How to conduct a job interview when you're not in HR

Feb 10, 2021

5 mins

How to conduct a job interview when you're not in HR
Claire Kadjar


After spending your entire evening plowing through a massive pile of résumés, you’ve finally got your shortlist of candidates. Now it’s time to get down to the real business: the interviews. The only problem is that your own job is very different from that of a recruiter or HR manager. To be honest, you don’t have a clue how to conduct an interview. Don’t panic—we’ve put together a list of tips to help you to become a top-notch recruiter and find that one applicant who’s perfect for the role.

Prep like an (HR) boss!

The day of your first interviews is fast approaching and you feel pretty apprehensive about taking on the role of interviewer. Being unfamiliar with what it involves, it’s only natural that you’re asking yourself a ton of questions such as “How should I present myself?” “What questions should I ask?” “How can I be sure that this is the right person to hire?”

Three tips for when you’re preparing to conduct an interview:

  1. Read the posting again. This will help you to prepare so that you can make sure to have plenty of important information about the position, such as responsibilities, experience required, salary, start date, and more. Do this and you will be more comfortable talking about the position and answering the candidate’s questions.

  2. Analyse the application. Take a careful look at each résumé and cover letter. Then make a few notes detailing potential positives and possible issues. These will help to influence the topics covered during the interview, as well as those elements that might need to be explored in greater depth. For example, it might be a good idea to find out why a candidate has had some big employment gaps or what they might want to say about the three months they spent breeding huskies in Alaska.

  3. Prepare a list of questions for the interview. For all applicants, prepare about five to 10 questions that you will ask all of the candidates. This is a great way of drilling down by comparing all their answers, as well as being the fairest way to approach things.

Experts will tell you that the main objective of a job interview is to get to know the candidate and to find out the truth about their personality, motivation, and skills. But to actually get this done, you really do need to ask the right questions.

With that in mind, we’ve prepared a list of the best questions to ask so you can find the candidate of your dreams.

Our six must-ask questions:

  1. Tell me about your professional background?
    This open-ended question is the perfect way to start the interview while putting the candidate at ease. It’s much better than “Tell me all about yourself,” which is too vague and may cause them to veer off-topic.

  2. What do you like most about working in this sector?
    It’s widely believed that the best employees are the most passionate ones. So the more the candidate knows about their sector, the less likely you are to make a hiring error.

  3. Tell me about your professional failures and successes?
    This question really is a “must ask” if you’re looking for concrete examples of experience. Also, consider asking what steps they put in place to overcome their failures.

  4. What are you hoping to get from this role?
    This is an interview classic. It’s still essential because it allows you to measure a candidate’s enthusiasm and motivation for the position.

  5. What kind of people do you like working with?
    Another crucial question, as it’s well documented that a poor work atmosphere is one of the main causes of demotivation among employees.

  6. How would your friends describe you?
    Finally, stepping out of the professional environment can sometimes reveal unsuspected skills or personality traits, hopefully in a way that will enrich your impressions of the candidate.

The key to mastering the art of interviewing is not to rush it, but to allow your interviewees enough time to think about their answers. Listen carefully to their responses and ask them to rephrase what they’ve said if you haven’t understood something. It’s also worth paying attention to their body language. So, for example, if you can see that the interviewee seems stressed, don’t hesitate to interrupt them or to adapt your questions to help them to feel more comfortable.

Final dress rehearsal before the big show

Now that you’ve prepared your questions, let’s get to the “dress rehearsal”.

As in the theatrical world, this is your chance to perfect things before the big day. It’s an opportunity to make sure you’ve left nothing to chance, to avoid mistakes in the process, and, above all, to build up your confidence.

Quiet please, the rehearsal is starting!

  • Raise the curtain. When the candidate steps onto the “stage”, offer them a warm welcome to make them feel at ease. For example, you can ask them how their journey to the interview was and if they’d like a coffee. Then, make sure you settle down in a quiet room, away from any intrusive office hubbub.

  • Prologue. Once you’ve taken your respective seats, introduce yourself and explain to the candidate how the interview will be conducted. A good way to kick off is by saying, “If it’s okay with you, I’m going to ask you a few questions about yourself first, and then I’ll tell you more about the position. Feel free to step in at any time with any questions you have.”

  • The spotlight falls on the candidate. It’s time to use your questions to get to know the candidate better. Above all, let them express themselves, as it’s their moment to shine. But don’t hesitate to ask them to repeat or clarify points, as necessary. Don’t forget to take notes on their answers for future reference.

  • The ‘recruiter’ arrives onstage. Now it’s your turn. Introduce the position and the company not just positively but honestly as well. Make sure you remember to mention practical aspects such as salary range or expected hours of work.

  • The final curtain. End the interview by briefly summarising what’s been said. Check you have all the necessary information and specify any further steps in the process, such as when they can expect to hear back or whether there will be further interviews. If you have any interviewees who you feel would be a great fit, why not offer those candidates a short tour of the offices and let them meet some of the staff before they leave? (Assuming lockdown is over and you are meeting in the office.)

One last piece of advice is to be yourself. According to a white paper from recruitment firm Robert Walters, the recruiter’s personality is an important factor for 54% of candidates in their opinion of the company.

The do’s and don’ts of recruiting like a pro


  • Ask for rephrasing or clarifications to make sure you understand what the candidate is saying
  • Let them ask questions, as those questions may help to reveal the candidate’s expectations
  • Maintain control over the interview and, if necessary, refocus it back toward the main topic
  • Take notes to review during the post-interview period—a week at most—before getting back to candidates


  • Don’t judge too hastily––wait until the end of the interview before making up your mind
  • Don’t confuse the candidate by asking weird or trick questions
  • Don’t ask personal questions. Avoid asking about health, family life, or marital status
  • Don’t become overwhelmed by a candidate who won’t stop talking
  • That said, don’t monopolize the speaking time yourself.

Right, you’re now all set for your interviews. Good luck in your quest to find that perfect jewel of a candidate.

Translated by Andrea Schwam

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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