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March 18, 2020

Your Best Interview Process: An All-In-One Interview Guide for Employers Who Give a Damn

guide to best interview process

Before you were responsible for hiring, you likely heard terms like ‘structured interview’ or ‘offer letter’ and thought, “Meh. Sounds simple enough, right?”

Now that you’re on the frontline  — maybe as a hiring manager, a new recruiter, or on a small startup team where everyone plays a key role in hiring —things are getting a little hairier

You've got the sneaking suspicion that you're wasting precious time, energy and cold-hard cash on wasted interviews. And now, the doubts are starting to creep into your mind.

Questions like:

  • Who really deserves the interview hot seat? 
  • Phone screening? Is it necessary, and what do I ask? 
  • Which questions reveal real, culture-fit answers? 
  • Who does what during an in-person interview? 
  • What exactly goes into an offer letter?

Fret not, my friend. Keep reading and will it all become crystal clear in our comprehensive interview processes guide. We'll walk you through each step of the process so you get the tools you need to shape and simplify this crucial part of the hiring process from A to Z so you can capitalize on your time with your most qualified candidates. 

Before you dive in, remember that every organization, role, and hiring manager is different. Based on your own unique needs, you may need to take some of the specific tactics here with a big grain of salt. The goal is to give you options for a more streamlined interview process—one that helps you identify the best candidates and leads to faster, easier hires.

A heads up: Before implementing any selection process, understand your specific governing bodies’ requirements. Additionally, seek legal counsel to ensure that you’re providing a fair process for all applicants. Seriously. Don’t skip this. 

Tl;DR: How to Conduct an Interview (with zero time wasted)

  • Interview Preparation Checklist: Everything You Need to Interview Well
  • Best Interviewing Practices: Choose The Right Tool and Setting
  • How to Conduct an Interview the Smart Way
  • Structured Interview Process: The Two-Dimensional Approach 
  • How to Interview Someone for a Job without Losing Your Humanity
  • The Best Interview Format for Your Team
  • What to Do After an Interview 

Interview Preparation Checklist: Everything You Need to Rock Your Interview

As an avalanche of applications rushes into your inbox for potential applicants, the thought of interviewing hundreds of candidates is likely to trigger some overwhelm.

The first step toward finding the right candidates is to screen resumes while adding in some useful tools to help you get to know candidates better. This alleviates interview overwhelm to ensure the most qualified candidates land a seat in the interview room. 

Here's a quick checklist of everything you'll need for your best interview process yet:

  • Automated prescreening questionnaire to pinpoint qualified interviewees
  • Video assessment questions to screen for quality candidates for customer-facing roles
  • Description of a relevant test project or work sample
  • Clear job description 
  • Structured interview guide and list of questions
  • Quiet place where you can focus

How to screen hundreds of applications efficiently

If you’ve posted an accurate job description, you’re probably staring down hundreds of resumes. Not all of them are going to be qualified. That's just math.

The good news is, you don’t need to sort through all of them. 

Start by determining the top priorities like: 

  • Location
  • Licensing
  • Years of experience
  • Education
  • Degrees
  • Mandatory certifications

Unless you're hiring for a crucial executive role, we recommend keeping this first set of criteria relegated to the absolute must-haves.

If you use an ATS like Breezy, setting up an automated questionnaire will automatically disqualify applicants who don’t meet any of these core standards and save you a ton of time choosing your high-quality interviewees from the haystack. 

If you aren’t using software, no sweat. Just add checkboxes and multiple-choice options to your application. This allows you to manually scan qualifications, enabling you to weed out those who don’t meet the minimum criteria. 

Next, you can check for things like grammar, spelling, and overall accuracy on a cover letter and resume. Glaring mistakes like misspelling the company name or citing the wrong position could be one way disqualify the applicants who don't care enough to really pay attention to who you are and what you're about.

If your pile is still too big, these four areas can help you gain a better understanding of the candidate fit for the job:

  • Work objective or career summary: Are they looking to grow into something that the company has or will have available? Or are they aiming too high or too low for the position?
  • Relevant skills and qualifications: Do they meet all of your applicable skills requirements? This sounds nit-picky, but it can be a big one for certain technical or leadership roles.
  • Employment history: Is it spotty? Does it need explaining? Are they switching roles frequently? This area can bring up critical red flags.
  • Industry experience: Are they new to the industry and looking to swap careers? Having the right expertise can help you toss applicants who don’t align with your organization’s needs. 
  • Work samples: Looking for high-level skills? Consider requiring work samples or a paid test project. Asking candidates to solve a particular problem or create a product can showcase both their skill level and their desire for the position.

