Work-Tips: How to interview candidates

First published in November 2012

Job Interviews

Here at esPResso, we are always banging on about how to get a new job in PR. Now we’re going to show you the other side of the coin.

As you progress through your career, you may have to start recruiting people for your team. Surprisingly, though, very few firms offer interview training so how do you know if you’re interviewing effectively and hiring the right person for the job?

Firstly, you need to be prepared before you sit down in front of the candidate. Don’t insult them by obviously reading their CV for the first time in front of them. An interview is a two-way process and if this is the right person for the job, you want to make sure they are keen to work for you too. Think about what the role you are hiring for consists of and what skills and experience will be essential for the person doing the job, then structure your questions around these.

A good way to start an interview is to give a brief description of the job and company and what the interview process will consist of. This will allow the candidate to relax a little and give them an insight into what you are looking for. A good candidate will pick up on this and sell themselves appropriately. Ask lots of open ended questions and make sure you give them the opportunity to ask you things too.

Interview techniques vary – there are lots of different ways to skin a cat – but here’s a rundown of some of our favourites.

Good cop/Bad cop
This requires two interviewers, who each have to play a role and keep a straight face. That’s not as easy as it sounds! The idea is that one of you puts the candidate at ease and then, when you think they’re relaxed, the ‘bad cop’ throws in a really tough question in an aggressive manner. It certainly puts the candidate on the spot and shows if they can cope with pressure and think on their feet, but they may leave the interview hating one of you.

The silent treatment
This is a really common technique. Once a candidate has finished answering a question, sit in silence for an uncomfortably long time. The temptation to fill the silence will be far too much for the majority of people and candidates will start talking. Sometimes they can say something very interesting, but sometimes they can really drop themselves in it. A clever candidate will say ‘was there anything else you’d like to ask me?’ and put the ball back in your court.

Practical tests
If the role you’re hiring for has a vital skill requirement, you are best off giving your candidates a test to see if they have that skill. In PR that is commonly a writing test, particularly for junior level roles. You might also ask them to give a short presentation, especially if they are going to be doing a lot of new business pitching.

Competency questions
Some candidates are brilliant at selling themselves, but aren’t actually much cop at doing the job. How do you weed out the great salesmen? Competency-based questions are your friend. The idea is that you ask questions based on them giving examples of their behaviour and experience and it’s likely to predict how they will cope with situations at your company. It’s not perfect, but it’s a pretty good indication of a candidate’s capabilities. Typical competency questions include; ‘give us an example of when you have disagreed with your colleagues and how you came to a resolution’ and ‘how do you prepare for an important meeting?’

The social event
Your candidate has sailed through two formal interviews and you are about to offer him or her the job, but something is niggling in your mind. Are they the right fit for your firm? A good way to determine whether they will be an asset to your team is to put them in a social work environment. Typically, this will take the form of coffee or drinks with members of the team. Sensible candidates will not indulge in too much alcohol and will remember that while you are all being casual and friendly, it is still a work situation and they should still be in interview mode. If the candidate turns out not to be able to behave appropriately, you’ve saved yourself from hiring the wrong person. If they sail though this test too, then it’s a nice way for the team to meet them.

Finally, remember that there are some interview questions that are not allowed. Keep clear of questions around marital status and whether the candidate has (or is planning to have) children, or you’ll be leaving yourself open to claims of discrimination. Similarly, since age discrimination laws came into effect, you cannot ask for their date of birth or how old they are. You should also avoid questions relating to nationality or religion, and you’re on dodgy ground if you ask them questions about their health.