Some important steps that you might...

by David Patten

Human Resources Specialist


Interviewing Preparation
Interviewing Techniques
Interviewing Question Styles
Job Trait Profile/Questions
Resume Evaluation Tips
How to Interpret Body Language


Interviews are most likely to be valid and effective if the interviewer keeps the interview focused on gathering information specific to the candidate’s ability to meet job requirements. In order to do this, the interviewer should prepare for the interview by becoming familiar with the specific job requirements and with the credentials the applicant has provided up to that point.

Gain a knowledge of the position to be filled, such as:

  • The skills needed
  • The personal traits required
  • The specific tasks to be performed
  • The relative importance of tasks

Identify requirements of the job, such as:

  • Education requirements
  • Technical requirements
  • Overtime work required
  • Travel requirements
  • Physical dexterity requirements

Prepare a list of questions in the order they are to be asked during the interview:

Topics include:

  • Education
  • Work history
  • Why the applicant thinks he/she is suited for the job
  • What his/her problem solving skills are
  • Any pertinent or interesting non-work experience
  • Outside interests and hobbies
  • Any questions the applicant may have for the interviewer

Be prepared to talk about (and answer questions about):

  • The industry
  • Company products
  • Company policies
  • Company benefits
  • Operating procedures
  • Career development opportunities
  • Know the position. Define the exact requirements of both the job and the person needed to fill it. During the interview, try to match the candidate against these specifics point by point.

  • Establish rapport. Put the candidate at ease by establishing a common ground. Engaging in small talk helps. The rapport will make the candidate more communicative and give you more facts for evaluation. However, be careful not to lose control of the interview.

  • Listen. Put the candidate at ease, then let the candidate talk. Give the candidate an opportunity to ask questions about the position. The type of questions and the manner in which they are asked can supply a good deal of information about an applicant. Use the 80/20 rule, i.e. the candidate should be talking 80% of the time and the interviewer, no more than 20% of the time.

  • Refrain from commenting on candidates responses. Editorializing on the candidate’s response takes up valuable interviewing time and encourages responses based on the candidates perceptions of the interviewer’s priorities (i.e. you may not get as good a perspective on the candidate’s values as he/she gets on yours).

  • Describe the position fairly. Let the candidate know precisely and in the simplest terms what the duties of the job are and what will be expected of him or her. Do not go overboard in selling the position or the company. A major cause of employee dissatisfaction and turnover is that the job proves to be different from what the employee expected it to be.

  • Ask "open-ended" questions. Avoid yes/no questions and questions that can be answered by a single work or a short phrase. However, do not be too general. "Tell me about yourself" for example, does not provide enough direction.

  • Past behavior can predict future performance. Ask questions that are based on past performance. For example, "Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer."

  • Probe the candidate’s personal philosophy. What a candidate believes and wants may mean as much as what he or she can do. Do the candidate’s attitudes fit with the company’s way of doing things? Can the candidate accomplish his/her goals by working toward accomplishing the company’s goals or is there a conflict?

  • Find out what particular function the candidate would like to perform. Finding out what the candidate particularly liked or disliked about a previous position may help you assess how well the candidate will fit into the company.

  • Gather all needed information. Use the interview to gather all the information that you will need to make an informed final judgment.

  • Probe areas where the applicant appears to lack qualifications. Probe without prejudging. If the applicant does not appear to qualify for the position, communicate the requirements of the position and then refer to statements made by the candidate or verify facts that would indicate that the candidate appears not to meet a requirement. For example, "The position requires a lot of travel, some of it outside normal working hours, yet you have indicated that you are not willing to work overtime. It appears that you will have difficulty meeting the travel requirements."

  • Close on a friendly note. End the interview with a courteous word and a friendly smile. If you are interested in the candidate, you might say so and explain what the next steps toward employment are. However, promises made during the interview may be legally binding. Be careful not to make promises unless you are absolutely certain you will keep them. And remember, only a Human Resource representative is authorized to extend offers of employment.


The main objective of the interview is to gather as much information as possible about the applicant. This information can be used to assess if and where the person will fit into the company, whether the person seems to have an affinity for the type of work he/she will be expected to do, and, perhaps most important, how the applicant will perform in the future. It is important to frame questions so that the answers are measurable in terms of the company’s needs. This is especially true because the interview is the most potentially subjective part of the hiring procedure.

The following are samples of questions styles found in well-balanced interviews. Generally, different combinations of these types of questions are used. The position for which candidates are being interviewed will influence the questions that will be asked.

1. Open-ended Questions

This type of question, which is intended to allow the applicant to do most of the talking, draws out attitudes and information. Examples of open-ended questions are:

  • What do you know about our company? Our industry?
  • What are your strengths and how do they relate to our company?
  • What are your biggest accomplishments, work, non-work, during the past few years?
  • What is your personal five year goal?
  • What new skills or capabilities have you developed over the past year?
  • Tell me about your last job.
  • How did your job description change while you held the position?
  • What is important to you in a job?
  • What do you feel would be your biggest contribution to our department? Our Company?
  • Is there anything that you would like to tell me or add to your previous answers?

2. Probing Questions

This type of question, which also allows the applicant to do the talking, is intended to clarify facts and attitudes. Some examples of probing questions are:

  • Do you enjoy talking to people on the telephone?
  • Why are you leaving your present position?
  • How well do you take criticism?
  • How well do you react to direction from a supervisor?
  • How would you feel if your supervisor asked you to do an additional task?
  • Is working under pressure a problem?

