The Job Interview that Actually Works (How to Identify Really Strong Candidates)

two women in a fece to face job interview

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Introduction: Template for Job Interviews

I have done hundreds of interviews in my life, both as a candidate and as a hiring manager, and I have come to the conclusion that the ideal, perfect interview does not exist.


It all depends on what candidate characteristics you want to bring out: Is it a generalist initial interview? Are you trying to understand the cultural fit? Is it a technical interview? 


Depending on the answer you will need to create a template for each search with questions dedicated to each of these purposes. Based on the number of interviews in your selection process you will also need to figure out whether to separate the purpose of each interview completely or to aggregate questions that can probe hard skills, soft skills, potential, and cultural fit of different candidates into one interview.


If the ideal interview does not exist, surely wrong, or rather, useless interviews exist. Usually these interviews are boring for the candidates and often for those asking the questions. Useless interviews very often ask questions related only to the candidates’ professional past, or are filled with empty questions such as “Tell me where you see yourself in five years” or again, are those interviews where standard, pre-packaged answers to equally obvious questions such as “Why do you want to work for our company?” are expected.


The red flag you need to watch out for is boredom; if you see fatigue and boredom in the candidates in giving answers to the questions you are asking, or if worse yet, you sense it, it means that the structure and content of your interview needs to be revised.

The most disappointing interviews I have undergone as a candidate have been those for a well-known e-commerce company that focuses on questions that require you to give specific examples about your past experience and bring out in these examples some of the principles the company adopts (I doubt they are really applied given the sheer amount of them…).


The internal recruiters at this company encourage candidates to prepare pre-packaged answers that are designed to bring out what the company wants to hear; the hiring managers and people involved in the actual interviews themselves seem bored with having to constantly repeat the same questions from a predetermined list and always having to evaluate only through the lens of the candidates’ past experiences. These kinds of interviews become a sort of role-playing exercises, in which they are asked to play a role, the role of the candidate who is able to give the answers with the content and form in which the company wants to receive them and in which the object of the evaluation is ultimately not even very much about content, but about form, about the ability to execute dance moves of this recruiting ritual correctly. Despite the enormous commercial success of this company, I remain convinced of the limited effectiveness of their selection process and the real quality of talent it is able to attract and retain over time.


A good interview has some variety within it and wants to uncover from different angles the relevant aspects of the candidates for a specific position, and to that end it must be tailored in its content for each position (the aforementioned large company asks the same set of questions for a wide variety of positions…). An effective interview wants to uncover the candidates, make them put themselves out there, surprise them, not be obvious and repetitive, not be predictable, and avoid at all costs becoming an empty role-play game.


As already pointed out, I believe that an interview that only looks back without trying to understand the candidates’ potential and predict how a person will face the real challenges of each position sought is an interview that is doomed to fail and leads to too many mistakes.


You need to put in place a strategy based on your process, for example if you plan to have 3 interviews you may decide to focus them as follows:

  1. Cognitive interview with internal recruiter, to investigate soft skills of candidates
  2. Hiring manager interview to probe candidates’ skills, past experience, and potential
  3. Interview with peer to check the cultural fit of the candidates


This is not to say that in every single interview there cannot be questions that evade the main focus; on the contrary, these are useful to then allow you to compare some of the answers and assess any inconsistencies that have arisen.


You must try to avoid unnecessary repetitions (i.e., all those that do not serve the purpose of evaluating the aforementioned inconsistencies). 


I have been involved in very long selection processes where I had to repeat the answer to the question “Tell me about your work experience” six or seven times and felt like a parrot boringly repeating the same words; never ask your candidates the same thing more than twice, and if you want to do it to bring out possible issues, make sure you do it intelligently, with different questions that bring out the same element/characteristic.


Avoid interviews that are too short (except the first one) or too long and in any case respect the candidates’ time. If you have agreed on a 30-minute interview, hold the candidates for that length. 


Consistency is a very important element in interviews. You cannot ask different questions of different candidates who are in the same step/phase of selection for the same role. You have to remember that comparative comparison between candidates is an important aspect for decision making and this is impossible to implement if there is no consistency.


