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Interviewing candidates

According to the "behavioural" method of interviewing, past behavior is regarded as a very

good indicator of future successful performance and for determining how well a candidate
might fit the job function and company culture.

Both experienced and inexperienced candidates can be questioned using this method,
where entry-level candidates will draw upon past school and tertiary education knowledge
and experience, as well as skills that are instinctive.

For telephonic and video interviews, the same technique applies, although it would be useful
to adapt your approach, spending less time on the screening phone call than you would use
in a normal interview. Deal effectively, and diplomatically with unsuitable applicants.

Goals of the interview

Step-by-step interview plan
Job interview introduction and questions

Goals of the interview

The goals of the interview are to:

1. Attract the best candidate by promoting your company.

2. Evaluate the candidate by gathering information about the candidate.
3. Determine whether the candidate would fit the job and company culture.

In order to maximise your professional credibility with the candidate,

it is essential that you are very well prepared for the interview. DataFin will prepare the
candidates and supply them with all the relevant information for the interview, including
conveying any specific instructions received from the client.


The Interviewer has to remember to:

Facilitate a more relaxed environment during the first few moments of the interview
by talking about issues not related to the interview i.e. weather or sport.
Pay careful attention to the candidate's appearance, body language, social skills and
ability to communicate. Take culturally sensitive issues into account such as avoiding
eye contact, loud or soft speech, passive nature and personal space radius. In some
cultures eye contact is considered rude.
Remain neutral in attitude, because by expressing a positive or negative reaction,
words or body language, the interview could be jeopardized as candidates may adapt
their responses to please the interviewer.
Try to vary your questioning style i.e. make them open, closed, theoretical,
alternatives/options, hypothetical or reflective questions.
The manner in which the questions are presented is critical to the success of the
Allow candidates adequate time to answer each question.
Remain patient while the candidate quietly ponders his/her response.
Be prepared and able to give personal examples to help clarify the purpose of the
Utilize paraphrasing and active listening skills to ensure a clear understanding of the
candidate's background and needs.
Encourage the candidate to provide complete information for any incident described.
A complete response will include:
o brief explanation of circumstances,
o how the candidate behaved in the situation, and
o the outcome or result of that behaviour.
When the candidate gives answers that are too brief or non-descriptive, ask
appropriate follow-up questions to obtain an appropriate explanation of his abilities.
Simple follow-up questions include:
o Can you tell me more about that?
o How did you involve co-workers or teammates?
o Give me a specific example of how you did that?
o What results can you point to?
o What happened when things did not go as planned?
Maintain control of the interview by intervening when a candidate begins ramble or
tries to change the subject.

Step-by-step interview plan

A number of things should be done before, during and after interviewing candidates. It is
therefore worthwhile to have a written plan in order to keep track of it all!

