In the first of this series of articles we looked at Recruitment Tips: How to Read a CV. In this article we’re going to focus on planning and preparing the recruitment interview beginning with identifying the information you want from the candidate. Why? Because the clearer we are about the information we want the candidate to provide for us, the more likely we are to gain that information and the less likely we are to make recruitment decisions based on gut feelings or influenced by that enemy of effective recruitment – unconscious bias

The interviewer has two fundamental, and linked, sources of information about the candidate: the candidate’s past performance and the candidate’s performance during the interview. Let’s start with the past.

The candidate’s past performance

It’s generally accepted that the best predictor of how a person will perform in the future is how they have performed in similar situations in the past, particularly the recent past. 

Let’s assume that you are comfortable with verifying the more factual elements of the candidate’s past performance. You will have read their CV or application form so you can fairly easily confirm they have the technical knowledge, the right level of experience and qualifications that you need. These are the elements of past performance that can be assessed relatively objectively. Different interviewers frequently agree on the facts relating to a candidate’s knowledge, relevant experience and associated criteria.

What many recruiters find more challenging is verifying that the candidate has the non-technical skills and attributes they are looking for. The reason this is so challenging, and why there is much greater scope for error, is largely because these skills and attributes are often difficult to describe and consequently evaluate the candidate against.

So let’s begin with getting some clarity on what skills and attributes we are looking for.

Recruitment Tip 1: Become familiar with the skills and attributes required of the candidate

The starting point is to simply make a list of all the skills and attributes that are required in the role you are recruiting for. If you are lucky you may have a ‘person specification’ or ‘role description’ that lists at least some of these. The key question is:

  • What does a person have to do/be like/demonstrate to be effective in this role and in this business?

Here are a few examples:

  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Effective team player
  • Ability to solve complex problems
  • Creativity

Once you have a list of skills and attributes you can then move to the next step.

Recruitment Tip 2: Describe behaviourally the skills and attributes required of the candidate

From a practical viewpoint, skills and attributes are essentially the range of behaviours you would want to see the candidate demonstrate should they become an employee. The huge advantage of describing skills and attributes as behaviours is that behaviours are objective. The candidate can give you examples of when they have demonstrated behaviourally the ability to work under pressure or they can’t.  This makes interviewing and assessing the candidate much easier for you – and them. So how do we define skills and attributes as behaviours? Here’s a question you can use:

  • What does a person who demonstrates this skill or attribute actually do in practice? How do they behave?

Having identified the behaviours you then state them as expectations. The candidate will then be able to demonstrate, using past experience and giving examples, how they meet these statements.

Let’s take an example.

Ability to Work Under Pressure

  • Demonstrates the ability to plan and see a job through to completion and deadline. Takes action to identify and overcome any barriers to completion
  • Demonstrates the ability to reprioritise as necessary and to manage conflicting demands on time
  • Demonstrates the ability to recognise and manage the escalation of issues that cannot be resolved at their own level
  • Demonstrates the ability to cope with sustained pressure of work over a protracted period of time.

The key issue here is that the clearer you are at describing skills and attributes as behaviours, the more likely you are to accurately verify, or not, that the candidate can demonstrate those skills and attributes. In short, it’s all about clarity of expectations.

The candidate’s performance during interview

Along with past performance the interview itself provides the opportunity for:

  • Judging how professionally the candidate has prepared
  • Observing how the candidate performs under pressure
  • Observing significant elements of a candidate’s interpersonal and mental style
  • Testing the candidate’s knowledge and judgement.

The clearer we are on these expectations (for example, what would professional preparation for interview look like?) the more likely we are to accurately assess the candidate.


Of course undertaking this level of preparation is time-consuming. However, recruiting a candidate who has the knowledge and experience but not the skills and attributes that are essential to your business is much (much) more costly. Should you need guidance on any of the areas mentioned in the article contact Jonathan for a chat.

Author Joan Henshaw

Joan is a management development trainer, author and presenter of the video management training series ‘The 10 Minute Management Toolkit’. She has spent the last 25 years helping business owners, leaders and managers improve their effectiveness, including building their skills as recruiters.