Take notes during interviews and at the end of them, don’t wait to reason with a cold mind. That kind of reasoning is for comparing candidates, not for their first evaluation. When you take notes, also jot down feelings you received during the answers, often on rereading my notes I encounter phrases like “he’s rambling”, “I think he’s hiding something,”“interesting and creative perspective” and the like, these are my notes that alongside the objective ones related to the answers given, begin to draw a more complete picture of the candidates and can inform in some way whoever will have to take care of the later interviews; for example on the note “I think he is hiding something” a Behavioral Expert, a psychologist, could intervene to better understand if it is a well-founded suspicion or not, thanks to his/her specific experience.


A key element, finally, is to avoid getting carried away by the candidates’ answers. You have to lead the interview, decide the timing of the answers and give yourself the right to interrupt candidates who are not answering the questions or who are rambling. You have to do it politely, but firmly. 

There are skilled candidates who can take over the interview and give answers to their own questions. You cannot allow that. 


Candidates should have a specific time in the interview (usually at the conclusion, and in some cases even at the beginning) to ask their questions, this is the time when they lead, but be careful, take note of the questions they ask, these also bring out very interesting traits of the candidates.


A Job Interview that Works

Over the years I have learned from my mistakes as a Hiring Manager and from the hundreds of interviews I have undergone as a candidate, and I have gradually refined a template for an interview that works (valid mainly for Hiring managers) and that allows you to assess different aspects of the candidates, to engage them in an experience (very often candidates at the end of such an interview have thanked me, saying that it was an interesting experience and that it enriched them in every way). 


At ExpHire we use this template for the interview carried out by our Technical Experts, obviously changing the questions from time to time according to the subject of the position, but keeping the structure unchanged, which has proven to be able to highlight key traits of the candidates with extraordinary effectiveness. 


The interview in question has a duration of one hour.


Let’s analyze the structure of this interview and its possible contents with the example of the CRM Manager role search/opening.



Introduction (3 minutes)


Briefly introduce who you are and what role you play in the company (in the case of ExpHire, the Expert clarify his/her third party status), briefly talk about the motivations that led to the search for this profile (take inspiration from what is highlighted in the Recruitment Canvas in the Problem and Solution sections). 

Explain to candidates the structure of the interview, briefly: ‘We will talk about your work history, aptitudes, and consider practical cases, and conclude with your questions’. Before you begin the interview, ask if everything is clear to the candidates and answer any questions they may have (only on the structure of the interview itself, general questions about the position/company are asked and  answered at the end). 

Inform the candidates that you will be taking notes during the interview and that they may hear the noise of your keyboard or total silence due to you switching to mute your microphone during their answers (obviously in case of remote interview). 


Prepare a grid, an Excel sheet or similar, with the questions on one side in one column and the names of the different candidates heading the other columns. Use the cells below each column heading to make notes related to the answers and some feelings you have about them (put these personal notes in parentheses).


Past Experiences (20 minutes)

In this part of the interview ask questions to understand the candidates’ experiences and bring out some technical skills relevant to the position.


Start with the most classic of questions, but with a slight variation: “Talk briefly about your professional past, highlighting the experiences and skills that qualify you for this role.” Impose a succinct answer; you can explicitly say “in five minutes” instead of “briefly.” The classic question becomes a way to understand many things about candidates: Did they spend time reading the Job Description and did they really understand the role sought? Have they listened to the words you said just before with respect to the search motivation for that role and do they demonstrate the mental speed to incorporate them into their narrative? 

You will also understand the candidates’ ability to summarize and whether they are simply repeating what they say to the usual generic question by moving from experience to experience in a mechanical and repetitive manner.


You can afford this “modified question” only if you have in turn done your homework! You must have read and understood the candidates’ CVs, and only then can you afford to assess all the above-mentioned value-added elements of the modified classic question.


You can add a short corollary to this question to learn more about a specific activity on the candidates’ CV. If you are forced to ask this question, it is not a good sign: the candidates who require it have failed to highlight something that is important to the role on their own.


Ask a question about specific skills and technical competencies required for the role (3 minutes), in our CRM manager search example: “What CRM tools have you used in the past, with what degree of autonomy, what would you like to learn/practice more?”


