5 Ways A Recruiter Can Improve Their Interview Technique

Last week I had a very interesting debate with Hung Lee of Wise_Man_Say regarding the relevance of face-to-face interviews as a credible assessment tool in the selection processes of today.


One of Hung’s arguments is that, for technical roles at least, a face-to-face interview is pointless.  They’re conducted because it’s a case of, “we’ve always done it this way”.  Again, with technical roles at least, Hung is of the opinion we should do away with face-to-face interviews all together and have solely role related tests / practical assessments in their stead to assess a candidate’s suitability for a technical position.


I argued, technical role or not, the face-to-face interview, if done well is still, and will always be a vital piece of the selection puzzle – if only at a very basic, elementary level of checking team, cultural and or ethical compatibility.  An IT programmer could be the best coder on the planet.  If he / she doesn’t have the skills and attitude to compliment the team and proceeds to negatively impact the group’s dynamics – motivation, moral and productivity of the individual and / or team could be disastrously impacted.  This is just one element a face-to-face will always help you get closer to understanding.  It’s not the be-all-and-end-all of assessing team / cultural suitability but combine this with behavioural profiling and other group assessments and you’ll significantly improve the probability of recruiting someone who helps the teams dynamics as opposed to hindering it. 

I won’t go into further details of the conversation I had with Hung as he’s in the processes of publishing the recorded Skype conversation.  I’ll let you know when it’s up and where to find it. (unless I come across as a complete arse. In which case I’ll deny any such  interview ever took place… What interview? [*eyes shifting left to right*])


It has got me thinking though.  A face-to-face interview is one of many instruments availble in your selection tool kit.  Like many tools, if you’re not trained on how to use it or don’t use it properly the results are usually pretty shoddy.


For many it’s a case of picking up a CV two minutes before walking into an interview, sitting in front of a candidate, ask them some BS questions along the lines of strengths and weaknesses and instantly making a clear cut judgement about whether that individual is suited to the role they’re recruiting for. (*shuddering at the thought*).  The chances are that by using this method you’ll probably strike it lucky and make a decent hire now-and-again but this will be mainly down to luck than anything else.


I’m not going to sit here and preach about all the different interview methodologies, techniques and theories one could adopt to improve their interviewing skills.  There are literally thousands of books and blogs etc on the subject.  What I am going to do though is preach about ahem, share some tips and disciplines that, if followed, could increase not only the objectivity of your face-to-face interviews but the probability of you looking for / assessing the right things when a candidate is sat in front of you:


  • Always be mindful of the fact there are candidates who are very good at getting a job.  Then there are those who are very good at doing the job.  Ideally you’ll find someone who’s both but they’re much rarer then someone who excels at one or the other. If you do you’ve made a great hire.  Similarly,  If you recruit someone who’s the latter then again, excellent.  From what I’ve witnessed over the years many recruitment decisions are based on the former (and yes, I include myself in that observation).


I’m sure we’ve all had experiences we’re we’ve hired someone because we got on with them at the interview stage.  Then, six months into the role, he or she were still great people but couldn’t / struggled to achieve what was required of them in the first place.

1) Getting the job traits – articulate, amiable, assertive, appearance, good hand shake etc.  

2) Doing the job traits– leadership, drive, time management, hitting targets and objectives, organisational, and planning skills, problem solving, motivating others etc.


Be conscious of this and ensure you’re not basing you’re recruitment decision purely on the former.  If you do the chances are you’ll employ someone solely based on their presentation skills.  Which is great if you’re looking for a presenter but i’m guessing, on most occasions, you’ll be looking for someone with more strings to their bow.


  • Very much linked to the above, too many candidates are assessed based on the relationship / rapport they are able to strike up with the interviewer.  Many of us have heard of Horns vs Halos, Fight or Flight etc.  If first impressions are positive the interviewer becomes chattier, the questions potentially become easier.  A decision on whether to accept the candidate is based on the “Getting…” factors mentioned above.  Conversely, if first impressions are poor the barriers go up. Questions may become harder and the interview goes out of their way to find evidence to support their initial perception that the individual sat before them lacks the necessary competencies.


