21st Century Interviewing

22 September 2006 David Tunna

Businesses are missing out on top talent due to their outdated interview techniques. David Tunna of HTW Selection explains how this situation can be avoided.

When asking new clients, from a variety of sectors recruiting for various positions, how they had interviewed in the past, it is apparent that the vast majority used outdated interviewing techniques. Unfortunately, it is likely that some have missed out on recruiting top staff as a result of their approaches.

In almost all of the businesses questioned, talented candidates had been dismissed almost immediately because they didn't fit a job spec to the letter. Taking this approach is extremely short sighted and means that candidates who do not match the exact criteria, but may have many other undiscovered strengths appropriate to the role, are not considered.

Too many managers lack specific training in recruitment and selection and use interviews merely to weed-out what they view as unsatisfactory applicants rather than to discover abilities and talents that could enhance the candidate's value.


"Dismissing candidates who do not fit a job spec exactly is an extremely short-sighted approach."

Old-style interviewers often plant stumbling blocks among their questions to try to catch candidates out and expose weaknesses. By focusing too much on finding the candidate's weaknesses, the interviewer may well fail to discover their strengths.

Asking a series of tough questions designed to trip the candidate up will also cause the candidate to become more withdrawn and defensive under the pressure. Interviewers are unlikely to get a true picture of the interviewee in this environment. In contrast, much more can be learnt about a candidate when they're relaxed.


Research has shown that what appears to be an informal chat rather than a grilling is much more beneficial for both parties. In a relaxed, informal environment, candidates are put at ease and bosses are far more likely to draw out an honest response and learn more about the candidate's personality.

Rather than concentrating on asking tough questions, it is far better to focus on asking good questions based on the candidate's experiences and personal interests. These questions will reveal skills, knowledge and attitudes that may not be immediately apparent on the surface.

Taking a positive approach to interviewing, like this, means bosses will uncover qualities in a candidate that they weren't necessarily looking for - ambition, natural creativity or instinctive commercial flair. It will also give a further insight into the candidate's personality and how they will fit into an existing team.


Before an employer begins an interview, they need to define what is clearly required of the candidate and structure their questions around this. A clear understanding of which requirements are most important is also vital. Going off on a tangent will result in woolly decision making.

"By focusing too much on finding weaknesses, the interviewer may fail to discover candidates' strengths."

Today, it is especially important for employers to think hard about the questions they plan to ask candidates as they face a host of laws and regulations. A lack of knowledge can land them in an expensive employment tribunal.

Employment law can be a minefield for employers, and issues of discrimination in sex, race and disability must be considered.

There are a whole range of questions which could have legal consequences. Personal questions must be avoided. Instead, questions must focus on the competencies required for the role.

It is also important that the questions are well phrased. Poorly phrased questions will result in weak answers.


It is a fact that skilled and talented people have more choices and job opportunities available to them. The interview is the employer's opportunity to promote their business to these people.

Giving a candidate a bad impression at this stage could reflect badly on the business in the future and put a potential employee off completely.

Employers often forget that the interview process is as much about them selling the benefits of the business as the candidate proving that they are worthy for the role.


Rather than aiming to draw up a long list of tough questions to trip up a candidate, interviewers should aim to talk for 25% of the time and actively listen to what the candidate is saying and how they are saying it for the rest of the time.

Many interviewers don't allow silence and instead ask question after question. Adequate time must be left for the candidate to think and answer questions thoroughly. If this isn't allowed, facts will be missed. Employers should aim to ask open ended, job-related questions.


Interviewers must be properly briefed and be aware of the job requirements and selection criteria. They should preferably be trained in questioning and have other interview skills.

"Candidates who do not match the exact criteria may have many other undiscovered strengths appropriate to the role."

Most are not properly trained and many simply do not like interviewing and resent the fact that they have to do it. This is immediately apparent to the candidate. These unschooled managers will often squander recruitment opportunities by taking a superficial view of a candidate's appearance and qualifications.

If employers plan to ask someone within their business to conduct interviews they must invest in providing interview best practice guidelines or better still, in training their managers to get the most out of candidates.

Poor job interviews will result in poor selection and a high staff turnover. Interviewers should do their best to establish a rapport with the candidate and put them at ease. This will give a much better picture of what the person is really like and the skills they have.

Interviewers must remain professional and courteous at all times – unfortunately, this is not always the case. The interviewer should always be on time and interruptions must be avoided. They must approach the interview in a structured way and be careful to avoid potentially litigious questions.