In this case a quick and precise answer is expected, but again we try to understand the real level of competence of a tool through the question that highlights growth and potential aspects, we force candidates to avoid simple lists of tools or languages used, but to provide the degree of knowledge and the potential of future learning related to them. If candidates respond with lists of tools/languages, avoiding specifying the level of expertise/experience and areas of learning, insist, but note that they did not give an adequate response in the first instance.


You often learn more about candidates by listening to what they do not say than what they express verbally.


Ask three questions related to specific examples from the candidates’ work history. As mentioned, these questions should not so much be used to assess specific skills, but are useful to implicitly frame some of the candidates’ traits such as:


  • adaptability
  • ambition
  • analytical thinking
  • communication skills
  • customer orientation
  • decision-making skills
  • ability to delegate
  • detail orientation
  • flexibility
  • initiative
  • ability to innovate
  • integrity and honesty
  • leadership
  • listening skills
  • ability to motivate others/team
  • personal motivation
  • organizational skills
  • persuasion skills
  • ability to plan and prioritize and manage time
  • presentation skills
  • problem-solving skills
  • project management skills
  • interpersonal and conflict management skills
  • sales skills
  • ability to identify and grow talent
  • ability to self-understanding
  • strategic skills
  • ability to manage stress
  • ability to work in a team
  • ability to handle failure
  • ability to help and include others
  • proactivity
  • and others…

The list of elements to investigate is long and it would take hours to address all these issues in one interview, you need to know how to choose which of these traits are really important for the role to be filled. Choose three key ones and base your questions so that you can bring out these qualities explicitly and implicitly.

Inform candidates that you want short, specific answers related to a past project/situation/job of theirs that is relevant to you.

Require candidates to answer these questions using the STAR method. That is, they must give answers that include the situation, the task (what they were asked to do), the actions they took, and the results that were achieved.

This allows you to frame the answers and understand the context of the situations without consuming too much time.

At the end of this chapter I provide you with a set of sample questions you can ask, divided by area of expertise and soft skill you intend to investigate; some are repeated because there are contiguous areas that have overlaps.

To choose which questions to ask let yourself be inspired by what is identified and written in the Recruitment Canvas in the Skills and Daily Job sections, the qualities included there are the ones you need to probe with the highest priority.

Going back to our example of searching for a CRM Manager, if you recall correctly the qualities sought were, among others, those of attention to detail and data analysis, ability to interface with other teams (designers and copywriters), ability to build from scratch a function, that of CRM, demonstrating a degree of autonomy and proactivity.

The three questions I would ask for this position are:

  1. Tell me about a situation in which details and data analysis were critical to the success of a project.
  2. Describe a project that failed because of a lack of collaboration in the team. What lesson did you learn?
  3. Tell me about a time when you proposed your own project and implemented it.

As you note there are two.

As you note there are two questions related to positive situations, and one linked to a project that had a negative outcome. I recommend you always have this mix, that is, always include a question that leads candidates to talk about situations that had a failed outcome. Usually in these questions the main component of the answer is related to the lesson learned, the mistake that will not be made again in the future. 


It is also important to assess candidates for their ability to recognize mistakes and put future correctives to them.


Stop candidates who start by giving a generic, non-specific answer to questions. If a candidate on the first question starts by answering, “Data analysis and attention to detail are important to the success of a project because…”. The candidate should immediately be brought back to the subject of the question, which is the statement of a specific project/example. 


You can allow the candidates 30-40 seconds to think things through and remember a specific example to give. 


For very junior candidates you can allow them to give examples not related to past work experience, but to personal experiences, preferably from school.


You will immediately notice an initial skimming with these questions, in that there will be candidates who will continue to try to give generic answers, despite your constant reminders, and candidates who will instead stand out for their ability to concisely and effectively express an answer given according to the STAR method. 


You have to record and take note of two elements: the answer itself and the ability to adhere to the question asked, and the implicit qualities that the answer provides you with respect to the candidates that must be compared with the qualities required for the role.