My challenge to you? Be really disciplined on this one. Take those first impressions (we’re all human after all and can’t switch off this natural reaction) but park them.  Write them down somewhere at the beginning of the interview and refer to it again at the end to compare with your final thoughts.  Unless the candidate is a complete and utter no-no, don’t make a decision about them until after the 1st half-an-hour of meeting them.


  • Hypothetical questions are good for one thing and one thing only.  They could show an interviewer if a candidate has good problem solving skills.  They do not prove a candidate will act or behave in a certain way in a certain situation at some point in the unknown future. Just because a candidate says they will do something in 5 weeks time if X Y or Z happens doesn’t mean they actually will.  Instead of asking them what they would do if something happened simply switch the question around.  Ask them for specific examples where they’ve encountered that situation and what they actually did. What were the results? What were the challenges? What were the biggest lessons and how did they change as a result? Etc etc.


  • A “no” will always carry more weight than a, “yes” in the decision making process.  Think about it.  If there are 3 stages or several interviewers in a room the candidate will need 3 “yes” votes to be successful but only one “no” will blow them out of the water.  Because of this demand greater justification for a “no” verdict.  A “no” can soemtimes be the easy option – it encourages laziness and is a very easy get-out for people with poor / lazy interview skills.  Shift the focus towards greater justification for a, ” no” and you’ll make it harder for poor interviewers to hide behind it.


  • The dreaded “gut”.  I don’t know about you but the worst feedback I can get from a hiring manager is,” I can’t quite put my finger on it but my gut’s telling me he / she isn’t right”  Nooooo! Have you ever tried going back to a candidate with that crappy feedback? How would you feel if you were on the receiving end?  Look, I appreciate the gut will always play a part but let it be 10 -15% of the decision making process, not 80 – 90%.  Again, as with the “no” above, demand evidence before accepting someone’s gut feel – positive or negative.  For example, instead of settling for, “my gut tells me this person won’t fit into the culture here,” get something along the lines of, “based of evidence obtained during the interview I don’t believe the candidate will be able to cope with the time pressures, restrictions in resources (financial and / or human) and lack of direction they’ll have to work with to successfully achieve the objectives of this role.”


Obviously there are many other ways to improve the quality and objectivity of your interview but for me, keeping these select few front of mind really helped step-change by ability to conduct more robust, objective interviews and make some excellent hires. I’ll admit, I’ve made the odd clanger as well. Show me a recruiter who hasn’t but when I have it’s usually because I’ve dropped one of the balls described above.


What are the techniques you use to ensure your interviews are assessing the correct qualities in the candidates you meet? Let’s share best practice, ideas and tips in the comments section below.


Also, do you agree with Hung? Do you believe interviews are rather passe’ and don’t have a place in today’s recruitment society or, like me do you believe they still play an integral part in the process.  Again,  you know where to go.  Leave your comments below.


Hungry for more?  Check me out at www.trecknowledgy.com - training and coaching through recruitment complexities.  Follow on Twitter @TRecKnowledgy

Views: 2577

Comment by Josh Peek on June 7, 2011 at 10:25am
Really smart read here on interviewing techniques.  As someone who hires nothing but super technical people, I can tell you that the face-to-face is vital in determining behaviors associated with strong team oriented engineers.
Comment by Ben on June 7, 2011 at 10:52am

Thanks for the contribution Josh.  Great to hear from someone that actually recruits those technical types on a regular basis. 


What do others think?  Please feel free to join the discussion / debate.  Is there anyone out there who has recruited somone without interviewing them face-to-face.  Would be great to hear from you.  Was the hire successful? What role was it for? Where they a quality hire?



Comment by Kelly Wied on June 7, 2011 at 12:54pm

I agree, F2F interviews are so important to the overall recruitment cycle. Although they are not always convenient, they can save you, and your client, a lot of time in the long run.

