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Interview Tips

Interview Tips

Employee hiring involves some of the most important decisions a manager will make. Hiring is an opportunity to make positive change: Getting the right individual in the right job is a critical building block for any thriving organization.

Often a decisive step in the hiring process is the candidate interview. Candidate responses during the interview can help to identify the right candidate, both for the position and for the organization.

However, good responses that help to highlight a candidate’s interpersonal, critical thinking, and technical skills can only be drawn out through a good interview, one that employs effective interview questions.

There are several ways employers can develop and implement effective interview questions and effective interview techniques.

Tips on developing successful interview questions

Know your job and the “ideal candidate.”

If you could design the perfect employee for this job, what combination of technical, people, and critical thinking skills would he or she possess? Focusing on the description, which aspects of the job are most critical for this new hire?  What relevant skills are most essential for successful performance? What experience is most germane? Giving some quality thought to an “ideal candidate” can help target the recruitment and selection process to find and secure the best new employee.

Each candidate interviewing will have strengths and weaknesses.  Design questions to elicit information that tells you strengths and weaknesses of each candidate compared to your “ideal candidate.”

The three skillsets to look for in a candidate:

  • Technical Skills: the body of specialized knowledge and professional experience required to perform the concrete job tasks
  • People Skills: the ability to effectively work with and communicate with other employees and customers
  • Critical Thinking Skills: the ability to perform reasoned thinking that is clear, open-minded, and informed by evidence

Focus on identifying candidate interpersonal skills and critical thinking skills and spend less time on technical skills. Of course you also want to be sure to include questions that may identify gaps between candidate’s skills and experience and what the job requires.

Ask the candidate why they want the job first.

Candidates want to “sell” themselves—so why not design an interview which allows them to do just that?  Consider opening your next interview with one of the sample questions below.

  • Please tell us why your training and experience make you the best candidate for this job?
  • Why are you interested in this position and in working for this organization?

Many candidates walk into the room eager to make a prepared pitch about why they are the best person for that position. By starting off with a “Why do you want this job?” type of question, you give them that opportunity to get the pitch out of their system. Design the opening question to elicit pitches that will ultimately offer you the information you need.

Not only will your candidate be able to tackle this topic right away, you will get a chance to learn more about the breadth of his/her experience and how well-prepared he/she is for the interview.

Structure the questions so that the candidate does most of the talking.

Candidates come prepared to talk, so give them plenty of latitude. Use open-ended questions that offer candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their critical thinking skills and approaches to solving problems. An employee uses many skills to resolve a single problem.  Rather than ask simple questions seeking short, right or wrong answers, make sure your questions reveal more about how the potential employee might think about and act on specific situations.

One way to achieve this is through hypothetical questions. I recommend including at least two hypothetical questions in every interview.

A good hypothetical question might be a problematic situation that does or could occur at your worksite.  These can be especially effective at giving you a good snapshot of the candidate’s problem solving ability, how well he/she understand the position, and how he/she approaches problem solving.

Don’t be afraid of using longer questions. Most jobs require employees to gather significant amounts of information verbally and this can be a good test of a candidate’s listening skills. 

Be sure to stipulate that the candidate must answer the question as if he/she is new on the job. This directs the candidate to reply using the information provided and not to rely on a canned reply, such as “when/if I was in the job I would know the rules/protocol/policy and follow that.”

Assign the candidate responsibility in helping to manage the process.

By involving the candidate in the time management component of the interview, you are able to glean more about the candidate’s time management skills.

The process is fairly straight forward. At the beginning of the interview, let the candidate know the numbers of questions that the panel will ask him/her, as well as the time allotted for the interview.  Ask the candidate to monitor his/her time when responding to the panel’s questions so that there is enough time at the end of this process to ask questions of the panel.

Identify information needs/gaps.  

The information presented by each candidate will have gaps. Be sure to identify those gaps and include questions in the interview that are designed to elicit the missing information.

The Interview Process: By the Numbers

Recommended length: 45 minutes to 1 hour is sufficient time for a single panel to conduct an interview.

Total number of questions. 12–14 questions. In a typical, 1-hour interview you should have enough time to get through all panel questions and allow the candidate to ask questions of the panel.

Number of panels: If possible, have at least 2 panels interview the same candidate. This allows more time with the candidate, more questions posed, more interviewer feedback, and the opportunity to evaluate candidate consistency between the panels.

Number of interviewers per panel: Panels can have between 2–14 members depending on the type and organizational level of the position, the number and availability of stakeholders related to the position, and the time available.

I’ve used panels of widely fluctuating sizes and all can be effective.  I would avoid using a panel larger than the number of interview questions—ideally everyone participating in the panel should ask at least one question.

If you have a team that is participating—e.g., a management team—often you want to keep that team intact as an interview panel.

Getting Started

To get you started, here are some sample interview questions for your consideration.

The opportunity to fill a vacant position with a highly qualified and motivated new employee should not be wasted.  Managers are wise to take the time needed to design a thoughtful selection process.

Interview questions designed to elicit accurate, useful, and constructive information from candidates maximizes the likelihood your process will result in an effective and productive employee.

Questions? Comments?

If you have questions about this topic or other local government issues, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772. If you have comments about this blog post or other topics you would like us to write about, please email me at

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About Marci Wright

Marci Wright writes for MRSC as a guest author.

Marci Wright retired in 2014 after over 16 years as the City of Shoreline’s first Human Resources Director. Previously, she worked for Thurston County as Director of Employee and Administrative Services (1987 - 1997) and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney (1980 - 1987). Currently volunteering for MRSC she continues to be interested in the full range of human resource issues, especially training, facilitation and problem resolution.

The views expressed in guest author columns represent the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of MRSC.