Staying within our example, let’s say that a candidate answers the third question (related to a self-created and self-implemented project) in this way: 


“I was working at scale-up xyz, as an email marketing specialist, the company was dissatisfied with the conversion results of our email marketing campaigns, so many opened the emails received, but few interacted with them, with a lower percentage of clicks than the market average and our competitors. I decided to analyze the competition and found that our marketing emails were definitely different from theirs. Ours were generalist and proposed a number of different products; theirs were single-issue, focusing on one product family per send. I decided to write a test email with the same mono-thematic approach in both written and visual content. I proposed this email to my manager who asked me to identify a cluster of people to send the email to. I interfaced with the BI team to run a data extraction consistent with the request. We sent the email to the identified cluster of contacts and had great success. I am very satisfied because from then on in the company we decided to send single-issue commercial emails on a regular basis to our registered users.”


Such a response highlights lights and shadows that you should take note of. Let’s analyze them:


  • The candidate gave sufficient context
  • The candidate specified the task and implied this was not given, no one told him to do anything, but he proactively sought a solution to a problem (definitely a positive aspect for the qualities sought in the CRM Manager position)
  • The candidate performed a number of actions independently to move this project forward, however he went to the supervisor without having worked on an important component (the users cluster) and needed a stimulus to move the project forward. Negative aspect when compared to the autonomy requirement of our example position (however mitigated by the fact that he is providing us with an example taken from the beginning of his career in which it is normal to have gaps or to move within a business environment with greater fears).
  • In taking these actions, the candidate has interfaced with third parties with positive outcomes (so this question also provides us with valuable information related to other elements not necessarily the focus of the question itself, but nonetheless of interest to us for the position sought).
  • The candidate provides a result for this project, however it is generic in nature; it would have been helpful to provide numbers and data to support the decision to pursue the experiment. It could be indicative of a person who has little aptitude for data and/or a person more focused and interested in creative aspects than in numbers and results. This item should definitely be cross-referenced and compared with other questions and answers to verify its nature.


These questions that force candidates to provide specific and circumstantial examples are usually quite demanding for candidates, requiring them to make an effort, and therefore at their end I prefer to proceed to a softer part of the interview, at least in appearance.


Company/Cultural Fit (10 minutes)

In this section of the interview you must ask questions that are able to highlight a candidate’s potential fit with respect to company culture and values. I usually start with the values with a somewhat unusual question followed by one that is even more unique…


The first question is, “Choose one of our values that you share most and give me an example where you have demonstrated that you embody this value.” This question forces candidates to give a real answer as opposed to the more generic “What two values do you most adhere to and why?” Again we ask with an example to go beyond ready-made, prepackaged answers that serve no one.


The second question is very often unsettling: “Which of our values do you disagree with, and why?” Candidates don’t expect this question and are forced to come up with an answer quickly. In fact you don’t have to evaluate the answer itself so much, but you have to interpret their ability to react to an unexpected event. If you then feel that unshared value is critical to a particular role, then you need to try to understand this element better in the other steps of the process (obviously if the candidate comes across as valid and deserving in the rest of the interview). It is important not to retort to the candidate’s answer. For example, if the candidate tells you that Personal accountability value is an excuse to de-emphasize the company and shift all responsibility to the individuals in it, you should not respond or retort or explain the company’s reasons, this is not the place and it is not in the objectives of the interview.


Another classic question follows, but revisited: “Name three defects you have improved or are trying to remedy.”


The usual question is, “List three positive and three negative aspects of yourself.”


Our question brings out the candidates’ desire for change and self-analysis and direction. Their path is a moving picture; the classic question takes static pictures and usually has a prepared and rehearsed answer.


Be wary of people who are not working or have not worked on their flaws and limitations or who are unable to identify their areas of personal and professional growth.


Closing this section is a bridging question that has several functions. The first is to link to the next section of the interview, the second is to figure out how much research the candidate has done prior to taking the interview, and finally it is used to figure out whether the candidate can really understand the company’s business. The question is divided into two parts, and you have to indicate to the candidates that they have to answer both parts in just one sentence: “Explain to me in one sentence what our company is about, and then again in one sentence tell me what you think our company’s business model is.”


You will see even the best candidates make resounding slips on these two simple and seemingly innocuous questions. Those who answer these questions well, on the other hand, are people who have researched and prepared themselves before facing the interview, visited your website and tried your product/service (when possible), read articles about your company and perhaps blog posts you have published. They have also done implicit work to identify with the role they will be going into if chosen for the position. You will also understand from the answers to the first question what elements of your company are central to the candidates and how the company is perceived and interpreted (if you notice that all of your candidates in all positions give the same, but incorrect, answer on the subject, there is a chance that you are making some mistakes that need to be remedied in your corporate communication). This question is usually a good substitute for the classic, “Tell me why you want to work with our company?”


