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Six tips to conduct a stand-out interview


The way you conduct an interview is critical to finding the perfect candidate, but it doesn’t always come naturally. Smart interviewers plan and prepare for their search, because the stakes are incredibly high. A wrong decision can be an expensive mistake, but there are a few simple strategies you can use to improve your hit rate – and interview like a pro.

It all starts with your emotional state. Think about how you’re feeling before the interview, and take a step back, so it doesn’t influence your judgement. If you’re frustrated or annoyed from another meeting, you can be too pessimistic. Or if you’ve just had a big win, you can be overly positive. Take a moment, and push these feelings aside. The other factor to be aware of is any bias you feel. If you instantly like an applicant, you may not ask the hard-hitting questions. Alternatively, if you don’t warm up to them fast, interviews can be much tougher. Try to avoid making any judgements in the first 15 minutes, as you don’t have enough information to make a smart call either way.

Another technique you can use to overcome this bias is a phone interview. Several years ago, I worked with one of the leading talent acquisition managers at Abbott Ken Bae. In retrospect, he was probably one of the best recruiters I’ve seen in action. Recognising his own personal biases, he would often hold a 20-minute phone interview with potential candidates before ever meeting them in person. On a call, he was able to be more objective. Less influenced by first impressions without the visual cues to trigger any assumptions, he could put all his focus on what a candidate was saying. Just remember, you can’t spring a phone interview on an applicant unannounced. Schedule the calls in and keep them to voice only (with the video turned off), so you can have a proper conversation.

But you shouldn’t let these discussions flow naturally. Smart hiring managers have a plan for every interview, using a scripted approach that keeps a conversation on track. Following a consistent structure provides two distinct advantages. It allows you to stop thinking about what questions to ask or what direction to go next, so you can focus your attention on what a candidate is saying. Perhaps identifying any areas to question deeper, to be better understood. This approach also creates a level playing field when comparing candidates later in the process. As you’ll have conducted similar interviews with each applicant in the talent pool, you’ll have the data you need to make the best, most objective decision.

With this in mind, it’s critical to make a conscious effort to listen more than you talk. I follow an 80/20 rule and aim to get a candidate speaking for 80% of the time. Of course, you will need to sell the position, but it’s impossible to learn anything if you’re doing all the talking. You’re on a fact-finding mission, pushing for answers with questions like “tell me more” or “give me an example of this in action.” Urge your applicant to speak their mind, especially Japanese candidates who may need encouragement before they open up. Then listen, take notes, and reflect on their answers. Because I guarantee this, you’ll forget most of what was said 10-20 minutes after the interview. Any comments or remarks you’ve written down will help you greatly in the next steps of the process.

Finally, and this is key. Talk about real work in the interview. One of our market-entry clients needed a country manager, and in the third stage of the hiring process, they tasked candidates with a practical example. To produce a 20-minute presentation on how they’d approach the first 90 days in the role. Tasks like this are eye-opening because they add substance. You get to see how a candidate thinks, the approach they’d take, and the strategies they’d use. No longer is it all subjective, “what-if” scenarios. You’re having a real conversation that drills into the details. In my opinion, there’s no better way to quickly understand a candidate’s ability to visualize, plan and strategize an approach, so you can truly know if they’re right for the role.

There are many challenges the hiring manager has to overcome in the quest for a perfect candidate. Use these tips to break through your own personal biases and get objective in your search, so that you can uncover the real hidden gems. It all starts with a smart interview process, to find the applicants who can deliver in a role and fit seamlessly into your existing teams. Get it right, and you’ll set your organisation up for long-term success. Is your team conducting stand-out interviews?

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