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Conducting a 
Great job interview

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Are you about to conduct your first job interview as a manager? Or are you already a pretty seasoned hiring manager? Either way, finding the right employee can be difficult. You may struggle to find any qualified applicants at all (and if you haven't succeeded yet, you can learn how to write a great job ad here), and now you need to clarify both skills and cultural fit in just a few interviews. 

So, in the following article, we'll give you tips and reflections on how to prepare for the interview, create a framework of questions and handle different scenarios along the way. And of course, how to actually make a decision in the end.

But remember: A good job interview is a two-way street. It's not just the candidate who has to sell themselves to you. You also have to sell the job and the company to them.

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Prepare as well as the candidate

You probably expect the candidate to invest some time in preparing for the job interview; researching the company, the job description and even you as a leader. They may also prepare for a case or complete various personality test. In short, a candidate usually spend quite a few hours of unpaid labour in preparing for a job interview. That's why you owe it to the candidate to be as prepared as they are.
Regardless of the type of position and the basis on which the candidate is invited to the interview (e.g. network, job application or through a headhunter), it is important that you have prepared a thorough job description and requitement profile. Otherwise, the interview will be unstructured and you won't necessarily uncover whether the candidate actually has the necessary competences, as it's unclear what you're actually looking for. 
Additionally, there are some practical things that will make you appear more prepared:
 Location: Where should the interview take place? Make this clear in the invitation to the candidate, whether it's online or in person. If it's in person, make it clear how to find the right place and/or who they should approach or ask for at the reception. 
 Participants: Who's attending the interview? Depending on the seniority of the position, consider carefully how many people are actually needed. It should also be clearly defined what each person's role is in the interview – e.g. who's taking notes and who's leading the conversation. Let the candidate know in advance who they'll be meeting. 
 Schedule: If you have multiple interviews – or even other meetings – on the same day, make sure to set aside enough time in both ends. This allows for preparation, extra time for the interview if necessary or other unforeseen events. 

Research the candidate thoroughly

Hopefully, you've already read the candidate's CV and cover letter thoroughly. But to prepare a great interview guide and conversation, you need to dig a little deeper into the candidate's background.
Education and training
Are you familiar with the candidate's degree or educational background? If not, go onto the university's website and read more about it. This can lead to some interesting conversations about the candidate's motivations and how and why they ended up where they are today. Similarly, you should research more about the candidate's educational institution, as there can be a big difference in the methods, approaches and paradigms taught.
Previous workplaces
You may already know the candidate's former employers, but if not, it's a good idea to do some research so you know what industry they come from, whether they have primarily worked B2B or B2C, what type of customers they have worked with, etc. 
LinkedIn, media, networks, etc.
It's not always relevant, but it can be interesting to know if the candidate is a prominent voice in their field. Are they very active on LinkedIn and do they have a large network? Have they been used in the media as an expert in their field? Have they written opinion pieces? This can tell you something about their motivation and ambition for their career, but it can also be a business advantage for you.

Which type of interview?

Before creating a job interview, you should think about what type of interview you'll be conducting. Is it just a "coffee date" with an interesting candidate or someone in your network? Then the structure might not be as important. Conversely, if you have a lot of candidates to interview, it's a good idea to have a more structured interview with a certain amount of standard questions to make it easier to compare candidates.

There are 3 types of interviews, each with their own advantages and disadvantages:

The unstructured interview:
The interview where you haven't really prepared any questions or researched what requirements the candidate has to live up to. Rarely recommended for a recruitment process, as there's a high risk of not uncovering all the essential aspects or whether the candidate matches the requirement profile. 

Can be used for more informal screenings, e.g. a candidate who has been recommended by someone in your network or who you already know, but currently do not have a vacancy in mind for. 
The semi-structured interview:
The 'golden mean'. In the semi-structured interview, based on the job description and requirement profile, you prepare a framework with topics you want to cover and some related questions.

It allows you to prepare a fixed set of questions beforehand which have to be answered, but the order and exact wording is not that important.

It also allows for probing questions and follow-ups, but has a structure that prevents you from getting too sidetracked. 
  • The structured interview:
    In the structured interview you systematically ask the same questions to all candidates. Without exception. 
The advantage is that data comparability is high, but the disadvantage is that you risk missing out on a lot of nuances of what makes each candidate unique and compatible. 

In general, we would not recommend the structured interview format for a job interview.

Create an interview guide

A well-developed interview guide is essential for a great job interview and recruitment process. We recommend using the semi-structured method, basing it on the requirement profile you have already prepared. This will ensure that you uncover technical and soft skills that are crucial for the position – and that you can compare the candidates with each other.

Remember to cover all the topics in the interview guide, but don't ask questions that the candidate has already answered just because it's the next question on your list. Feel free to write down more in-depth or follow-up questions along the way, but be careful not to get sidetracked. You've created a requirement profile and interview guide for a reason: Because you've already clarified what is important for the role and your time is limited.

But what does a semi-structured interview guide look like? Below you'll find a free template for a semi-structured interview guide, including suggestions for overall themes in the interview and room for notes. Unfortunately the template is only available in Danish, but it may still be useful for the structure!

Interview guide template

If you're unsure what an interview guide can look like – or just need inspiration –, you'll find a basic version here, for free!

