making a mock presentation? Are there 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.
- 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.
Step 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 evaluation 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.
- “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.
- “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.
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 to learn new software
- They found and resolved a safety issue
- They said “no” to their manager and why
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.
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 and sounds great in the interview, but ultimately can’t do the job.
Step 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 (phone screen) 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:
Set the stage: Create a welcoming environment to put the candidate at ease by introducing yourself and all interviewers.
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 be seen as an indication of discrimination.
Reiterate the process: Remind your candidate of 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).
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 difficult to work with.
Pace the interview: Take a deep breath, relax, and get to know the candidate. Allow the candidate time to respond; don’t be afraid of silence.
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.”
Observe: Pay attention to the candidate’s body language as well as their answers.
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 friend.
Summarize: Clarify what the next step is (e.g., another interview, an email, or a sample task).
Leave them in the dark: If you’re still interviewing other candidates, let them know.
Offer Thanks: Thank the candidates for their time, expressing appreciation for their interest in your company and the job role.
Burn bridges: Even if the candidate is a poor fit for the job, treat them with respect.
Step 6: Write Your Interview Notes After the Interview
An interview evaluation form is an excellent way to capture interview feedback because it helps you document how the candidate 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 most animated person you talked with.
If you prefer digital methods, try an applicant tracking system (ATS), such as ZipRecruiter, that allows you to score interviews, delegate tasks to other hiring team members, and easily follow up with both high- and low-quality candidates.
Step 7: Follow Up With the Job Candidate
Every interaction you have with a job applicant reflects your company brand, and therefore, it’s 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 OK to express that you 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. It may not start as a letter at all—it may be a phone call or a text you send to offer the candidate the job.
Job 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”). You may choose to initially offer the job to your top candidate via phone or video call, but, ultimately, to seal the deal, it’s best to document your job offer in writing.
The rejection letter is equally important and maybe 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.
On occasion, you may need to rescind an offer previously made to a candidate. This can happen if the candidate does not pass a background check or drug test, or has inaccurately portrayed their ability to handle the job on their resume.
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.