15 ways to enrich job interviews for great candidate experiences

Hannah Wright
Last updated on 3rd September 2020
6 min read

Have you been on the receiving end of a bad job interview?

From the nervous interviewer too scared to look you in the eye, to a power-hungry manager firing questions at you with such velocity that your head ends up reeling and you don’t get to finish a sentence.

And then there’s the over-friendly recruiter who leaves you confused and unsure if you were actually even in an interview, let alone what the role is and whether you might want the job.

Even if you got offered a position, the chances are the interview experience left you with such a low opinion of the company that you didn’t accept the role.

So with job seekers calling the shots in today’s labor-tight market, employers need to ensure now more than ever, that they are delivering a great candidate experience during the interview process.

At Sage People, this is part of what we call ‘People Marketing’ – applying traditional marketing techniques in recruitment to attract and retain the best. Part of this is making sure that candidates have a great experience when applying for roles.

There’s plenty of schools of thought out there on what the best questions are to ask, and research on what interview techniques get the best results, but if you want to win the war on talent and attract and retain the best, then making sure your interview process is enriching and engaging is key.

But it is also important as the recruiter to ensure the interview process delivers exactly what you require in order to select the best people.

Here are 15 ways to enrich the interview process for both the candidate and the recruiter.

1. Clear communication pre-interview

Before the interview, send an email explaining what the interview process entails, who will be in attendance from your company, what will be expected of the candidate during the interview, estimated duration and if you want them to bring anything with them. Even a note about dress code is useful.

Job interviews can be an unnatural process and candidates are often tense and nervous, which doesn’t help you see the real potential in a person. If you can put them at ease before the interview, by explaining a lot of the logistical details, there are less unknowns for them to be worried about on the day and they can focus on the interview itself.

2. A warm welcome

First impressions count. If you’ve been in meetings all day and are feeling frazzled, then a grumpy or unfriendly welcome from you when you greet the candidate for the first time will stick in their mind. Make time before the candidate arrives to get prepared, and be focused and ready for the interview. Your candidates are likely to be a little nervous so make sure you greet them warmly and ask them a couple of conversational questions like ‘Was your journey here ok?’ Or ‘What’s the weather doing out there?’ to break the ice.

3. Research the candidate

It’s not enough to have just looked at your candidate’s resume. With most people using social media channels for professional means as well as personal, it’s a great source for finding out more about your candidate ahead of the interview. What are they passionate about, what kind of voice do they have out there in social media, what causes are they supporting, do they have a large following in their field. It will help give you a rounder picture of the candidate and show that you’re a modern, social-media-focused business.

4. Prepare questions in advance

There’s a lot of different thinking on whether interviews today should stick to the traditional method of interviewer asking a prepared set of questions or whether it should just be more of an informal chat between the candidate and the recruiter.

Having a list of questions prepared is a useful tool. It doesn’t mean that you have to recite them parrot-fashion at your interviewee, but rather introduce them naturally throughout the process as the conversation ebbs and flows. There will be a list of key attributes you and your company are looking for someone in the role to have, so by preparing questions in advance, you can design specific questions to identify if the candidate has those qualities.

5. Consider letting the candidate ask their questions first

Letting the candidate ask their questions at the start of the interview – rather than at the end – allows you to see how they think and what is important to them in this role. It also shifts the power from interviewer to interviewee, and shows the candidate that you are putting them first.

One fan of this technique is Liz Ryan, founder of Human Workplace. Speaking to Forbes Magazine, she says: ‘A candidate’s questions tell you much more about their understanding of the role; its overlap or similarities with other jobs they’ve performed and their general grasp of your company’s need than their answers to your questions possibly could.’

6. Three is the magic number

To avoid overwhelming the candidate, a maximum of three people is the ideal number to have interviewing a candidate at any one time: the boss, the boss’s boss, and the HR or People Manager is a good rule of thumb – but don’t rule out engaging others…

7. Don’t just leave the interviewing to the boss!

The higher up the food chain people go, the more they tend to lose touch with what goes on day-to-day within the various teams and functions of the business. So having interviews carried out by a team manager, and one or two of their team members, will ensure they select someone who has the key skills and requirements to meet the role and be a good fit for their team.

Google actually invites employees to sit in on interviews with their prospective new bosses as it believes their assessments are more important than anyone else’s as they ‘have to work with that person every day’. It also sends a strong signal to candidates about Google being non-hierarchical.

8. Behavioral questions versus situational questions?

We like both. Asking behavioral and situational questions is more likely to result in a well-rounded view of the candidate’s experience and their decision-making approach.

Behavioral questions force the candidate to speak about specific experience in a past role. Good behavioral interviewing will be tailored to each candidate’s resume and will ask questions relating to the job requirements of the position they’re applying for.

Situational questions are typically hypothetical and future-oriented, and should always follow behavioral questions.

9. Don’t feel you have to ask every question on your list

According to data science company Cangrade, a good rule of thumb is to ask ‘no more than four to six questions in a 30-minute interview, and no more than eight to 12 questions in a one-hour interview’.

Ideally you would want to ask the same questions to candidates interviewing for the same role, but you may have one or two that are tailored to a candidate based on the research you did on them from their social media profiles or resume.

10. Consider a skills test only if relevant

Setting the candidate a short work sample test or aptitude test may be something your company has always done but is it really the best use of the candidate’s time? Consider what the test will prove and how will it help you learn more about the candidate? For some technical roles, a short skills test is clearly necessary. But for many roles, there are too many variables on a day-to-day basis to enable a sample of work to be identified that would be able to be carried out in an interview situation.

11. Save the selling until later

Don’t focus too much on selling the role at the beginning of the interview as it’s hard to be objective. Wait until you’ve got a good feel for the candidate and think they might be worthy of the role, then you can use the latter half of the interview to woo them with why the company is a great place to work and how you think they’d fit into the role nicely.

12. Be flexible

Most job seekers will already be in employment so trying to find the time to attend an interview can be stressful. Be willing to arrange the interview at a time that’s convenient for your candidate.

13. Don’t obsess over ‘cultural fit’

Much emphasis is often placed on whether a person is the right fit culturally to work at a company. But given how short an interview can be, given that it’s also a very unnatural process, and given that your opinion is just one person’s point of view, it is very hard to determine in a 60-minute interview if someone is going to fit in with the values of the business. It is much better to focus on whether they have the ability to be flexible and adaptable, thereby able to adjust to meet the company’s values instead

14. A great goodbye

Just as it was important to greet your candidate warmly, don’t let them walk away without ensuring you’ve explained the next steps in the interview process to them and thanked them properly for their time.

Leave them with a great lasting impression of you and your company. Make them want you to get in contact and offer them the job.

Remember an interview is a two-way screening process.

15. Listen. And listen some more

It’s easy to feel like you need to plough through the interview process at break-neck speed, particularly if you have a large number of candidates to interview, but really take the time to give each candidate your full attention.

Listen to their answers. React, respond and ask follow-up questions relating to their answer. Don’t follow a script or blindly ask the next question without acknowledging their answer to your first question.

A great interview experience will feel natural, flowing and be a two-way conversation. Really discover the person sitting in front of you.

Ultimately, the point of an interview is to predict how someone will perform in a specific role to ensure you hire the right person for the job. But focusing on the candidate and providing them with a great candidate experience will pay dividends. Candidates who have better workforce experiences are more engaged and more productive. Whilst we’re in the midst of a war for talent, creating great experiences – for existing and prospect employees – is a sure fire winner to find and keep the best.

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Employee Engagement Talent Acquisition Workforce Experience