3. Close-ended Questions.

Questions that are phrased to evoke yes or no answers should not dominate the interview. However, sometimes, it is useful to pin down an applicant’s response. If an applicant avoids giving a yes or no answer to a close-ended question, this may be a sign that the applicant wants to evade the question and should be probed. Examples of close-ended questions are:

  • Are you able to work overtime when necessary?
  • Would you be able to accommodate a change in your work shift?
  • Are you able to travel 50% of your work time?
  • Are you willing to relocate?
  • Do you consider your commute too long or too tiring?

4. Past Performance or Behavioral Questions

One way to learn about a candidate’s abilities or how they will perform in the future is to ask how the candidate has handled various types of situations in the past or how they would handle a hypothetical situation. Past performance or behavioral questions typically begin with "Tell me about one example when..."; "Share with me an experience when..."; "Give me an example of..." Some other useful probes to assess a candidate’s ability and future performance are:

  • Tell me about a time when you had taken responsibility for directing the work of others without being asked to do so?

Additional probes could include:

  • Describe the circumstances.
  • Would you be able to accommodate a change in your work shift?
  • Were there any problems?
  • What would you do differently?

If the candidate has not directed the work of others, ask whether the candidate has ever formally assumed direction of a group project in a social or a family context.

  • Can you give me an example of an occasion when you had a subordinate or co-worker who was undependable and how you handled it?

Additional probes could include:

  • What were the problems?
  • How did you handle the situation?
  • How did the subordinate or co-worker respond?
  • Were others aware of the situation? If so, what were their reactions?
  • Share with me a time in your career when a situation occurred that caused you to become angry.

Additional probes could include:

  • Describe the situation.
  • How did you handle it?

NOTE: If you ask behavioral questions early in the interview, the candidate will understand that you expect him/her to give detailed responses and will be less likely to give prepared/canned answers to your questions.


Most interviewers believe that if they identify a candidate who "can do" the job, they will improve their chances of making a "good hire". At the cost of turnover, not to mention the impact in other areas such as productivity and morale, it is very costly to take chances that a candidate who "can do" the job, "will do" the job.

By developing a Professional Job Trait Profile to compliment the job description, and by focusing interview questions in on the candidate’s behavioral characteristics profile as well as his/her ability to do the job, the chances of making a bad hiring decision are minimized.

When focusing in on the candidate’s traits and how well they match the Professional Profile, the interviewer should use a combination of probing questions and past performance behavioral questions.


Look for the following when evaluating a resume:

  • Signs of achievement. The best indicator of successful future performance is successful past performance. Career moves on the resume, both within a company and among companies, should typically reflect upward or lateral, rather than downward movement.
  • Signs of profit-mindedness. A successful employee should be aware of his/her contribution to the profitability of the company. The person evaluating the resume should note how often a resume draws attention to functions that had a direct bearing on the earnings of a company and should see how specific actions produced sales increases or improved efficiency. During the interview, the interviewer should probe the claims made by applicants.

  • Patterns of stability and career direction. Look to see whether each job change on the resume indicates that the candidate has bettered himself or herself and has sought out challenges. Frequent job changes can indicate instability, or they can demonstrate ambition and achievement.

  • Specific job description. The less specific candidates are when they are describing what they did, the more likely they are trying to inflate the importance of what they actually accomplished. Look for specific data on these items; people supervised, sales achieved, productivity increased, and profits earned.

  • Lengthy descriptions of education. Degrees are important as evidence of accomplishment, but extensive educational information is often given by those who lack the appropriate educational background or experience.

  • Gaps in background. Candidates who write functional resumes devoid of chronological details are usually trying to avoid having to explain gaps in their work history.

  • Trivia in the personal section. Candidates who provide and emphasize a long list of hobbies and outside interests could be weak in experience or could be so busy with extracurricular activities that they cannot be industrious on the job.

  • Overabundance of qualifiers. Use of qualifiers such as "knowledge of " and "exposure to" often indicates an absence of hands-on experience.

  • Sour grapes. An employee who is short-sighted enough to bad-mouth an employer on a resume is a bad candidate.

  • Too-slick resume. Candidates who rely on gimmicky resumes are rarely as interesting as their resumes.


The gestures that a candidate makes serve as clues to the candidate’s confidence, honesty, and intentions. The practiced interviewer learns, consciously or otherwise, to interpret shifts in body language to evaluate answers and determine when to probe.

  • Covering the mouth. Talking through the hands or fingers often indicates uncertainty. Asking the candidate whether he or she is certain about an answer may elicit worthwhile information.

  • Steepling. Bringing the fingers of the hands together to form a "steeple" typically indicates a sense of superiority even if the steeple does not point up. Allowing the candidate to set this sort of tone for the entire interview can help build his/her confidence but is unlikely to reveal major weakness.

  • Averting the eyes. If a candidate who has previously maintained average or better eye contact with the interviewer averts his/her gaze, it may mean that the candidate has become uncomfortable or guilty. However, a direct gaze is not a guarantee of honesty.

  • Crossed arms. Crossing the arms can indicate defensiveness or boredom. Further questioning can determine whether the candidate should be defensive.

  • Raising a finger. An applicant may raise a finger or hand as a polite signal that he/she wants to interrupt, perhaps to raise a question or correct a misapprehension.

  • Cultural variations. Body language varies to some degree among individuals and across cultures. A skillful interviewer uses a knowledge of body language to direct interview probes but does not treat the body language itself as evidence of employability, particularly if there is a risk of cultural bias because of the candidate’s background.

 We thank to Mr. David Patten, Human Resources Director, Epson Canada Inc. for writting this article.


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