Bonus screening tools:

Video Assessments: Add a video interview assessment as part of your initial application for customer-facing roles to get an early glimpse into how well the potential candidate presents. How’s it work? Candidates will record videos of themselves answering questions that you outline. That’s it.

As a prescreening tool, a quick video is a good opportunity to gauge presentability, language fluency, or selling skills. Plus, your teammates can check it out to give more feedback on who should move forward to the live interview process.

Best Interviewing Practices: Choose The Right Tool and Setting 

Location matters and you’ve got three options when it comes to conducting a job interview:

  • In-person interviews
  • Phone screening interviews
  • Video conferencing interviews

Let’s break each down so you can pick the best place for your interview process. 

In-person interview

Face-to-face interviews will help you make better assessments, including the applicant’s social cues and body language. Plus, an in-office interview can give your candidate a preliminary feel for your office culture and environment.

In-person is a pretty safe bet for panel interviews, which allows several members of your team to meet, assess, and ask questions of each candidate. 

Phone screening interview

Phone screening is fast and affordable, which is attractive for those looking to save time and money. But, you won’t be able to evaluate all the good stuff over the phone, like non-verbal cues and body language.

If you’re looking for a speedy way to get an initial impression, consider phone screens. They work best when you want to:

  • dig a little deeper the individual’s background and experience,
  • clarify details from their resume or application, and
  • get an understanding of their verbal communication skills.

Video conference interview

Like phone screens, video interviews save on cost and time. This is a win-win  for panel interviews if you can’t get everyone in the same room at the same time.

Video interviews are perfect for remote roles, relocating employees, or distributed companies (or even just a busy team). 

With some video interview tools (Breezy’s included), everyone on your team views the same screen. They can review the candidate’s resume and the job requirements and take notes right on the candidate’s profile.

It’s a streamlined and collaborative way to run your video interviews. But it’s not the only one. If your organization uses video conferencing software, it can double for interviews, which would still give you time and cost savings over a traditional panel face-to-face.

Notes on video: Keep the job description handy, or the candidate scorecard and interview guide,  so you can laser focus on how they answer your questions. This helps you stay on track even if the interviewee has a distracting scene going on in the background.

How to Conduct an Interview The Smart Way

If you know Breezy HR, you know we are huge fans of a structured interview process. Studies show that this process hands-down helps to overcome interviewing biases so you can hire the most qualified candidate. 

Not only that, the structured interview process is efficient and repeatable, with easy-to-understand feedback—making reporting to higher-ups a breeze. 

How does the structured interview work?

Laszlo Bock, Google’s former SVP of People Operations, famously wrote in his book, Work Rules!, that every company should use structured interview questions based on the actual job.

Asking prospective candidates questions like, “Who’s your favorite superhero?” may get some good laughs, but it’s not a robust indicator of job suitability (unless you’re applying for the Justice League).

At a glance, this is what to expect from a classic structured interview process:

  1. HR and the Hiring Manager prepare questions ahead of time, based on skills and competency and usually linked directly to the job description.
  2. A grading scale is agreed upon for each answer beforehand.
  3. All interviewers take notes during the interview to help decide the scores and ensure each they assessed candidates fairly and equally.

The pros

  • It’s a clear, transparent, and systematic approach.
  • Candidate competencies are measured equally and fairly.
  • It poses less risk of discrimination and unconscious bias.
  • It’s reliable and valid.
  • Questions are shorter and interviews faster, which leads to quicker hiring.
  • It’s easy to replicate.

The cons

  • It’s rigid and strict, with no room for impromptu questions.
  • You can’t eliminate all interview bias and personal judgment — we’re human, after all!
  • Closed questions make it harder to get a sense of a person’s real personality.
  • It’s an administrative nightmare. Candidates can get tangled up trying to schedule and set up multiple interviews with different people on the hiring team.

Structured Interview Process: The Two-Dimensional Approach

A truly structured interview process has two dimensions:

  • Consistent interview questions that you ask every candidate 
  • Consistent scoring of those questions, grading every candidate with a rubric like Breezy’s Scorecards

The first part, the consistent interview questions, presents in three ways: Situational, Behavioral, and General questions.

