How to conduct an interview and get the best candidate for the job

It pays to ensure that the candidate feels valued and respected when conducting an interview, and indeed throughout the entire recruitment process. For many, this is an emotionally vulnerable time.

A successful job interview relies as much on the employer as it does on the interviewee and the employer who prepares well will beat competitors in the war for talent. Read on for some useful interviewer tips.

We’re in the midst of a war for talent, says executive recruitment expert Kara Atkinson. “We’re no longer in an age where people are lined up down the street to work for us – we’re having to work for it.”

A competitive job market means employers need to rethink their approach to interviews. “The most important interview question is whether that candidate would choose you,” Atkinson says.

“From the time they park their car to the time they leave... that person is assessing culture. It’s worth spending a few minutes thinking about that experience from a candidate’s perspective.”

Planning is critical, says Benjamin Jotkowitz, director of Benneaux Accounting Recruitment. “A lot of the time the employer isn’t prepared,” he says. Make sure you know who it is you’re interviewing and that you’re familiar with the contents of their resumé. Otherwise, he says, the interview can become disjointed and start to veer off track.

Atkinson and Jotkowitz shared more tips with INTHEBLACK about how employers can optimise the interview process:

Interviewer tips: what does the organisation need?

The first mistake employers often make is to rush to fill a vacancy without reassessing the role’s position in the business as it stands today, Atkinson says.

Review the job description, thinking about what the organisation needs now – not the last time the role was advertised.

“Businesses change so quickly,” Atkinson says. “Make sure that job description is really compelling, so you’re making sure you get the right people through the door to start with. There can be a lot of time wasted by flicking that 2009 job description out to market.”

CPA Australia Library resource: Knock em dead - hiring the best: proven tactics for employee selection by Martin Yate (eBook). Read now.

What is your star performer's DNA?

Look at your organisation’s strongest employees and identify what makes them so effective in their roles. “Start to get a strong understanding of their DNA – what makes them tick,” says Atkinson.

“That ‘DNA’ can transcend all skills and experience. If you can match DNA, you’re 80 per cent of the way there.”

Once you have determined what traits your star performers have in common, use your findings to write interview questions designed to draw out evidence of those qualities – whether entrepreneurship or creativity – rather than focusing on skills and experience.

“You tend to have a totally different interview when you focus on that rather than ‘What are your strengths and weaknesses?’,” Atkinson says.

Conducting an interview: Ask the right questions

“An interview is only as good as your questions,” says Jotkowitz, who emphasises the importance of questions that are open-ended rather than requiring a yes/no response.

“If you ask, ‘Are you good at Excel?’, you don’t give the candidate an opportunity to say what they can do,” he says. A better way of phrasing it is: ‘Tell me about a particular formula you created in Excel’.

“Asking good questions that are open-ended and lead to discussion is a stronger way to interview.” Benjamin Jotkowitz, Benneaux Accounting Recruitment

“Asking good questions that are open-ended and lead to discussion is a stronger way to interview,” he says.

Atkinson agrees. Ask for specific examples from the candidate, she advises.

“Previous behaviour dictates what they’ll do in the future. Ideally, you’d like the candidate to tell you a couple of examples of achievements, but also a couple of examples of mistakes. What you’re looking for is how they learned from that.”

Conducting an interview: Create a relaxed atmosphere

Extroverts tend to shine in interviews, but that doesn’t automatically make them the best candidates.

“The world doesn’t revolve around extroverts,” Atkinson says. “If you can scratch the surface, sometimes it’s all ego and attitude and not a lot of substance.”

Some candidates, particularly introverts, are naturally uncomfortable in an interview setting. “You’ve got to make your candidate feel as relaxed as possible, as quickly as possible, to get to the heart of what they’re all about.”

An informal one-on-one interview with the line manager is much less intimidating for a candidate than fronting up to a formal panel interview. “If that goes well, you can bring them back in front of a panel and go through a more formal process,” Atkinson says. “HR managers can save a whole lot of time by checking that fit is there in the early stages.

Unfortunately, most organisations do it the other way around.”

A role play or a technical task can help calm a candidate’s nerves and showcase their skills. “If it’s a tech role, give them a problem to solve in a real-time situation. If it’s sales, give them a role play on their 30-60-90-day plan and have a look at how they present to the room. You’re not necessarily checking content; you’re checking style and how they handle that presentation.”

After the interview

Give prompt feedback – ideally within 24 hours of the interview. “Unfortunately, most of us miss that,” says Atkinson. Even if it’s just an email saying, ‘thank you and we’ll come back to you in the next week’, it’s vital to acknowledge the investment the candidate has made in attending the interview, she says.

It pays to ensure that the candidate feels valued and respected throughout the recruitment process, which for most is an emotionally vulnerable time. “Whether you decide to hire that person or not... you’re creating a brand ambassador for your organisation.”

Read next: How to attract talent to your accounting practice


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September 2019
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