How to conduct effective interviews

The WhoCo guide to optimizing your interview process and putting your company's best foot forward.

Interviews are crucial to hiring, but often a missed opportunity. Your goals? Minimize errors, ensure fairness and efficiency, and put your company's best foot forward. Let's look at a few ways to optimize the process and avoid common pitfalls.


Before the Interview

  • Create a job outline. Give some careful thought to the job you are hiring for and write an up-to-date job description listing the job's purpose and functional and soft skill requirements. 
  • Decide on your questions. Asking all applicants the same questions is more effective and reduces bias in your interviews. From your list of required skills on the job outline, develop solid, behaviorally-based questions that ask applicants about their relevant experiences (such as questions focused on job-related experiences). Follow our tried-and-true interview question guide or get inspiration from our comprehensive list
  • Put together an agenda. You’ll want to include time for introductions, the job-related questions you landed on (plan 10-15 minutes per question), and the applicant’s questions. 
  • Decide how you’ll score candidates’ responses. Start with at least three scoring categories for each skill you interview for and define what each means: Below Requirements, Meets Requirements, and Exceeds Requirements. Expand these three categories to five if you like. We’ve developed a template for you to work from here.‍
  • Select an interview panel. A good panel ensures multiple perspectives and ratings on each question and related skills. Choose two or three coworkers (too many, and you risk overwhelming applicants). Include people with different perspectives on the job and hiring process (like a peer, a manager, and HR).‍ 
  • Determine who asks what. You can share questions across the panel or have one person ask them all.
  • Think through scheduling. Ensure you get panelist and candidate availability as soon as possible, so you don’t waste anyone’s time. Scheduling apps like Calendly (or WhoCo’s built-in Google calendar linking) can help you here. People with busy schedules, like your CEO, are often better left off early panels.
  • Consider sharing the interview questions with applicants. Doing so reduces stress and gives them a chance to prepare relevant, coherent examples so you know what they're capable of.

PROTIP

You’ve probably heard of the STAR method candidates often use for answering interview questions. We recommend using a simplified version to guide candidate responses. Remember, you want to understand an applicant’s past performance, not just whether they interview well—and seeking clarifying information is OK. If you’re missing any of the following from a candidate’s answer, ask follow-ups to uncover it:

Situation or background:
What situation or challenge did the candidate face?
Task or action:
What did the candidate do? How did they address the situation or challenge?
Result or outcome:
What was the outcome? If possible, can they quantify it?

Push yourself to evaluate “culture adds” and not just “culture fits.”
Consider candidates who bring to the table new perspectives or experiences that vary from those of your existing team. Those new perspectives can have a positive impact on your team and company.


During the Interview

  • Ensure interview time is uninterrupted. Employment decisions are life-changing and worthy of your undivided attention. Remember, applicants are interviewing you, too.
  • Begin with introductions and what to expect. Say who is in the room and how it will all go down. Like, “We’ll be taking notes on our conversation. We’ll spend around 20 minutes on our questions and then take 10 minutes for questions you might have for us.”.
  • Gather information. Have interviewers take notes on each question and rate responses using your pre-determined categories (see above).
  • Give the applicant the floor. Always set aside time for the applicant to ask questions and to offer some background on your company.

PROTIP

Avoid prohibited topics. Don’t ask about applicants’ race, weight, religion, citizenship, marital status, children, pregnancy, gender, and perceived disabilities. To familiarize yourself with what not to ask, check out the EEOC’s complete list.

Don’t just "have a chat." Unstructured interviews are less than half as predictive of future performance than structured interviews. It’s OK to go off-script once in a while, especially to clarify information, but don't make it the whole thing. It seems friendlier, but it's more likely to result in biased decision-making (not so friendly after all).

After the Interview

  • Invite the panel to a debrief. If you're at a decision-making point (when you reject or advance an applicant), bring the interview panel together to walk through the candidate's skill scores and related feedback.
  • Agree on some ground rules. Do this before you start debriefing to ensure you run a fair and effective process.
  • When are you going to debrief? After each applicant or for a group of applicants? If the position is open-until-filled, you should debrief after each. If you have a date you're closing the role, wait to debrief and decide after everyone interviews.
  • Scoring. Are you going to average all ratings or review the ratings and come to a consensus? If the latter, who settles an impasse?‍ Typically this is the hiring manager, but you should decide upfront.
  • Decide who to advance and who to reject. Base your decisions on the final ratings from the debrief. You worked hard to evaluate essential, job-related skills—don’t undermine your process now.

PROTIP
Ensure the interview team is aware of biases. Cognitive biases easily enter the interview and decision-making process, especially if you stop focusing on the job-related skills you identified. The biases that often show up in interview reviews include:

Anchoring and confirmation bias, such as weighing one data point too heavily (“they dress nice so they must be OK”) or ignoring evidence that conflicts with a first impression.

Like-me bias and in-group favoritism, or favoring people we socially identify with—often relating to legally protected distinctions like race, gender, and religion.

These and many other cognitive biases ( there are quite a few!) can lead to an overly positive or negative impression. Knowing what biases exist and designing a structured, job-related hiring process is your best defense to avoiding biased hiring decisions.