Request Applications: DataFin's clients e-mail or phone through detailed job

specifications in order for us to send them a shortlist of suitable candidates. DataFin
takes care of all the administration regarding the interviews. By doing so, the
interviewer is able to avoid having to go through a large number of CVs.
Shortlist: Review all CVs received for applications. Narrow down the list of suitable
applicants received from DataFin by setting a criteria that will be compared to the
CV. Use criteria such as renumeration, specific skill requirements, and years of
experience desired. It is useful to sort the CVs into three groups, namely ‘yes', ‘no',
and ‘maybe'.
Keep all parties informed: Always keep DataFin updated with your progress and with
the anticipated process timelines and changes, so that DataFin can keep the
candidates properly informed, since many candidates are often in a position of
having to weigh up two or more options.
Set Time Limits: Keep interviews uniform by setting time limits.
Schedule Interviews: Let DataFin know which candidates will be interviewed and set
up the appointments. Try to not schedule interviews at the start of your office day
and if possible, ask someone to handle your calls during interviews. Explain to that
person which specific situations would require your personal attention.
Identify Skills: The Interviewer identifies the skills that would be required and/or
preferred in a candidate to ensure successful job performance.
Testing: Determine whether the applicants would be required to do a test as part of
the interview or beforehand at DataFin. Skills and psychometric testing could be
worthwhile, especially when considering candidates for high-level positions.
Specialist Assistance: It may be necessary to have a specialist in the field conduct part
of the interview with the candidate. Discuss all questions with the specialist before
the interview, to make sure they are aware of any limitations on questioning.
Prepare an Introduction: You can briefly outline what the company is looking for at
the start of the interview.
Formulate Questions: Prior to the interview, formulate a list of questions to assess
the candidate's ability to handle the requirements of the position. Get the interview
questions ready before the interview, and the interview will be more effective.
Re-read the CV: It is a good idea to read the candidate's CV immediately before the
candidate is called into the room. This will help you to remember the candidate's
background and experience so you don't have to keep referring back to the CV
throughout the interview.
Avoid Interruptions: To avoid interruptions, it is preferable to conduct an interview
outside the office, in a private room - it is usually much neater as well and therefore
creates a better impression. When and where you conduct an interview is very
Evaluate the Candidate: During the interview, managers should evaluate the
candidate in terms of how well they are likely to perform on the job and not on their
performance during the interview. Ask for evidence of everything you think is
important and DataFin will obtain all documentation from the candidate. If you don't
get the evidence, the applicant may not have the qualifications he or she stated.
Explain the Process: Inform the candidate about the selection process time frame.
Meeting Employees: Have applicants meet a few dedicated employees who can sell
candidates on the idea of coming to work for the company.
Make Notes: After the interview, take a few minutes to review the applicant and to
make notes.
Reference Checks: Left DataFin know which reference checks will be required.
DataFin performs reference checks on behalf of clients after permission is obtained
from the candidate to check the references. Checking references is very important,
and it requires experience and skills on the part of the reference checker to
accurately get the facts.
Final Decision: Do not let pressure to fill the vacancy affect your decision about who
to employ. A second interview may be required for further evaluation. When it is
difficult to determine which candidate would be the best for the position it is
important to examine your criteria for success and to measure each applicant again
against those criteria.
Make the Offer: Whilst DataFin often acts as the middle-man for salary negotiations
it is your job to get the candidate to accept. Salary and benefits package are
important, but a feeling that they would fit in is very important to most candidates .
Once a final decision has been made and the offer is ready, contact DataFin so that
they can convey the information to the candidate.

Job interview introduction and questions


Greet the candidate - a light-hearted remark will help to break the ice.
Have the candidate's CV on the desk.
Have your interview plan to bring structure and comprehensiveness to the interview.
Thank the candidate for their interest in the position.
Use your speech and body language to create a positive image of the company.
Selling the benefits of the position is important in order to generate and maintain a
candidate's interest and to persuade the candidate to work for the company.
Establish rapport by commenting on pertinent information outlined in the
candidate's CV.
Explain the format of the interview: "In some questions, I/we will give you
hypothetical situations. In other questions, I/we will ask you about past experiences
in a particular area. In your response, please give a brief explanation, how you
behaved in the situation, and the outcome or result of that behavior."

Formulate Questions

One of the biggest concerns when interviewing is knowing what questions to ask, but being
prepared will eliminate most of the problem. Go through the job description and assess
what all the experiential, educational, knowledge, skill and other requirements are to fulfill
the duties and responsibilities associated with the position. Pose your questions so that the
answers will address the requirements. Make sure that you create questions for ALL the
criteria which will determine whether there's a fit with the job and the team.

Purpose of preparing questions:

The questions that you ask control the interview.

Asking the same questions to all the applicants provides you with a strong basis for
If you have a list of questions to ask during the interview, it can help prevent you
repeating questions or failing to ask critically important questions.
Certain questions in an employment context may be illegal, such as questions
pertaining to age, marital status, religion, sexual preference, etc.. Make sure the
interview is conducted within all the legal restraints and that you know what you are
allowed to ask. Something like "Would your wife mind if you spend time alone with
other women?" - would be an inappropriate question. Find alternative approaches in
order to cover any sensitive issues.