Our question allows you to probe candidates’ real interest and not receive a formal, prepared “empty” answer.


Take note of all responses, as always, and don’t give help or suggestions, don’t give immediate feedback, don’t say right or wrong, just take notes.


Assess Potential with 3 Cases (18 minutes)

As we have seen, the ability to assess candidates’ potential in the role sought is one of the keys to successful resource assessment and also one of the most overlooked practices in traditional selection processes. At this stage you want to understand how candidates react and reason when faced with typical cases they will face in their eventual future day-to-day work.


Remember that in these cases you don’t want to assess the accuracy and completeness of the answers, but other elements such as the ability to identify with the role, the ability to reason and propose sensible solutions quickly, the technical competence of the candidates (the answers while not precise must make sense), and the adaptability of the candidates. 


Try to create two cases that respond perfectly to what the duties of the role will be and one case that goes beyond the duties, investing adjacent skills and competencies (in this case you want to understand the reaction and level of flexibility of the candidates).


The cases must contain rules and boundaries that give concrete elements for candidates to work with and build a meaningful response on. The cases are generic, but at the same time well delimited, and you must always require very defined output.


Allow candidates three minutes to develop an answer; they can take notes on paper or computer and then provide their answer in another three minutes.


Again, do not debate with candidates. Better yet, specify from the outset that there are no right or wrong answers and that these are not trick questions or intelligence or math tests.


Let’s move on to the examples for the CRM Manager position, which are certainly a way for you to understand what these cases consist of:


  1. Our registered users are not converting as we would like into customers of our service. Create a user nurturing strategy apt to turn them into paying customers with the use of 7 messages to be sent within the first 15 days of creating their user profile. Tell me what these 7 communications are and why you chose them.

This case puts candidates in the day-to-day of their future role, asks them to come up with an effective strategy to turn leads into customers of the company, and goes on to investigate several qualities of the candidates: technical skills, prior experience, ability to strategize, ability to execute strategy, speed of thought, ability to organize a process, the ability to be creative and proactive, and others. As you may notice, candidates are not simply asked to think of a generic lead nurturing strategy, but are asked to solve a specific problem (the low conversion rate) and to do so with a specific number of actions (7) to be executed in a specific time frame (15 days), they are also asked to justify each choice. 


The question also has a deliberately vague element: it does not talk about email, but about “messages” and “communications.” 


This is because it is expected that many candidates for this position have a background related to email marketing only (often junior profiles in this area are more vertical and specialized), while the role sought is of a CRM Manager who must have a more holistic view of retention (not only and exclusively related to email). Therefore, a response that includes among the 7 messages also the sending of a text message or a paper letter is to be considered positive as an indication of a person who is really able to understand and use the different touch points of a winning CRM strategy and plan.


In such a response you need to pay attention to several factors:


  • there must be 7 messages (not 6, not 9)
  • the messages must make sense and have a function that needs to be explained
  • the messages should not only be emails
  • messages should draw a path that is the result of a rational strategy (you don’t send a promotional offer on the first day, but maybe on the 14th it can make sense) 
  • messages should have variety in content
  • can the candidate(s) surprise you with an answer/solution you hadn’t thought of that is potentially valuable?


Let’s look at another case for the CRM manager position.


2. We have noticed that our customers in Turkey tend not to confirm their subscription to our service at the end of the 30-day free trial, especially when compared to the data coming to us from the rest of the customers in Europe. Put in place 4 actions to bring the subscription confirmation rate of Turkish customers to the EU average, and explain what effect you expect each of these actions to have.

