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There are many important elements of the recruitment process, from writing strong job descriptions that give an accurate account of the role and attract high-calibre talent, to reliable reference checking.

As far as skills assessment is concerned, one of the most crucial stages in the hiring cycle is the interview, where you start to go further than what you can learn from resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Interviews give you the opportunity to learn more about an applicant's experience and capabilities, but also dig deeper into their personality and what makes them a unique individual. This is crucial when you want to evaluate how well this person will fit in with their potential co-workers, their manager and your company as a whole.

Bearing this in mind, it's worth considering how you can tailor your interviewing strategy to get maximum value out of the process and find top-quality talent for administrative and office jobs.

In this blog, we'll look at how you can take a three-step approach comprising the following phases:

  • Planning and preparation
  • The interview
  • Post-interview follow-up

planning and preparation

Like many aspects of HR, and business in general, the interview process is more efficient and productive when it has been thoroughly planned. You only have a small window of time to learn as much as you can about each applicant, so preparation is vital if you want to make the most of every interview.

practicalities

To start with, it's a good idea to double-check that you've made the right practical arrangements to ensure the interview runs smoothly and punctually. That means confirming office meeting room reservations and making sure you have enough time booked in to conduct a thorough interview. You should also make sure you've freed up some time before the meeting so you're ready to start promptly, and also immediately after so you can record your first thoughts and impressions.

Remember that the interview process is not just about your business evaluating jobseekers. It's also an opportunity for individual applicants to get to know you better and to form a clear idea of whether they want to work for you or not.

Problems like starting the interview late or getting into mix-ups with meeting room bookings will reflect badly on the company, increasing the risk that highly sought-after candidates will choose to take their talents elsewhere.

research the applicant

Another key part of the interview planning and preparation phase is doing your research on the person applying for the role. 

Set aside some time to review all of the information you have about this individual, from the skills, experience, qualifications and other attributes listed on their resume, to whatever you can glean from their LinkedIn profile. You should also consider how deep you're willing to look into their activity on other social media platforms to build a more detailed picture of them as a person.

Becoming more familiar with individual applicants will help you in the next stage of the interview preparation process: planning your questions.

prepare questions

Some of the questions you ask in interviews will be the same for every interviewee. When evaluating job fit for office-based and administrative roles, for example, you might want to ask:

  • What were your main responsibilities in your last job?
  • Can you describe a problem you faced in your last office and how you solved it?
  • Which parts of your last job did you find stressful?
  • How did you manage this?

For the sake of fairness and consistency, it's important to have certain core questions that you ask to each person, but there will also be times when you need to tailor your questions to individuals. You might want to ask some candidates about gaps in their employment history, for example, or what they learned in particular past roles.

It can also be beneficial to come up with some unusual or open-ended interview questions that will encourage the applicant to 'think outside the box' and communicate in a more natural, improvisational manner. This can be a good way to learn more about people by encouraging them to move away from formulaic or rehearsed answers.

be ready to answer questions

Again, it's important to remember that interviews are not just a skills assessment opportunity for you, but also a chance for the jobseeker to learn more about your company. They effectively provide another way for you to advertise your business to individual applicants.

You should therefore be prepared to tell interviewees more about your organisation and to answer any questions they might have.

During your preparation for interviews, you can anticipate likely questions by asking yourself things like:

  • What is the story behind our business and our brand?
  • What are the company's unique selling points?
  • What challenges do we currently face?
  • Why is this role currently available?
  • How do we recognise and reward our employees?
  • What goals does the company want to achieve in the coming years?

the interview

When the time comes to actually conduct the interview, it's always advisable to have a clear idea of how you want the conversation to flow and what you hope to learn from it. For many businesses, it's important to focus on three specific dimensions when evaluating job applicants:

  • Job fit
  • Boss fit
  • Company fit

This can help you build a comprehensive picture of the person's competencies and potential, as well as their compatibility with your company culture and the people with whom they will be working.

getting started

Some candidates will be nervous, especially at the very start of the interview, so it's a good idea to think about how you can put people at ease. This could involve maintaining a calm demeanour yourself, asking some casual questions about their journey to your office or taking a generally lighthearted tone that will help them relax and speak freely. This is important because it's difficult to get an accurate idea of how someone will fit into your business if their nerves are affecting their behaviour. 