Great questions to ask the candidate

It can seem overwhelming to decide which questions are the most important ones to ask in a job interview. And it's also impossible to present a complete list of questions, as the interview guide and question framework should always be based on the requirement profile and job description which you have prepared for the position. However, below we suggest some themes and questions that might inspire your interview guide!

Remember to limit the number of questions (even if you'd like to know everything) and customise them to your company and vacancy. And be careful not to ask leading questions, as it's easy to accidentally sway the candidate's answers. Finally, you should also be prepared to rephrase your questions based on the conversation you're having – some candidates are better at using concrete examples and experiences, whereas others are more abstract and like to do 'the math' as they go.

Who's the candidate?

Motivation and ambition
  • Why are you interested in the position?
  • What are your expectations for this position – based on e.g. the job advert, the screening call and your knowledge of the company?
  • What type of tasks motivate you?
  • Which work situations and tanks drain your energy and motivation?
  • What are the biggest motivators for you? E.g. career development, autonomy, influence, challenging projects.
  • What leadership style motivates you? How does a leader bring out the best in you?
  • What are your dreams for the future – both personally and careerwise?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
  • How do you hope/expect this position will help you realise your future dreams and ambitions?
Experience, career and education
  • Why did you leave your last job/why are you leaving your current job?
  • Has your career turned out the way you expected or hoped?
  • How do you use your educational background in your work?
  • What is the most important thing you have learnt from your studies?
  • What is the most important thing you have learnt from a previous job?
  • What is/was the best about your current/last job?
  • What are you most proud to have been a part of?
  • What result are you most proud of having achieved? 
  • Describe a typical workday in your current/latest job. 
  • You say that you have experience with X. How have you worked with it? 
  • Can you describe how you applied X skill in X job?
  • How do you typically assess whether your work is successful? Please provide an example from a previous job. 

The candidate's skills and competencies

Technical skills and competencies
  • What are your professional strengths?
  • How do you update and develop your knowledge and skills? 
  • In which areas would you like to develop your professional skills and competencies? And why?
  • How do you typically solve task X? Talk us through the process. 
  • What type of tasks are most exciting to you?
  • What type of tasks would you rather not do?
  • What would you like to learn more about? 
  • How dyou put theory X into practice in your work?
Soft skills
  • Do you prefer to work with short or long deadlines? 
  • Do you finish your tasks ahead of time or at the last minute? 
  • When do you prefer to work alone and when do you prefer to work with a colleague or team?
  • In what type of situation do you find that conflicts typically arise? Please share an example.
  • To what extent do you plan your workday? Or do you usually take things as they come? 
  • What can stress you in your working life? When was the last time you experienced it and how did you handle it?
  • What annoys you?

Which questions should and can you not ask?

There are many questions you shouldn't ask in a job interview, simply because they don't add any real value or they invite generic answers that you've heard 100 times before. For example, the classic 'What is your biggest weakness and strength?'. These are questions that will likely be answered better through casual conversation about the candidate's challenges and successes – and a bit of reasoning on your part. 
But there are also things you shouldn't ask, simply because they have no relevance to how the work is done or organised – and thus you cannot make them part of your decision-making process anyway. For example, family planning, political beliefs, age and union membership. However, there are also certain things that are a grey area and will depend on the situation, such as health information and language skills. You can read more about this here, and we of course always recommend seeking legal advice when in doubt. 

During the job interview

You have now prepared for the interview. But there are still some things you should take note of during the interview to make sure you get the most out of the interview and that the candidate has a good experience. 

If the candidate is shy or very nervous, start the conversation with a cup of coffee and some 'easy' small talk by using a topic they are comfortable with. This could be talking about an exciting job they've had or a fun hobby you may have noticed on their CV.
► If you don't feel your question has been answered, don't just move on to the next one. Ask the candidate to elaborate, give an example or be more specific. But be careful not to make it feel like an interrogation. 
► Be careful not to phrase your questions in a leading way; you'll quickly bias the candidate's answers. If you're inexperienced as a hiring manager or in doubt, stick to the wording you've written in your interview guide. 
► If you feel like you're struggling to control the conversation, stick to the interview guide. It can be difficult to interrupt the candidate, but you can remind them of the limited time or encourage them to return to the topic at a later time.
► Remember to take notes. After a few interviews, it can be difficult to distinguish between candidates. For the sake of comparability, remember to take notes so that they are connected to the related question, otherwise it will quickly become an unmanageable pile of notes. 

Assessing the interview and candidate

The job interview is over. You may already know if the candidate is the right fit or not, but either way, it's important to spend some time after the interview evaluating it while the interview is still fresh in your mind. Because if the candidate isn't the right fit, you need to be ready to provide some feedback on why. And if the candidate may be the right fit, you'll need good notes to compare with the next person you're going to interview. And even if you're absolutely sure the candidate is the right fit, you'll probably have a hiring committee or manager, where you'll need to be able to argue in favour of your choice. 

It's a good idea to create an evaluation matrix where you can give candidates a score or grade afterwards. This can make it easier to make an objective decision based on the most important assessment criteria. Of course, you should also consider the importance of each assessment criterion, as some factors should be valued higher – for example, if you're hiring a senior programmer, one of the most important criteria may likely be that they are proficient in the programming language your organisation uses. 

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