Here are some basic question categories to use as examples for creating your own structure,
below they are explained with examples.

Analytical Abilities
Attention to Detail
Interpersonal Skills: Clients
Interpersonal Skills: Teamwork/Co-Workers
Technical Skills
Time Management

Get the candidate to do most of the talking, more than half of the interview time, but do not
let the candidate dominate the discussion. Periodically ask the candidate whether they have
any questions or comments.

Analytical Abilities

Analytical abilities can become evident by asking the candidate to take a written test.


Give candidates a handout describing a particular scenario and outlining a client

requirement that might correspond to their actual job requirements. Ask them what
they would do to solve the problem.

Attention to Detail

It is often difficult in an interview environment to ascertain weather a candidate has the

requisite attention to detail that might be essential for a particular the role. Here are some
examples of what to ask to help you to determine whether the candidate has the skills to
distinguish important information from unimportant information, have analytical abilities
and strong attention to detail.


Ask the candidate to proof read a written document and ask that they point out the
mistakes and identify those that could lead to serious problems
"Tell me which of the courses/projects you have done required the most attention to
detail. Please tell me how you dealt with the demands of the course/project."
"Tell me about a time when you discovered some small item or detail that helped to
solve a larger issue."
"For the remainder of the time, I/we will ask you to answer an essay question. The
essay describes a department's system/environment. I/We would like you to write a
letter to the department head wherein you will describe internal control weaknesses
as findings along with recommendations to strengthen those weaknesses."

In some jobs an ability to communicate on relevant issues is a deciding factor.


Role-play scenarios are usually an effective means of determining communication



If the candidate does not come across with enthusiasm in the interview it probably means
that they are not enthusiastic about the position they are applying for.


Perhaps ask them about something which they feel passionate/enthusiastic about
and see if their level of enthusiasm rises.


Most job roles require some degree of flexibility and a more rigid person will struggle with a
position that requires them to be very flexible and vice versa.


"Describe a situation when your ideas where strongly opposed in a meeting. What
did you do? How did you deal with the situation?"
"Describe how you felt in a situation where you were very focused on your task at
hand and then due to external factors had to shift on to a totally different project."


Employees are often expected to show initiative and be self-motivated in circumstances

where there is little or no supervision available. Each assignment provides an opportunity to
learn something new. Sometimes, employees take advantage of a job assignment to develop
new skills or expertise in a new area that is above and beyond their initial assignment,
possibly becoming an expert in their field. Your objective is to find out whether this is
something the candidate would be comfortable with.


"Describe a situation when you had to take charge and get a job done or resolve a
difficult situation. What did you do? What happened?"
"If you were involved with a project in a field in which you had no experience, how
would you gain the knowledge to plan and complete the required tasks?"
"Tell me about a situation where you were expected to do something on your
own and where you went beyond the call of duty."

This is very difficult to ascertain during an interview situation as asking someone if they have
integrity is not an easy question! We would highly recommend that you conduct both credit
and criminal checks as well as at least two reference checks before making any offers.


"Describe a situation at work where, with hindsight, you would have acted

Interpersonal Skills: Clients

Being a good listener and being able to maintain objectivity and fairness contributes to
clients feeling comfortable. This can lead to an openness that is not easily attained in
business relationships.


