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Conducting your interview


When it comes to asking questions in an interview, there’s a balance to be struck between trying to be too clever with your questions (to the point that they aren’t helpful in deciphering who the best candidate for your role is) or being so simplistic that your 5-year-old child could answer them!

The lurch towards random questions, (if you were a piece of fruit what would you be) which has gathered pace over the last decade, can sometimes be useful when used as a quasi-competency based question to discover the “real” person. However, pointless random questions, can lead you to exactly the wrong candidate – the candidate who can answer these types of questions very well, but who cannot complete actual jobs very well!

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to have a mixture of competency and non-competency based questions. As the interviewer, avoid talking too much; we’d ideally like the candidate to spend 80% of the interview talking and remember the sage advice of Earl Nightingale, “…the most important piece of information, is that which isn’t being said!”

Generally speaking you can break the interview into two simple parts:

Part one: What has the candidate done and what do they know?

This part of the interview can last between ten and thirty minutes depending on the depth of experience of the candidate. It also serves to relax the candidate as they should be answering easy questions about their own curriculum vitae.

Part two: Competency based questions linked to the skills you require

This part of the interview is designed to be more challenging but it shouldn’t deviate too much from the 80/20 split we discussed above.

Competency-based questions can provide you with an insight into how a candidate might perform any given task and whether they’ve got the background and skills you’re looking for. It’s also possible to gauge their strengths and weaknesses through their answers by assessing whether they demonstrate a willingness to learn, an ability to perform or, if they show a negative approach towards a specific task or environment.

Typical competency based questions are:

  1. Tell us about your biggest failure. How did you recover and what have you learnt from that incident?
  2. What is the biggest challenge that you have faced in your career. How did you overcome it?
  3. When did you last upset someone?
  4. Describe a situation in which you were a member of team. What did you do to positively contribute to it?
  5. Tell us about a situation where you made a decision too quickly and got it wrong. Why made you take that decision?
  6. Describe a situation where you were asked to do something that you had never attempted previously.


The list of questions is not exhaustive and you can adjust them to whatever skills and behaviours your role demands.

What you should be doing whilst the interviewee is talking?

  1. Once the candidate has answered your question keep probing with questions such as “how did you do that?”, “what did you do next?”, “what else did you do or consider doing?”, “what happened next?”
  2. Listen out for questions not being answered, or answers that seem pre-rehearsed. They can mean they haven’t done the task they are describing. Remember, someone that has done a particular task will be able to describe in natural and glorious detail.
  3. Watch body language.
  4. Relentlessly ask yourself the same question: “Is this the absolute best person I can get for this job at this time?”


Other useful questions

  1. What is the proudest moment of your career?
  2. What do you think your strengths are?
  3. What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about you?


These questions give you opportunities to probe further with your who, what, when, how, which and why questions.

Avoid pointless questions and if in any doubt ask the candidate to try and solve a current problem in your company, this too will give you lots of opportunities to see their decision making processes, listening skills, and communication skills in action.


And finally...

Remember to sell your role to the candidate. Your job is to impress upon the candidate how great your company is going to be with them in it!