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Interviews

Information you need to know about job interviews including setting them up, deciding on how many people to interview, types of interviews and sample interview questions.

Deciding how many people to interview

For many jobs, only shortlisted applicants will be formally interviewed; this may mean two to five people per job. If there are many similar skilled (from CVs) applicants for a job, employers could:

  • do initial short or less formal interviews to shortlist
  • formally interview all applicants.

Deciding how many times to interview a person

For many jobs, a person will only be interviewed once, however sometimes it is appropriate to have more than one interview. This might involve:

  • the preferred applicant or two applicants being interviewed by a more senior manager, or peer manager to get a second opinion (especially if you’re taking a risk with the preferred applicant)
  • the preferred applicant being interviewed by the chief executive (for senior jobs, or in smaller businesses)
  • a less formal chat with workmates to assess the fit with the team
  • if a recruitment agency is being used, they will often have already interviewed the applicant before putting them forward for interview by the organisation.

Setting times and places for the interview

Interviewing can be time consuming and costly. You should consider:

  • how many interviews you need to have
  • the best times for you and the applicant (eg if the job could be an after-school job, you should interview after school, and give applicants enough time to get there from school, or interview at the weekend)
  • how much time you need to interview the applicants, and for breaks between interviews
  • privacy and confidentiality, eg schedule interviews so that applicants don’t meet each other
  • giving enough notice so that applicants can take time off existing jobs or arrange childcare
  • travel time, if you’re recruiting from outside your local area
  • choosing a quiet place with no interruptions where you and the applicant can talk comfortably.

When setting up interviews with applicants, be careful to maintain their privacy and follow any requests regarding contact that they have included in their application.

Make clear to the interviewee any information, proof of experience or preparatory work that will be required at the interview, for example, a tradesperson’s certification, designer’s work portfolio.

Deciding on the type of interview

You should apply consistent criteria for choosing who and how you interview. Choose the interview method that best fits with the job. You should use the same approach for all interviewees, and advise them in advance.

Approaches may include:

  • a one-on-one meeting, formal or informal
  • an interview panel
  • a written project or examination
  • a workshop environment
  • skills testing
  • a mix of the above.

Questions and information you need to know

To make sure you are consistent and that information you need isn’t left out, write down all your questions for each job in advance. Then you’ll be ready if someone just rings up looking for work too.

Make sure you ask open-ended questions, not just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions. That way the applicants will be able to show you what they know and you’ll get more detailed information about them.

You will need to ask questions about the specific experience, skills and training you need for the job. Asking additional general questions will give you a more complete picture about the applicant’s suitability. Some examples include:

  • Tell me why you are interested in this job.
  • Tell me about a time you went the ’extra mile’ to get the job done.
  • Think about the best manager you have had, what was good about how they managed you?
  • What job have you most enjoyed and why?
  • What things make you perform at your best?
  • What is the greatest strength you would bring to the job?
  • What do you think you would most need to work on if you got the job?
  • Describe a creative solution that you used to solve a problem.
  • What things do you find most frustrating?
  • What’s your approach for communicating with customers? Workmates? Management?
  • What do you think your workmates would say about your work?
  • What has been the biggest thing you have learnt at work?
  • Tell me about something you achieved in a team or group.
  • Tell me about a time when someone has criticised your work. How did you respond to them? Would you now do anything differently?
  • What has been your biggest work challenge?
  • What’s your greatest achievement at work?
  • What is your biggest mistake at work? What would you do differently with hindsight?
  • Why are you the best person for the job?
  • Is there anything you would like to have achieved at work over the next five years?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

Information the applicant may need

Your comments at the interview may be relied on later, so be clear and accurate.

Prepare answers on:

  • the process to be used after the interview
  • the likely employment terms and conditions,

so you don’t make unintended commitments.

If an applicant raises special requirements, such as car parking or flexible hours, think carefully before answering. If you’re not sure, you can look into it and let them know later. If you say no, you should say why, particularly if it could be seen as discriminatory.

If you agree and the applicant is successful, then you will need to put any special requirements in the draft employment agreement when you offer the applicant the job.

Assessment tasks

It is sometimes appropriate to ask job applicants to perform tasks during the interview process, so you can assess whether they have the skills needed for a job, for example, where the applicant’s previous work experience used different skills, or to help you to compare the skills of several applicants. For example, you could ask a pastry chef to demonstrate their skill.

If you are using assessment tasks, they shouldn’t take too long and should genuinely assess ability to do job tasks. You should tell applicants in advance about the assessment they will be doing. If a long assessment period is required, you could consider a trial or probation period.

Interview tips for applicants

Tips for preparing for an interview and what you should do in an interview.

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