Each of these types can then fit into two categories: Job Specific and Universal.

And then you can break them down even further, into questions that cover Job Knowledge, Soft Skills, Company Knowledge, and Culture Fit.

Here’s what a matrix of these interview questions could look like:

A great structured interview will have components of all of these — and we’re going to cover each in-depth.

Let’s start with the types of questions you could ask.

Situational interview questions

Situational questions ask the candidates to solve some actual problems they’d come across if they filled your open position. You know the type:

“Your potential customer says they can’t sign an annual contract right now but is willing to pay monthly. As one of our Sales Development Reps, how would you handle the situation?”

What’s so great about situational questions? Well, for starters, they move candidates away from canned responses.

Presenting people with a unique problem to solve means they’ve got to come up with a unique answer on the spot — perfect for judging their competence in the role.

Situational questions also make candidates’ answers easier to compare when it comes to making your hiring decisions. 

Behavioral interview questions

Behavioral interview questions can sound a lot like situational ones — except now you’re looking for proof of past behavior, not predictions of future actions. Consequently, behavioral questions are a little bit better at predicting job performance than situational questions.

Here’s an example:

“Describe a time when you noticed a problem and took the initiative to correct it, rather than waiting for someone else to do it, or waiting for it to go away.”

This is a good question, right? You can see how easy it will be to compare candidate answers down the line, plus it leads the candidate to paint themselves in the best light. That little bit of leading gives way to higher candidate confidence and a better candidate experience overall.

Getting more in-depth with interview questions

Both Situational and Behavioral questions give your interviewee a chance to talk, to tell you a story, and to reveal bits about themselves in the process.

Situational and Behavioral interview questions are the new tell me about yourself questions — less blunt, more nuanced, and ultimately more rewarding.

These are the kind of questions that determine basic skills, knowledge, and proficiencies you’d need for pretty much every candidate in every job role.

“What’s your leadership style?”

“What’s your comfort level with Windows systems?”

Not that you can’t add your general sort of questions into your structured interview, but these cover the basics.

For instance, if the job you’re filling requires constant use of a multi-line phone system, you’ll want to check the comfort level on those for every candidate — but HR doesn’t need to ask the new delivery drivers about the same thing.

Now let’s look at the vertical columns of the matrix: Job Knowledge, Soft Skills, Company Knowledge, and Culture Fit.

You can assign these to the hiring manager, and they’ll depend on (you guessed it) the open position. We’re going to divide Role-Specific questions into two more camps: Job Knowledge Questions and Soft Skills Questions.

Job Knowledge Questions discern hard skills — can your candidate apply their knowledge about relevant concepts, recent legal or technological news related to the role, or standard tools they’d need to use?

If you’re at a bit of a loss for what those hard skills are, review your job description. They’ll be front-and-center in the job requirements!

A sample job knowledge question for a social media manager might be,

“How do you think Facebook’s recent algorithm changes will affect the way brands in our vertical advertise on the platform?”

Keep in mind that the best way to evaluate job knowledge may not be a question during an interview.

Instead, you could ask all of your candidates to complete a work sample that shows you whether or not they’re capable of putting common, role-specific concepts into practice, rather than telling you that they can.

A work sample for the social media manager above could be,

“Create a three-month Facebook advertising strategy for us, based on current trends, consumer engagement in our vertical, and our current budget of $X.”

Most businesses agree that soft skills are excellent predictors of successful employees.  It’s in your best interest to dig down and find out if the candidate in front of you has the ones you’re looking for.

You can use your job description again to figure out which soft skills are most important to the role, or you can decide from the most highly-sought soft skills across all industries:

  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Adaptability
  • Critical thinking
  • Work ethic

But, don’t ask your candidate a question to address each of these soft skills. A combination of behavior and situational questions can knock a few birds down with one stone. Take this one, for example:

“If you saw a mistake in a report but your manager wasn’t available to address it, what would you do?”

A thorough answer would reveal plenty about your candidate’s critical thinking skills, strong work ethic, and adaptability.

These are the more generic questions, and HR will probably chime in on most of them — or handle them in a pre-hiring-team screening interview.

Company Knowledge:

“Who are our biggest competitors?”

Culture Fit:

“Do you consider yourself an autonomous worker, or do you work better as part of a team?

In Breezy, you can create and attach multiple interview guides to any interview appointment, so it’s easy to include company-wide Culture Fit and Company Knowledge questions, as well as a position-specific guide with your next interview.

