Get the most out of your interviews

You’ve reviewed dozens or even hundreds of resumes, pulled a few you think have promise, and invited them in for an interview. And your hiring process falls apart because you don’t know how to get the most out of your interviews.

Here are some of my favorite tips, based on more than forty-three years of interviewing experience:

1. Control your time. I always begin interviews by saying something like, “I have a lot of questions for you, and I need you to be very specific in your answers. Once we’re finished with my questions, I’ll give you all the time you need to ask me questions.” This establishes right away that this is an interview, not a chat, and you’re the one in control. It will save huge amounts of time without alienating candidates.

2. Never interview from the resume. You’ll only get the information the candidate wants you to have. Review the resume in advance, compare it carefully to your Job Profile, then set it aside.

3. Spend whatever time is necessary to get a complete chronological work history. I prefer at least ten years’ history, or going back to the last time the applicant attended school full time. For management level positions, go back to the beginning, even if it is forty or more years. During this process, make sure applicants account for all time from the beginning to the present. This process will highlight areas where work history may have been enhanced on the resume, or periods of unemployment not listed on the resume. I’ve had candidates admit they were in prison when I probed periods of unemployment.

4. Prepare your interview questions based on the Job Profile. Remember, the Job Profile is where you documented all the requirements of the job. Ask specific interview questions like “can you…” and “when did you…” and “how did you…?” It’s important to be very specific in these questions to establish qualifications.

5. Remember that an interview is not a conversation. That doesn’t mean you can’t be cordial and eventually answer an applicant’s questions. In fact, you should do both. But this is your time, so use it wisely. When you’re taking a chronological work history and establishing needed skills, keep the ball in your court and maintain the attitude of an interview, not a conversation.

6. Once you’ve established work history and job skills, move on to the personality characteristics that make a person a good fit for your particular job. Your questions in this section will be less directed, and more “feel” in nature. This is where you can relax a bit in your style and engage in a conversation with your candidate.

7. What else can you tell me about yourself (that will help me make a decision)? That’s a great question to begin winding up the interview, and it gives candidates a chance to tell you something you’ve not yet uncovered about themselves. It’s a good way to learn what’s important to the candidate, which will add insight about “fit.”

8. Answer the applicant’s questions honestly. Don’t mislead, but remember that your job is also to sell the job opportunity to the candidate. This is where many managers miss the boat with interviewing: closing the deal. Long before you’re ready to make a job offer, you should be selling the candidate on the opportunity.

9. Immediately after the interview, make your notes, then go back and review the resume again. Look for inconsistencies in the chronological work history or skills listed.

10. While the interview is fresh in your mind, do your reference checks. Be sure to include former supervisors in your references, but also remember to do some “deep background” references such as co-workers and peers. You can delegate the verification checks such as dates of employment and eligibility for rehire that you get from Human Resources, but never delegate the conversations you need to have with supervisors and peers.

For a more detailed discussion of each of these areas, get a copy of HIRING RIGHT: A Business Blueprint for Lower Turnover and Higher Profits, Second Edition. This book gives you a complete, step-by-step How To on each phase of the hiring process. Adopt the recommendations given, and you’ll no longer feel that you’re not getting the most out of your interviews.

In fact, with just a little practice, you’ll become an expert!

For more information, or questions about this article, contact me at, or comment below. I promise you’ll get a speedy response!

About Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR

Pat Kelley, MS, SPHR, is the author of three non-fiction books, including the Second Edition of Hiring Right: A Business Blueprint for Lower Turnover and Higher Profits. She is a retired Human Resources Director with more than 40 years' experience. Certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources, she is a recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Society for Human Resource Management.
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