New to giving interviews? Here’s how to get the most from your time

As an employer, it’s likely that you’re inundated with applications for the job vacancies you post. Hiring the wrong person can be expensive and damaging to your business.

Once you’ve whittled down your hopefuls to the final few, how do you make the most of your interview time and ensure you select a candidate that’s a good fit for both the job role and your company’s culture?

Personality versus skills

Richard Branson famously said that personality should be your first hiring criteria: “The first thing to look for when searching for a great employee is somebody with a personality that fits with your company culture. Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality.”

He suggests focussing on transferable skills from work experience and ability to complete tasks, rather than job title or qualifications. argues that company culture is more important than ever “in order to attract, retain and engage the modern workforce.” Although creating a positive working environment is as much the company’s responsibility to create, it is also affected greatly by the people you hire.

Use your small-talk wisely

Talking about the weather could be as important as grilling the candidate on that time they saved their company from near collapse whilst single-handedly organising the Christmas party.

Business Insider agrees that small-talk can be just as telling as questions specifically about the job, or even more so. A study on “rapport building” by the British Psychological Society Research Digest showed that small-talk hugely increased the scores candidates were given by their interviewer, compared to the same interviews conducted with no small-talk.

This part of the interview can be used by employers to assess communication skills, enthusiasm, likability, and personality fit. In the end, you want to select someone that you’d be happy spending forty-plus hours a week in an office (or Zoom meeting) with.

Know what you want and use your questions to get it

Establish exactly what you want from your new employee before you start the interview and tailor your questions to find out this information.

Take notes and have a checklist of points you want to cover. This gives you specific desirable areas in which to compare the candidates for the next stage.

Standardise your questions, but also be flexible. For example, a candidate might cover a later question in their answer, or you might want to probe them further on a particular topic.

As long as you finish the interviews with information which allows you to score and compare each candidate on x, y and z, then you can make an informed decision.

Good behaviour

Different question-types get different results. The main thing is to ask open-ended questions that don’t require ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, but the following three questioning methods work well:

Fact-based questions can be used to clarify aspects of the CV, why the candidate chose your particular industry or what relevant experience they have. These are great ‘warm-up’ questions that make the transition from small-talk to the main interview.
Situational or hypothetical questions establish what the candidate would you do in a certain situation. It shows an ability to think under pressure, common sense and problem solving. However, these questions don’t necessarily show what the candidate would do, just what they think should be done.
Behavioural questions, for example, ‘Tell me about a time when…’ are often preferred by recruiters because they demonstrate how a candidate really would react in a certain situation. Past experiences arguably indicate future behaviours, and it can be difficult to fake details on how you did something. These answers can also be fact-checked with referees.


Do your homework – read the CV carefully before the interview and note down specific questions to ask the candidate. This means you don’t waste time skim-reading their CV in the interview and shows you care.
Introduction – start off with small talk, factual questions, and an overview of the company and job description. The interview will often naturally evolve from here.
Use a mixture of situational and behavioural questions to fill out your notes so you can accurately compare the candidates at a later date.
Wrap-up – Give the candidate an opportunity to ask questions and inform them of the next steps in the process.

A great interview feels like a conversation, not an interrogation. Both sides of the table should feel at ease, and you should focus on personality as much as experience and qualifications. Ultimately, don’t be afraid to use your intuition, but don’t be blinded by charisma. The right candidate still needs to tick all of those ‘business’ boxes.