Again, the answers can give us a lot of insight into the way candidates think and organize their work, their technical and role-specific skills. Here you want to investigate the candidates’ ability to understand that the customer is in a different part of the funnel than in the previous case (of leads), and you want to see how the candidates deploy strategies and actions that take this fact into account. In the candidates’ responses you therefore want to assess:

  • that there are 4 suggested actions as per the request (not 5 or 3).
  • that there is an assessment and research with respect to the reasons that lead Turks to convert with lower incidence to paid subscription and ad hoc solutions for that market (not generic and applicable independently of it)
  • that the timing of these actions to be put in place be consistent with the implied timeframe (the 30-day trial period and at the limit the days immediately following its conclusion)
  • that knowledge and use of the product is taken for granted in these actions (and if not that this is highlighted as a problem to be remedied by an action, the candidate who says ‘only 15% of the free trials have used the product at least once, my first action is to send an email with a video playlist where the first steps for using the product are explained’ provides a good response…)
  • that the proposed actions follow a logical and rational sense
  • that the proposed actions show variety
  • that the candidate proposes for each action a way to evaluate its effectiveness and success

The third case is one that moves candidates partially out of their field and comfort/knowledge zone, with the need to demonstrate curiosity, flexibility, open-mindedness and a spirit of adaptation.


Here is an example for our position.

3. We have noticed that our clients have a high churn rate, and that their average lifespan is 9 months versus the target 18. What three main actions do you put in place to increase customer lifetime value and reduce churn rate? Why?

Here we are asking the prospective CRM manager to solve a problem that is at the scope of the skills required for the role, but which nevertheless in business practice will be a problem primarily the domain of the customer success team and one that the CRM manager will at most be called upon to assist with.

In the candidates’ response to this question you want to assess:

  • that the actions taken are 3 (not 2 or 4)
  • that the actions make logical sense 
  • that the candidate does not refuse to answer the question or annoyedly point out that this work is not in the scope of his or her role
  • that the candidate is familiar with the terms churn rate and lifetime value routinely used in communication between teams in the company (and if he or she does not know them, do not hesitate to ask for an explanation)
  • that the proposed actions are designed to solve the problem and are not unrelated to it (reduce churn and increase LTV)
  • that the actions carry with them an expected outcome that is reasonable and compatible with a normal market environment 

Again, remember not to rebut, correct or direct candidates in their answers. If they have not understood something, repeat, but resist the usual questions designed to get more contextual details (typical of candidates). If the question is properly asked and structured it already includes all the information needed to formulate a useful answer for your purpose. 


In addition, use the time you give candidates to formulate an answer (3 minutes) to observe them in their process: Are they taking notes on the question, are they surfing the web for possible answers (which should not be necessary), are they writing useful notes to formulate the answer concisely and not to forget anything from their quick reasoning, are they using all their time or do you get the impression that they have the presumption of having good and adequate answers in less than a couple of minutes? 


I remember one candidate who had the presumption to answer cases without taking the three minutes to think, but immediately after hearing the question, despite my repeated invitations to take time to reason out an answer. Well, despite the obvious failure to give an adequate answer to the first two cases, the candidate in question wanted to answer the third case immediately as well, with equally disastrous results.  Beyond the answers themselves, I realized that the candidate in question exhibited poor listening skills, a high level of conceit and know-it-all attitude, and an inability to learn from his mistakes, all of which disqualified him from the selection process.

You will notice, on the contrary, in the best candidates a sense of enthusiasm and participation in giving the answers to the practical cases, some will even thank you for these questions because they allow them to express their potential, to demonstrate, even if very quickly, what their added value is for the position they intend to go for.


Candidate Questions (9 minutes)

The final stage of the interview is devoted to the candidates’ questions about the company, its culture, benefits, roles, teams, career prospects, and all those questions so far unanswered during the selection process.


As mentioned it is useful to take note of the questions. These are indicative of salient and relevant elements of the candidates, e.g. those who only ask questions related to salary and future career express different needs and personal characteristics than those who mainly ask questions related to values and culture in the company.


Also take note of questions that are not appropriate, in the sense that they are questions that denote inattention on the part of the candidates because they have been already answered in previous steps or in documents shared with the candidates (for example, someone who asks “To whom does the position report?” and this is already written in the Job Description and was reiterated at the beginning of the interview, denotes inattention). 


Point out in your notes and don’t be beguiled by questions that are disguised compliments or pure flattery towards you (they only denote the high risk of hiring ‘yes men’). Note the questions that are empty, fake questions that allow the candidate to bring out some of his or her characteristics are typical of those candidates who want to control the interviews and in one like the interview described were not able to bring out some of their characteristics organically or realize that they performed poorly and try to “save the day” by disguising statements and skills in the supposed final questions.


