How to Conduct an Interview

Interviewing people for a job is a subtle art. Our experts give you some tips on how to interview and how to do it well.


Interviewing people for a job is a subtle art. Our experts give you some tips on how to interview and how to do it well.

It’s five minutes before the job interview. Your palms are sweating, and the seconds don’t seem to be advancing on your watch. But this time, you’re on the other side of the desk; you’re hiring, and you’ve got 15 applicants to get through this afternoon. Because interviews are tough for both sides involved, we’ve asked the professionals for their advice on how to make the most of the process: Daniel Skarlicki, professor in UBC’s organizational behaviour and human resources division; Lyz Sayer, organizational psychologist with Sayer & Associates; and Bill Gemmell, CEO of Boughton Law Corp.

Rules of (green) thumb

Before the interviewing even begins, weed out the bad seeds to save yourself time and stress. Start with a detailed description in the job posting. “The more descriptive you can be, the more people can select themselves in and out of the process,” says Sayer. Skarlicki recommends a cognitive ability test to quickly generate a short list. Previous experience may mean applicants are capable, Skarlicki says, but “cognitive ability trumps all.”

The 20-second size-up

The first 20 seconds can be an “interviewer’s worst enemy,” says Skarlicki: employers tend to use first impressions to hire on a similar-to-me bias. As a result, he says, many offices look the same: “male, pale and stale.” Don’t rely on a first impression to predict future performance; instead, observe how the interviewee is dressed, if they’ve arrived on time and if they’ve come prepared as indicators of a respectful, professional future employee, says Sayer.

Q&A play

After those first 20 seconds, it’s time to dig deeper. Ask relevant, job-related questions. “None of these, If you were an animal, what would you be? questions,” says Sayer. Stick to open-ended, behavioural and situation-based questions. Don’t just look for solutions to hypothetical problems but also for the values behind the answers. Skarlicki recommends having another interviewer present. “More judges increases confidence in the ratings,” he points out.

History lessons

Employment history can reflect the knowledge, skills and practice the applicant can bring to the position. “Past efforts give an indication of who they are,” says Gemmell, and will let you know that they can get the job done. However, don’t rely solely on work experience, as sometimes “soft skills,” including personality, can be more important than technical or administrative abilities, says Sayer. Personality matters almost more in some cases, adds Skarlicki, as “it’s hard, if not impossible, to change.” 

Fit for tat

Finding the right fit between candidate and company is the most important factor in an interview. “We’ve adopted the ‘No Asshole’ rule,” says Gemmell. At the interview stage, the candidate has made the cut on paper, so it’s now about knowing how they will work in your company’s environment, he explains. Never hire someone whose values are incongruent with the company’s values. And remember, “It’s a two-way street,” says Skarlicki, so if values are amiss, all parties will end up unhappy. – Jessica McMahon