Randstad research shows that more than half (52%) of candidates say the recruitment process is tougher than it was five years ago. 

Companies are increasingly testing soft skills as well as technical competencies. So how can you ensure your interview time is as effective as possible?

leave stereotypes at home
"In this sector in particular there  are professionals likely to have  either public or private sector experience in big infrastructure, housing or  engineering works," says Helen Paterson, Head of Strategic Accounts at Randstad CPE. 

"The project work is often very similar, but old-fashioned perceptions and stereotypes about public sector candidates still survive even if they are not wholly true or even fair."

be clear on competencies
"We've planned our interviews by considering what we believe are the best characteristics for the job," says Kathryn Price, Assistant Group  Finance Director at Spectrum Housing Group – the Dorset-based housing association that builds and maintains homes and works with residents in their communities. 

She says: "It might well be easier sourcing technically competent number-crunchers, but we believe more in hiring people that will challenge us, and inform, not react to, business decisions. It’s those who can respond best to this in the interview process that pass."

assess the value of role profiling
The clue that means candidates should expect something different is the fact Spectrum's commercial roles are called 'finance business partners' a deliberate label to base a conversation around. At Spectrum, all selected candidates also take a pre-interview personality profiling test that looks at traits such as assertiveness, inter-personal skills, whether they like/are controlling or not. 

Says Price: "For these sorts of roles we’re competing with other sectors, all of whom are looking for the best people. Profiling not only helps us define the best characteristics for our jobs, it gives framework and relevance to the interview process. We ask things like ‘what is excellence in your role?’ and how they answer says a great deal."

"you should be ready to answer probing candidate questions"

Prepare to be put on the spot yourself
Interviews are not a one-way process and changing priorities in the wake of the recession mean that you should be ready to answer probing candidate questions.

"It has become increasingly common over the past few years for candidates to ask how financially stable an employer is," says Randstad CPE Strategic Accounts Manager, Robert Beecham. "Sometimes that’s been more important than the salary."

But, more than this, allowing the candidate to take the reins for a short amount of time in the interview can be a valuable insight into their own motivations – what they want to get out of the role and your organisation. It can also give you a good idea of how well they use their own initiative.

Remember them for next time

"Recruiting well actually means  rejecting better," says Beecham. "Those who came close may be good assets to your business down the line. It's a waste to reject these people completely. Growth in our sectors means you could need this person in six months’ time. It’s the job of your recruitment partner to manage the rejection in a way that they would consider working for you again."

Our own research (Employer Branding Perception Is Reality 2013) suggests that around 26% of staff across all sectors are considering moving in the next two years, but it also finds that construction and engineering are particularly low when it comes to the 'attractiveness grid'.

It suggests that staff in these sectors will move around much more than in other major UK sectors as they seek firms that will ultimately meet their needs. The plus-side is that it’s just as likely that some former employees may want to come back, after realising the grass wasn't greener.

But there are many reasons that people leave their jobs – and they go on to grow in both technical and soft skills. An organisation would be very shortsighted not to see the benefit of that wider experience and consider employing them for a second spell.

"you should be ready to answer probing candidate questions"