Building a Team

How to Interview Candidates

How do you conduct candidate interviews?

Do you have a solid, easily-repeatable process for interviewing employees? It’s fine if the answer is “no”, because most small businesses and organizations do not. Fortunately, we can help you establish one! Having an established process for interviewing candidates will help you identify the best candidate quickly. And in addition to having a robust method of screening, interviewing, and reviewing the best candidate for the role, you will need to keep track of certain legal information for tax and records-keeping purposes.

This streamlined procedure for hiring candidates is tried and true:

  • Resume Review

    • At this stage you will be reviewing all resumes you get from all the portals where you have posted your listings.

    • Because of time restraints, you can’t talk to everyone who sends in a resume, so have some hard cutoffs like minimum years of work experience or must-have certain technical skills.

  • First Screening

    • At this stage, you will be calling some qualified candidates that pass your hard cutoffs.

    • This is usually a quick call over the phone where you can describe the role and your company and ask the candidate to walk through their resume. A good candidate can explain their resume quickly without hesitation.

    • Ask for their interest in the role and company, then proceed to next steps if they are interested and seem like a good fit.

  • (Optional) Technical Screen

    • At this stage, you may want to test candidates’ technical skills if this is very important to the role.

    • A common way to test analysis skills is by sending the candidate tasks to do on Excel. A common way to test coding skills is to ask for a Github portfolio or for previous work  samples.

  • First Round Interview

    • At this stage, you should be interviewing candidates in a longer, formal interview, usually in person or through a video call.

    • Most companies do at least 2 formal interviews. Here is when you can drill into the candidate’s resume and experience to make sure nothing is exaggerated.

    • Look out for candidates who bad talk past employers, and look favorably on candidates who ask a lot of questions and show that they’ve done research on the company.

    • Another option is also group interviews where you interview multiple people at once to see how they interact in a group setting.

  • Second (or Final) Round Interview

    • At this stage, you are probably only talking to candidates who have met all of your minimum requirements and are now trying to find the best fit for your team.

    • Test for cultural fit like “will they work well in your team” and “do they believe in the mission and vision”.

    • Give other members of your current team a chance to talk to these candidates to gauge fit. You can have a third and final round of interviews to get opinions from as many people as possible.

  • Reference Check

    • At this stage, you have probably decided on the candidate you want to hire.

    • Ask for their references if they have not provided some already. Schedule brief calls with the references to double check the candidate’s past experience.

    • Have 1 or 2 backup candidates in case you need to make a different choice.

  • Offer

    • At this stage, you will have given an offer to the candidate of your choice.

    • Depending on their answer, you may be finding another candidate if they decline or officially hiring if they accept.

  • Follow-Up

    • At this stage, you will have given an offer to the candidate of your choice and they have accepted.

    • Be sure to follow up with everyone that applied and interviewed that you closed the role and to thank them for their time.

What to ask during interviews?

When developing interview questions, consider three rules of thumb:  ask only for information that will serve as a basis for the hiring decision, know how the information will be used to make the decision, and do not ask for information that will not or should not be used to make hiring decisions. 

 Write down your questions, and be sure to give yourself enough blank space to jot down notes. Doing this in advance and using the same set of questions for each candidate will make the interview process flow much more smoothly. We recommend that use the job description as a roadmap for creating questions. Questions should be grouped as behavioral questions, situational questions, problem-solving questions and overall fit questions.

Behavioral interview questions are designed to probe candidates’ previous experiences in order to determine how they might behave in similar situations in the future. In this type of interview, you will not be asking hypothetical questions about how they would handle a situation if confronted with it in the future. Instead you will be asking how they did handle a specific situation when they encountered it in the past.

  • Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.

  • Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.

  • Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.

  • Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and you were able to achieve it.

  • Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone's opinion.

  • Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.

Situational interview questions give the candidate a hypothetical scenario or event and focuses on his or her past experiences, behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities by asking the candidate to provide specific examples of how the candidate would respond given the situation described. This type of interview reveals how an applicant thinks and how he or she would react in a particular situation and can be very helpful to test scenarios which you have experienced in your business. The following are examples of situational interview questions:

  • You have been hired as the operations manager and are struggling to perform the necessary administrative work by yourself. The owner tells you that you need to be more strategic. How would you handle this situation?

  • Say that you get this role. You learn that a former co-worker at your last company is applying for an accounting position with us. You are familiar with this person’s strengths and weaknesses and don’t believe they are qualified or well suited for the job. You are not in HR. What, if anything, would you do?

Problem solving, or case interview, questions are used to test a candidate's analytical ability and communication skills. In a problem solving or case interview, you will present candidates with a real or simulated problem to consider and solve. They are not necessarily expected to arrive at the "correct answer." What you are concerned with is the candidate’s logic and thought process. An effective answer is one which demonstrates their ability to break a problem down into manageable pieces and to think clearly under pressure.

Company culture is explicitly defined in a company’s mission statement, HR handbook, and workplace policies - you want to hire candidates who exhibit the best fit within your organization's culture. Often, what job seekers think of as culture comes about organically. For example, the way a company engages and supports employees; the style, level of formality, and transparency in communication; and the common attitudes and work habits among employees all contribute to the underlying culture of an organization. An employee who will fit into the existing culture will likely be more satisfied, exhibit superior job performance, be more engaged, and less likely to leave the company than someone who clashes with the culture.

  • Describe the work environment or culture in which you are most productive and happy.

  • What can your hobbies tell me that your resume can't?

  • What are your 3 ideal job qualities?

  • What are you passionate about?

Why is conducting interviews important?

Effective interviews expose potential red flags, reveal strengths, ensure that there is a fit with salary, compensation, personality, and verify qualifications, skills, and abilities. They're an essential part of the hiring process.

Pro Tip

When hiring employees, you’ll want to avoid the trap of hiring people who are just like you or “clones” so to say. A new employee is your opportunity to bring new ideas and direction to your organization. Don't eliminate the opportunity by picking only employees who will challenge your thinking or who could become your new best friend.