It's essential to know in advance what you want to ask each candidate. Don't be tempted to make it up as you go along, not only will this look unprofessional, you’re also unlikely to find out what you need to know. Remember, the person you select will have a major influence on the future of your business. If you've prepared your questions in advance you should get a good insight into what each candidate has to offer – and what they don't.

Interviews should generally last around 45 minutes, plus any extra time needed for specific tests. 

Try to create a relaxed atmosphere, as this will give candidates the best chance of showing themselves in a good light. However, the interview should also be structured so that you can cover everything in the short time available.

Some business owners prefer to kick things off by telling interviewees about the business and its values, rather than bombarding them with questions straight away. This gives candidates some time to relax and listen and can help put them at ease. 

Now you can move onto questioning the candidate. Always try to ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered simply by “yes” or “no”. Here are some examples:

“What did you think about your previous job? What was good about it, what was bad and why did you decide to leave?”

This will give you some indication of whether the candidate is suitable and what their motivation is for applying. If elements that they disliked in their previous job are in the job you are offering it will obviously cause problems.

“What are your strengths and weaknesses?”

This question is designed to tell you what they are good at, but also how well they can take criticism and learn from their mistakes.

“Where would you like to be in five years' time?” 

This will give you an idea about the ambitions of the candidate and whether they have a realistic idea about the prospects of the job you are offering.

You can then discuss the role you are offering and how their skills would enable them to do it well. A useful technique is to ask how they would react to a series of scenarios that could occur in the job. 

Whatever method you use, remember that you need to be mindful of the legality of what you can and cannot ask. At the end of the interview, you may like to explain the terms and conditions of the job – although to save time you could send these out beforehand. Also give the candidates a chance to ask any final questions about the company or the position.

Finally, if you are recruiting in a hurry to work on a forthcoming project, for example, remember to ask the candidates when they would be able to start and if they have any holidays booked.

Recording the interview

It is useful to make notes during the interview, but keep them brief to ensure this does not interrupt the dialogue between you and the candidate. You can write down your impressions more fully afterwards, while it is still fresh in your mind. If you use a marking system to help you compare the candidates, make sure you are consistent.

As well as reactions to their answers, you should also record other more general impressions on how well suited they are to the job and the company. You may look at areas such as enthusiasm, self-confidence, communication skills and smartness of appearance.

To compare the candidates effectively, it is important to conduct all the interviews in the shortest possible timescale.