Grilling candidates

Get the most from an interview – without grilling the candidate

So you’re sitting in front of a candidate, how are you planning to get the most out of your time together? Here’s a hint: leave your drill sergeant routine by the door, this is an interview – not an interrogation.

At some point during our careers many of us have come across someone who seems intent on trying to catch candidates out and generally just give them a hard time. But remember, yours is not the only vacancy out there by a long shot, so the only thing you’re likely to achieve by trying to stump candidates is a rush towards the nearest exit.

The interview process should be like a conversation where both parties reveal information about themselves, and it’s not just the questions you’ve already prepared that can give you a real insight to your candidate’s interests and personality.

The cornerstone of your average interview starts by reeling off exactly what the candidate has included on their CV and picking bits out for more detail, pretty standard practice which will provide you with the answers you want, but won’t give you any real depth of insight into the type of person you’ve got sat in front of you.

If you’re really interested in getting that all important ‘fit’ for your business, then ditch the robot style questions and open up the conversation by asking the right things to reveal more about your candidate.

Give these conversation points a try to see how much more you can reveal about your potential new employee:

What’s the best moment you’ve had at work so far?

Asking a candidate to describe their strengths is like asking them to take a walk in the park – they’ve already committed this answer to memory so it’s a simple as reading a list. Instead ask for a more personal example of previous successes and take notice of what’s actually being said and inferred.

Is your candidate focusing solely on their own achievements, or are they giving credit to others that helped toward the success of this memorable moment?

If targets or other measurable elements are involved listen out to see if they can give you specifics or if they are giving you a vague idea.

Kicking off your interview this way gives the candidate the chance to showcase some of their key strengths, provides you with a memorable snapshot and gets the whole process off to a positive start.

Tell me something about you that I wouldn’t get from your CV

Ask the candidate to tell them about yourself and you’re in for yet another pre-rehearsed script full of things that the candidate wants you to hear – or worse still a recap of exactly what’s already on their CV.

Give your candidate a break and show them that’s its ok to reveal more than the polished spiel, you might just find something that’s interesting and relevant to your role hidden away in there.

Does your candidate help out with anything outside of work? This could show leadership skills and creativity. Do they volunteer their time to help others? The list of key characteristics you could find out about once you give them the chance to step away from their CV can reveal an awful lot about that person.

If you could start a business, what would it be?

As a recruiter, I got so sick of asking ‘where do you see yourself in five years’ and getting the same old run of the mill answers. The response the candidate thinks you want to hear is ‘I’ll be here, supporting you’ which basically tells you nothing.

Instead, gauge their creativity, forward vision and goals by asking them this question instead. It will reveal far more about their career aspirations and give an idea just how passionate they are about the industry you operate in. If they fail to mention that industry it’s generally safe to assume that it’s not where their heart lies long term.

Remember, interviews don’t have to be painful or uncomfortable for either party. Open up a free flowing dialogue, ask the right questions and you’ll get everything you need to know and more to make the right choice.

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Filed Under: Employers, Your Hiring

Emma Bonfiglio

About the author, Emma Bonfiglio

Managing Director at Appointments, Emma has spent 15 years building up a stellar reputation for commercial recruitment excellence across a variety of industries and sectors. There’s no staffing challenge Emma hasn’t encountered and her insight into the recruitment landscape has assisted countless clients achieve their goals over the years.


Specialising in the legislative and procedural side of business operations and through her extensive knowledge and continual training, Emma has a wealth of legal and contractual recruitment knowledge to help advise and support organisations of any size and in any industry.