Writing effective interview questions

Feb 29, 2016 | Recruitment

With almost any job you’re recruiting for, you’ll end up interviewing candidates. Interviews alone aren’t actually a fantastic way of identifying the best candidate, but there are ways you can improve how useful they are, by designing questions to give you the maximum chance of identifying good candidates and eliminating the less suitable ones.

So here’s our guide to writing interview questions to help you choose the best people for your business.

Deciding what to ask about

Use the criteria you outlined when writing the person specification to develop your questions. If you have specified certain skills, experience or personal attributes as being essential or desirable to the job, ensure you have a question which will enable or prompt the candidate to demonstrate how they meet those criteria.

If you find yourself wanting to ask about something which isn’t included in your person specification (which is supposed to be outlining what you want from the ideal candidate), have a think first about whether it is actually necessary or relevant. If it’s not, don’t include it.

What to avoid

  • Closed questions, which allow the candidate to give very short limited answers, and are limited in the amount of information they give you.
  • ‘Hypothetical’ questions, instead ask for specific actual examples of what the candidate has previously done.
  • Changing questions for each candidate. Ask each candidate the same set of questions to ensure each has the same opportunity to demonstrate their suitability. If you need to ask follow up questions or questions clarifying specific things on a candidate’s application, these are fine.
  • Irrelevant questions which could be seen as discriminatory, such as asking whether a candidate has children, is planning children, or how they will manage childcare. Instead make sure the requirements of the job are very clear, particularly where it might involve travel, late or variable hours, or unexpected overtime. This should enable candidates who cannot meet those requirements to self-select themselves out. If you feel you must ask, then outline the requirements and ask (all) candidates whether that would present a problem for them.

What are- behavioural’ type questions and why do they work?

A good rule to remember is that past behaviour is by far the most reliable indicator of future behaviour. If you ask a candidate for his/her opinion on how they would deal with a certain situation, they will provide you with the answer they think you would like to hear, and give their version of the- ideal’ way to behave in those circumstances.

If, however, you ask the candidate to give a specific example of a time when they were previously in a similar situation and ask them to explain how they dealt with it, you will get a much better idea of how the candidate is likely to deal with such a situation in the future. It is also much more difficult to make up an actual situation that happened than to come up with a hypothetically ideal way of behaving. This means the information you are getting is likely to be more reliable.

You can also follow on from asking for examples of past behaviour by exploring with the candidate why they dealt with the situation in that way, whether they feel they would do anything different in the same situation again, and what they learnt from the experience. A hypothetical- what would you do if…’ scenario does not give you this opportunity.

Stick to these tips and you should find interviews are a useful tool in establishing whether candidates you’ve shortlisted would be a good fit for the job. To enhance your selection process, you may want to combine your interviews with other elements such as in-tray exercises, psychometric exercises or assessment centres.

If you would like advice on interviewing or on using other selection methods for your recruitment, do get in touch.