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The structured, professional interview

By JAMES COAKES Published 9th Jul 2014
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The CIPD's annual recruitment survey found that 71% of companies conduct biographical interviews, aiming to predict future potential from past performance, as part of the selection process. The survey found that 82% use competency based interviews, asking the candidate to demonstrate how they match the qualities listed in the job specification.

When conducted effectively, these interviews can give the recruiter a candid, in-depth insight into the candidate's suitability for the role, but research published in The Hudson Research Archive suggests that companies rarely evaluate their selection processes, and often overestimate their predictive value. Biographical interviews are often falsely believed to be far more accurate predictors of a candidate's potential than they are in reality, and the predictive value of competence-based interviews is also overestimated, to a lesser extent.

The CIPD suggests that structuring an interview properly can improve its predictive accuracy by ensuring that all candidates are asked the same carefully planned, relevant questions and that they are being assessed fairly on their answers. An effective interview process can also help recruiters to avoid the pitfalls associated with unstructured interviews, including the risk that judgments will be based on personal likes and dislikes, similarity to the interviewer's personality, or the contrast between successive candidates.

Interviewers must be prepared with a clear idea of the role and the essential and desirable qualities they are looking for in candidates. This job specification, which should be discussed with all stakeholders to ensure a good fit, will shape the interview. The relevant information should be kept on hand during the interview to provide focus and answer any questions from the candidate. The interviewer should also prepare for each interview by reviewing the candidate's application materials and noting down any points that need to be discussed.

The interview itself should follow a set agenda, designed to draw out information that will allow the candidate to be judged against the job specification. It should begin with some time for introductions and a few safe, personal questions, asking for example where the candidate grew up or went to school. The interview should then move on to work through a planned series of questions about the candidate's biographical history or the key competencies the role requires.

Fact finding questions can draw out information about particular skills and experiences, and may include simple, closed questions that clarify elements of the application materials, alongside more open questions. These can be combined with probing follow up how and why questions to draw out a specific, detailed response. Creative, problem-solving questions based on hypothetical situations or technical details can also be used to assess how a candidate thinks and behaves.

The interviewer should allow time at the end of the meeting for the candidate's questions and an explanation of the follow up procedure, including an expected decision date. Interviewers should also be good listeners, taking notes and adapting questions to previous answers, making the best impression on the candidate so that they will leave hoping for the chance to accept the post.

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