Ten minutes is enough time for questions from candidates who often have only 3-4 questions to ask; if they have more, give them more time or ask them to send the additional questions in writing and answer them later. In my experience, those who have a lot of questions (more than 6 or 7) are usually just drawing from a list of ten questions to ask at the interview found in some online blog, or have not been paying attention during the process.


Close the interview by thanking the candidates and reminding them of the next step (if negative and if positive), and if possible providing them with an indicative timeline, e.g., “By the end of next week we will let you know whether you will proceed to the next step in our selection or whether we have deemed other candidates more suitable, and in any case you will receive communication about this.”


Another, but important note: Respect all your candidates, strive not to apply any bias and preconceptions, do not be discouraged if the first responses you receive are not the best. Candidates should be evaluated in their complexity and perhaps have gaps in experience and skills that they are able to fill with their potential and an ideal cultural fit. 


Try never to close an interview early if you feel that the person is not a good fit for the role, as mentioned. You might get some pleasant surprises and it is an indication of respect for the candidates and their time. If they have decided to devote an hour to you, use that hour, don’t give them the impression that they are a “waste of time.” Would you want to be treated that way? If you find a really glaring mismatch between a candidate’s characteristics and the role sought, continue with the interview all the way through and then explain the reasons for this mismatch directly to the candidate at the end. Turn the opportunity into a learning and growth occasion for the candidate. 


Similarly, don’t let enthusiasm for candidates shine through at the end of an interview or even worse, don’t be swayed by good answers given in the first part of the interview. Your impartiality and objectivity must remain unchanged throughout the interview and, indeed, throughout the entire process. You are not evaluating a person per se, but his or her characteristics in relation to the role, the team, and the company, and these characteristics are in turn compared with those of other candidates. 


Sometimes it happens that you “fall in love” professionally with one candidate and do not have the ability to see the qualities in the next ones. Indeed, apply a bias to these applicants who start at a disadvantage; remember that comparisons are made only at the end, among the shortlist of finalist candidates, at the conclusion of the selection process.

An hiring manager interviews a candidate online

400+ Questions for a Job Interview

We have worked on a list of over 400 smart questions to ask during interviews, not all of them in one!

The list includes questions that  are useful for probing candidates’ characteristics in different areas:

  • Adaptability
  • Ambition
  • Analytical Thinking 
  • Building Relationships 
  • Caution
  • Communication
  • Conflict Resolution 
  • Customer Orientation
  • Decision Making 
  • Ability to Delegate
  • Detail Orientation 
  • Evaluation of Alternatives
  • Flexibility
  • Ability to Control
  • Initiative
  • Innovation and Change
  • Integrity
  • Leadership 
  • Listening 
  • Motivating others
  • Negotiation
  • Organization and Planning
  • Performance Management
  • Judgment
  • Efficiency 
  • Persuasion
  • Presentation
  • Problem Solving
  • Remove Obstacles
  • Sales
  • Develop Talents
  • Self-Assessment 
  • Set Goals
  • Stress Management
  • Teamwork 
  • Time Management
  • Difficult Contexts
  • Embrace Diversity

You can download the list of questions, and use it freely for your recruitment processes, here.

Conclusion: Interviewing is an Art

Interviewing is an art, practicing and perfecting it over time is not a job to be underestimated and requires several skills, as well as a lot of time to devote.

The template we have provided gives you a practical method for assessing different aspects of candidates with focus on their skills applicable to the role sought. You can decide to do this interview yourself, or use an ExpHire Technical Expert for this purpose. Whatever your decision, remember to always probe the different characteristics and skills of the candidates and balance the questions in the different selection steps (an interview on skills can be followed by one focused on cultural fit), avoid repeating the same questions too many times, and always respect the candidates’ time. Do not play favorites or apply bias to your interviews, and make sure that those interviewing on your behalf do the same.

ExpHire: Our Experts can Interview for You

The Technical Experts are trained to apply the ExpHire Interview template described in this article, whilst behavioral Experts will focus their interviews on questions that let surface the soft skills of the candidates. Interviewing candidates requires a lot of time and efforts, let ExpHire do part of the job for you.

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