And if your department is unique (say, every member is remote while the rest of the team is centralized), you probably have your own culture fit questions to throw in there, too.

“How do you stay on task while working without supervision?”

Enter: Scorecarding.

“The scorecard method has not only helped our clients to make better and quicker hiring decisions; they provide a data set that we can refer back to when making the next hiring decision. If a hire is performing well — a look at her rating scorecard from the interview process can help us to tailor the next search for a similar role within the same company.” Atta Tarki, ExConsultants Agency

You’ve got a couple of options to score your candidates. Here’s a (somewhat complicated) example from the US Office of Personnel Management, scoring interpersonal skills at the following levels:

  • Level 1- Low: Handles interpersonal situations involving little or no tension or discomfort and requires close guidance
  • Level 3- Average: Handles interpersonal situations involving a moderate degree of tension or discomfort and requires occasional guidance
  • Level 5- Outstanding: Handles interpersonal situations involving a high degree of tension or discomfort and advises others

Here’s a custom option from the folks at Closer IQ, who use a spreadsheet to weight the importance of the question and guidelines for rating properly along with a grading rubric:

interview grading

Says Jordan Wan, who uses the rubric above to hire stellar salespeople at Closer IQ:

“We advocate for using interview rubrics to eliminate emotional biases and conduct a more efficient recruiting process.

1) You won’t fall in love with personality. A rubric can prevent you from jumping to conclusions by replacing emotional judgment with bite-sized factors — helping you make objective, micro-evaluations about each candidate.

2) You won’t commit to only one type of profile.Great candidates come in different forms. A rubric will help you compare different profiles and resolve differences in strengths and weaknesses.”

At Breezy, we make the same concepts simple for you, right from each candidates’ profile:

You can score candidates on their answer to each of the consistent questions you’ve used asked — thumbs up, thumbs down, or neutral — and then score the candidate overall.

They require some work to get organized and templated beforehand. But after an interview round, you can look over your candidates’ ratings to determine your new teammate.

How to Interview Someone for a Job (without Losing Your Humanity)

The down side of the structured interview process is that sometimes it can become a little too structured. Or, should we say, a little less human. 

When the interview process becomes overly rigid and bureaucratic, companies can miss out on the crucial intangibles and interpersonal behaviors that make for a great cultural fit.

Don’t let that happen to you.

Here are our top 9 tips on making your interview process way more candidate-friendly.

  1. Ask the right questions. Prepare questions ahead of time, which allows you to think about what you want to know and how you want to ask. 
  2. Know how to follow a question up. Open-ended questions are a no-no. Instead, write follow-up questions that anticipate the direction of the conversation.
  3. Ask probing questions (without trying to trick). Try the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) for a list of honest, real-world-ready Q’s.
  4. Automate the scheduling. Make it easy for everyone involved in the interviewing process to schedule by using a tool that lets candidates self-select available times.
  5. Be prepared. Familiarizing yourself with the questions and the candidates’ resume. This will help you be more present during the process, rather than appearing like you’re just reading from a script. 
  6. NEVER answer emails during the interview. 
  7. Listen. Listen. Listen. Focus on the candidate, rather than thinking about what you should say next.
  8. Make eye contact. That goes for in-person interviews AND video interviews.
  9. Make it people-friendly. If you still want to have an open, informal discussion, that’s fine. Build it into your process. For instance, hold structured interviews in the first round. Then use a more free-flow approach in the second round with select candidates.

Following a structured interview process doesn’t mean you can’t take a few tips from the informal approach. And the right kind of tool makes it more accessible. Breezy comes with structured interview guides, automatic scheduling, and team scoring features baked right in.

Here’s Rachel Hammerton with more insight on how to be human during the interview process:


The Best Interview Format for Your Team

Now it’s time to provide each person on your team with the foundation they need to run their interview effectively while staying well within legal and organizational guidelines.

In concert with your team, you’ll assign different sets of questions — designed to appraise different criteria –to various team members. In Breezy, we provide custom Interview Guides for just this reason. 

But it’s a simple task to build out a matrix of questions for each member of your hiring team to ask.