Give intro: "In the available position, you will encounter new people. These questions
relate to how you would handle client relations…"
"Tell me about a time when you had to work closely with someone in a position
above (or below) you. Who was the person? What did you have to do? What was the
"Tell me about a time when you had to deal with members of the public. Who was
involved? What did they do?"
"Tell me about a situation where you detected a client's needs and how you worked
to meet those needs."
Ask the candidate to relate a situation where someone was particularly successful in
cultivating a relationship with a client.
"Suppose you are working with a department of a client where employees are
unhelpful and consistently delay getting needed information to you. What would you

Interpersonal Skills: Teamwork/Co-Workers

Interpersonal skills are essential since staff must be able to relate to co-workers and perhaps
a variety of clients. Teamwork is an integral part of an effective IT work force. While some
departments may structure their assignments to be solo projects, it is important to establish
a good rapport within the office. Many companies are structured to work toward staff
interdependence rather than independence and many engagement problems are solved by


Give intro: "In our office, it is important to work well with others in the company.
Effective teamwork is essential when we all have to work together to complete a
project within a strict deadline…"
"Tell me about your most recent group or team effort."
"Describe a group work situation where you and a co-worker were having trouble
getting along with each other. How did you resolve the conflict?"
"Tell me about a situation in which you felt others were wrong and you were right."
"Assume you are a supervisor and one of your subordinate employees consistently
arrives late to work. What action would you take?"
"You receive a promotion. One of the staff is extremely resentful (as he/she was
turned down for the promotion) and is being unhelpful and obstructive. How would
you handle the situation?"
"How would you respond to a peer who through their incompetence is preventing
your team from completing an project?"


Assessing a person's leadership potential is often a 'gut feel' reaction one would have to a
particular candidate. However in order to assess actual leadership ability one would have to
ask questions describing when they were in a position of leadership and how they


If the candidate has not had any managerial experience they will need to think about a
situation where they believe they have been managed well or incorrectly and then describe
how they would have responded in that situation if they were a manager.

Technical skills

While every employer wants employees with brilliant technical skills it is important to
determine the candidate's ability to apply those skills in a practical, helpful and effective way
in a work situation. Use the candidate's CV to identify skills developed from their duties,
responsibilities and education. This information can be used to formulate questions that can
provide you with a more complete idea of the candidate's knowledge and skill levels. Also
focus your questions around skills required and the candidate's ability to handle specific
tasks in the available position. Skills may not always be evident in the candidate's CV – well-
developed skills should usually be clearly evident after about two years of experience.
Determine the candidate's ability to grow with the job by asking how they acquired their


To identify any other skills deemed essential to success on the job, make inquiries
regarding the applicant's CV, references, and past job experience.
"What would you do if you were performing a project where you knew you did not
have the technical skills to carry it out?"
"How have you applied your technical skills in a practical and helpful way?"
"Tell me about the most difficult work/school problem you ever faced. How did you
tackle it? What were the results?"
Time Management

Time management skills are needed to plan and complete projects within specified
deadlines. All staff must manage their time effectively and be able to juggle schedules to
accommodate various circumstances. Sometimes overtime is required to finish a job on
time, and candidates must be willing to commit to working late if a deadline dictates
additional working time.


Give an intro: "Lets start by talking about time management. We want to know how
you handle situations where there is a time crunch…"
"Suppose you arrive for work with a full day's schedule already planned. You are
working on a project deliverable required for a project committee meeting the
following day. At 9:00 a.m., you get handed three additional tasks that need to be
done right away…"
"How would you handle the person giving you the additional projects? How would
you ensure the project deadline is met for the committee meeting? How would you
cope with this?"
"Describe a situation where you were faced with a deadline that you couldn't meet.
How did you handle it?"
"Describe a situation when you had to learn a large amount of material quickly. How
did you do it?"


Effective writing skills are necessary to formulate well-organized, clear and concise
documents and reports. If the employee needs to have strong writing skills, a writing sample
would identify their ability to provide detailed information as well as their ability to
determine and focus on important issues. When interviewing candidates for a senior
documentation position, a writing sample should be a requirement.


Give the candidate a detailed document of a type that would be relevant to the
available post. Ask the candidate to summarize the document in a clear, concise
Ask the candidate to provide examples of documentation that they have previously
Candidates can be given a hypothetical scenario to document and asked to give

Benjine Gerber, Author, Systems developer