10 rules to ace the interview—as the interviewer

Published on: December 2020

Written by: Brad Chambers, Rachel Geil

Job interviews aren’t just high-stakes for candidates, they’re high-stakes for organizations as well: research indicates that a bad hire can cost an organization twice their annual salary or more.

Because interviews often play a critical role in the final hiring decision, it’s important to follow a few simple, easy-to-implement rules that will ensure your interviewing process is highly effective, unbiased, and legally defensible—before, during, and after the actual conversation with a candidate. At a time when interviews are primarily conducted via video or telephone rather than in-person, the time is right for organizations to review their interviewing practices and procedures to maximize their utility. Even if interviews are not always conducted in person, the fundamental approach—and, therefore, best practices—remain the same.


A woman is working on laptop

Before the interview

A successful interview process begins long before the candidate and interviewer meet. Executing effective and legally defensible interviews requires a high level of preparation for organizations and interviewers.

  1. Establish essential skills and behaviors for successful job performance. Focus on the role’s key responsibilities, and then determine the knowledge, skills, competencies, and behaviors required to perform those activities effectively.
  2. Build a structured interview guide with questions focused on these essential skills and behaviors. It’s important that every candidate is asked a standardized set of questions to ensure the interviewer covers all necessary topics and obtains consistent information from which to base their hiring decision.
  3. Create evaluation standards or guidelines. These direct the interviewer’s attention to the relevant information in candidates’ responses. (More on this later!)
  4. Train your interviewers. The person conducting the interview should be properly trained in effective interviewing techniques—not only to select the most qualified candidate, but to do so in a fair, unbiased, and legally defensible manner.
During the interview

Keeping preparation top of mind during the interview will help interviewers ensure that they remain aligned with the organization’s evaluation objectives. Interviewers should capitalize on the below methods to maximize the yield from their time and efforts.

  1. Follow the interview guide closely. The above preparation helps facilitate a useful conversation during the interview, but the interviewer must follow the interview guide closely to ensure all candidates respond to the same information. Allowing the candidate to steer the conversation can derail the quality of the information collected and potentially allow the candidate to misrepresent their capabilities, a costly mistake for the organization down the road.
  2. Ask behaviorally-based past approach questions. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so very specific questions such as, “Please describe a time when you had to work closely with someone you did not particularly like to accomplish an important objective,” yield the most accurate representation of a candidate’s tendencies and performance. For less experienced candidates, reframing the question as a hypothetical situation may be more appropriate and easier for the candidate to answer. For example, rephrasing the question as “Imagine that you have to work closely with someone you do not particularly like to accomplish an important objective. How would you handle this situation?” (not “how should you handle this situation?”).
  3. Ask probing questions. Open-ended questions elicit the most possible information from the candidate, so interviewers should always start with these. Then, they’ll likely need to dig deeper to obtain enough information to make a more informed evaluation. Probing follow-up questions help interviewers gather more detail about the context, the people involved, the candidate’s actions and reasoning, and the outcomes.
  4. Consider using a role play. Don’t just take the candidate’s word for it—use a behavioral role-play to give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities. Role plays engage candidates in business challenges (e.g., customer interaction) like those faced on the job. Not only do role-plays give organizations more confidence in their hiring choices, but they also enhance the candidate experience—candidates perceive the assessment as fair, whether they’re offered the job or not.
After the interview

You’ve prepared extensively. You’ve conducted the interviews. Now what?

  1. Use the pre-established rating scale to score the candidate’s response. Remember those evaluation rules from “before the interview”? This is where they come into play. A clear rating system is essential to a fair assessment of each candidate. This evaluation becomes relatively straightforward with a pre-established evaluation scale. The most effective evaluation scales clearly define what constitutes a good response using behavioral examples, leaving less room for bias and error when assigning ratings to candidates. One type of rating scale, behaviorally anchored rating scales (BARS), gives examples of behaviors paired with corresponding numbers to indicate high, moderate, or low levels of proficiency. Using this method allows for consistency in assigning concrete numbers to types of responses. Other rating scales only give examples of highly effective responses with which to compare a candidate’s answer. Whichever scale you choose, the key to objective evaluation is consistency and plenty of behavioral examples.
  2. Document your process and decisions. It’s critical to document the supporting evidence for your evaluation and decisions for each candidate. Should the interview process be challenged in a legal setting, the organization will be better able to defend its hiring decisions.

Finally, practice is critical for learning and honing any skill. Without the opportunity to practice, the learning becomes stale and is forgotten. Practice may be as simple as conducting an interview with a more experienced interviewer, or as complex as a simulation that affords managers the opportunity to “interview,” rate, and make selection decisions in a low-stakes, fictitious setting.