For example, you’re hiring a new social media manager. After sorting through resumes, you decide it’s a good idea to put a dozen candidates through a phone screen. Here’s what your Interview Plan would look like:

  1. You assign the phone screen to a Human Resources team member — you’ll ask them to assess the candidates’ managerial and communication skills.
  2. In the next phase, you may have the candidate come to meet with another manager on the marketing team to assess role-specific skills and experience, like familiarity with analytics tools and online etiquette.
  3. Then, maybe you have the candidate meet with their possible fellow teammates to assess the candidates’ ability to work within a team, as well as their leadership skills.
  4. Last but not least, you might have the prospective social media manager come in to speak with your CMO, who’s primarily going to look at their creativity and vision for the brand’s online presence.

It’s best to give your hiring team at least 48 hours’ notice, a copy of the resume, and a detailed outline of your expectations for their portion of the interview process. In Breezy, everyone on the hiring team stays on the same page during interview rounds.

If you’re not using collaborative recruiting software, you can still equip your team with the tools they need to perform their specific interviews properly.

Streamline the process by making a public company resource that documents sample behavioral questions. Also, provide access to the matrix of who’s-asking-what-questions via email or internal server.

Then add the interviewees’ names and interview times on a public calendar.

Encourage your team to withhold talking about the candidates until every candidate is finished with their interviews to avoid biases. In Breezy, Scorecards are private to the hiring managers. I suggest keeping similar boundaries in place with whatever system you come up with.

Setting candidates up for a stellar experience

Some candidates may need to prep for long days on-site. Set them at ease by crafting a well-planned experience ahead of time. Here’s how you can help them make the most of their stay:

  • Send them an agenda for the day, with names and LinkedIn profiles for the people they’ll meet. 
  • Greet them with a tour, so they know where things like the bathrooms and kitchen are.
  • Make them feel welcome and comfortable with little extras like snacks and bottled water or coffee. 

What to Do After an Interview

It’s time to put together the final touches. This includes a background check on your candidates, plus an offer letter to those you’d like to hire. 

Background Check

Background checks can run the gamut of information, and the cost can add up. Determine what’s essential to follow-up on, which may include:

  • Criminal history
  • Confirm licensing
  • Driving record
  • Drug screening
  • Educational background 
  • Salary history

Breezy gives you precise options that allow you to run any kind of background check you choose in your hiring workflow. 

Confirm with legal counsel what is appropriate for your state and industry to run during a background check, and always get consent from your candidates. Don’t forget any background information you gather is private and not up for discussion. 

Discuss any discrepancies with the candidate either using Breezy or calling them directly. If you’re unsure what to do with any issues that turn up, do not hesitate to seek legal counsel and avoid getting into hot water.

If you’re not comfortable getting into a full background check, consider running a reference check at this point. From Breezy, you can send standard reference-check questions to references that the candidate provides on their application.

Writing the offer letter

In most organizations, your HR representative will be responsible for drafting the offer letter with the approved components.  So you’re in the know, here’s a quick rundown of what that entails in case the task falls to you:

  • A statement that the organization is presenting the offer to the finalist
  • The position offered, and in most cases, the name, title, and department of the person that the position will report to, should he or she accept the position
  • The employee’s start date and if the position is limited in duration, the estimated end date
  • The status of the position (full-time, part-time, temporary, exempt, non-exempt)
  • For a non-exempt position, the rate of pay usually listed as an hourly rate, plus any overtime provided
  • For exempt positions, include a salary or dollar amount to be paid per year, month, or pay period will be specified. Add compensation components,including verbiage to describe the bonuses, commissions, any short-term or long-term incentives, and provisions for stock grants or options, if applicable.
  • Information on the benefits program — these may include benefits like medical, dental, vision, 401K, or other retirement participation, plus the included time off like vacation, sick, and holiday time.
  • If your organization won’t provide benefits — like for a part-time position that isn’t eligible — it’s a good idea to state that in the letter.
  • Note specific work hours or on-call expectations.
  • Most U.S. employers include a statement that the employment is at-will and a disclaimer indicating that the offer is contingent on the applicant’s ability to meet the final selection requirements (like any checks or screens that have not returned, yet).

Still not sure how to write your offer letter? These done-for-you templates will help cover your bases.

Check with your legal counsel before you send the offer to the new hire, since your state may require some caveats or specific language in the offer. 

With the checks completed and the offer letter sent, your recruiting job done! Now, wasn’t that easy?

The interview and hiring process has a lot of moving parts. Breezy HR simplifies these steps through a single, seamless software. Start with a free trial today and see how our software + your organization = impressive new hires.