Another significant step at the beginning of the interview is to introduce yourself and speak briefly about your background and your role within the company, as well as the business itself and why it's hiring for this particular role.

Before getting into the conversation itself, you should also take a moment to explain the format the interview will take, how long it will be and what will happen after.

Once introductions have been made and the plan for the interview has been laid out, you can move onto exploring the interviewee's suitability for this particular job and your organisation.

job fit

Evaluating the applicant's ability to do the job to a high standard should be a top priority of any interview. You should be looking for people who have the necessary core skills and experience for the role, but are also genuinely interested in doing a good job and continuing to learn and develop with your company.

There are many possible questions that can help you evaluate job fit, such as:

  • In your last performance appraisal, what did your manager identify as your biggest strengths?
  • What were your key areas for improvement?
  • Which aspects of this job do you think you would find most interesting or enjoyable?
  • Which parts of the job do you think would be challenging?

Most of your questions will have been prepared in advance, but you should also be ready to improvise and ask additional questions, based on answers the interviewee has given. You might want them to expand on a certain point, or it may be necessary to rephrase or adapt a question to get a more enlightening answer.

During the course of the interview, pay close attention to how the applicant frames their answers and be ready to take notes on anything you notice. If you ask a question about past mistakes or weaknesses, for example, look for indications that the interviewee is aware of their shortcomings, but is eager to develop and expand their skill set. Someone who is conscientious and willing to learn could make a better hire than someone who is technically competent but lacks motivation.

boss fit

Relationships between managers and employees are a critical part of the overall health, efficiency and productivity of your company, so you should always be trying to evaluate how well a candidate will gel with their prospective boss.

Tailor your questions to yield answers that will help you judge whether a candidate will share the values, job understanding and general outlook of the person with whom they will be working.

You might consider asking:

  • Who was the best manager you ever had and why did you enjoy working with them?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you found it difficult working with a particular boss?
  • What, specifically, did you dislike about their approach and how did you manage this situation?

You can then analyse the applicant's responses in the context of common management styles used in your company. This is particularly important if the person with whom this candidate could be working - whether that's you or someone else - has a very particular approach to management or a unique way of communicating and motivating their employees.

company fit

Focusing on how well a potential recruit will integrate into your company can help you avoid the various costs of a bad hire, from the expenses involved in re-advertising the job to the productivity losses that occur while the role remains unfilled . The applicant's suitability for your work environment, existing staff and your company values should all be significant themes and focuses in the interview.

You can start to build a picture of these characteristics by asking questions like:

  • Which of your past companies did you most enjoy working for and why?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you were part of a highly successful team?
  • What was the key to that team's success?
  • What do you know about our company?

Key indicators to look out for in the answers include common uses of 'we', 'us' and 'our', rather than 'I', 'me' and 'mine', which you could take as a sign that this person is a natural team player. It's also worth remembering that workplace conflicts and disagreements are inevitable, and the most important thing to focus on is the employee's ability to manage these situations when they occur.

Evaluating company fit is one of the various points in the recruitment process where technology can be beneficial, particularly in our current era of remote hiring and on-boarding. Tools like Modern Hire give you the option to show videos offering an insight into life in your company, or present real-world scenarios and case studies for interviewees to discuss.

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post-interview follow-up

Once you've completed your assessments and questions, and given the interviewee the opportunity to ask their own questions, you can conclude the interview by thanking the applicant for attending and outlining the next steps. It's particularly important to state how and when they can expect to receive feedback.

Immediately after the interview has finished, give yourself some time to note down your first thoughts and impressions.

It can be useful to ask:

  • What are this applicant's clearest strengths and weaknesses?
  • Can gaps in their capabilities and experience be filled through training and development?
  • Does this person seem like a natural fit with the rest of the team and the business?

Once you have clarified your own thoughts on the candidate, you can share any results and insights from the interview with relevant colleagues and stakeholders - another task that can be made easier with a tool like Modern Hire - before making a decision on how to proceed.

Remember that the candidate invested their own time to attend the interview, so it's important to inform them of your decision as quickly as possible. If they won't be proceeding any further in the recruitment process, provide some feedback on their performance in the interview and why you made your decision.

If you're looking to optimise your interviewing to find high-quality talent for admin and office roles, download our latest 'how to' guide, which features step-by-step workflows and recommendations you can action straight away.