Comment by Beth on June 7, 2011 at 2:46pm

I recruited RN's for a while - sight unseen.  It was absolutely horrible and the hospital I worked for kept losing good corporate recruiters because of it.  They had to move away from HR Recruiters towards consultants with strong cold calling skills in the end.

I started at a hospital where we walked around the facility with, and asked the same 8 questions of, each and every RN who came through our door.  We even hired before the candidates had passed their Board exams, all because of the info obtained in the in-person interview.  The applicants met with at least 3 people who then congregated & made the hiring decision right away.


At the hospital where we only phone interviewed though, they used Gallup questions to weed out applicants and, imho, we lost a good number of highly qualified RN's to other hospitals- where the applicants got to meet with a human being!


Good, solid questions are the key.  Bringing a candidate to your "turf" adds amazing value, though.

Comment by Subramani B on June 7, 2011 at 11:43pm
Nice read. Though my feel is that we cannot apply the F2F rule for every position & hire. A lot depends on the local environment in which you work (are the candidates willing to come for an F2F ?) and the positions ( volume or Value, level, role)
Comment by Tracey Cress on June 8, 2011 at 9:34am

I mainly hire highly technical people and F2F interviews are still a vital part of the vetting process.  Technology has certainly changed a lot of things but cannot replace real person to person interaction.

Comment by Jennifer Clarke on June 8, 2011 at 1:51pm
I am a Technical Recruiter and I place strong emphasis on the recruiting process and ensuring a face to face interview does take place before sending a candidate out to a client. Not everyone interviews well and it is important to ensure they are well prepared and to further mentor them in answering questions as this will be an indicator in how they answer their questions on the client site. Interviewing is Vital.
Comment by Lisa Zee on June 9, 2011 at 8:41pm
Great Post Ben!  Although I would give the 'gut' feel more credit than you.  I had several experiences where I advised the manager against hiring a candidate because of a bad gut feel.  Everything appeared right about the candidate; impressive CV, get along during the interviews, relevant experience, articulate, smart, say all the right things...  But sure enough within a short time those hires turn out to be either poor performers or a complete bad fit.  It's difficult to quantify why certain human behaviors attract or repel.  Body language speaks volume about a person.  I think the gut feel is really a natural instinct we have about someone or some situation based on the elements we can observe but cannot quantify.
Comment by Ben on June 10, 2011 at 4:39am

Hi Lisa. Thanks for your comment.  I agree. Gut feel is important but I would always advise against making it the main deciding factor on a candidate.  You touch on a very good point though and I'd been keen to know how many candidates you've hired where you had a positive gut feel but where the candidate still turned out to be a duff?


Without being present in the interviews you discuss I obviously can't comment, but I would love to know the types of questions you ask and the further drill-down / fact finding questions you adopt to confirm whether your gut instincts are indeed correct.


Gut instincts are usually too heavily influenced by first impressions.  First impressions are influenced by the interviewers personal preferences and the cultural, ethical, lifestyle, up-bringing etc filters that people view their individual worlds through.  You need real discipline to challenge these otherwise you could just end up recruiting someone based the dreaded 4 A's of recruitment i.e. people who are Articulate, Amiable, Attractive and Assertive tend to do well in interviews. People are often blinded by this and forget to then challenge other key characteristic around leadership and role specific technical competence.  If someone ticks the 4 A's boxes it doesn't mean they'll be able to fulfil the objectives of the role they're being recruited for... Unless you're recruiting for a role where these are the only competencies you require, but let’s face it, there aren't many roles out there just requiring the traits are there.

Comment by pam claughton on June 10, 2011 at 8:38am



As a recruiter though, you have to trust your gut instinct, as long it's not based on an initial impression, but one that comes after a very thorough interview where you've been able to dig deep into the person's background and understand how they approach their work and to learn about successes they've had throughout their career. While it's helpful to meet with candidates in-person, especially to help build the relationship with the candidate, it's not essential in understanding if a candidate could be a strong contender. A very thorough phone interview can be as effective, especially for technical roles and senior level marketing. It is not difficult to determine in either a phone or in-person interview if someone is a super star.


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