Guide to Interviewing Part 3: Choosing the Best Candidates

In the third and final part of our guide to interviewing, we take a look at what you should do once you've interviewed your candidates. How can you determine whether someone is truly right for the job you have advertised? From psychometric testing to spending half a day with your team, we've got you covered.

So, we've already looked at ways you can screen candidates before interviewing, and we've given you our top tips for face-to-face interviews, but there's one thing left to do before you pop the question and agree a salary with your chosen candidate. Before you make that hire, you want to be sure that the person in question is really suitable for the role. With bad hires costing companies an average of £30,000 to replace, you really want to be as sure as you can about this.

Make sure candidates are who they say they are by checking their credentials

The first thing you should do is to think about the job role itself. If this vacancy requires the candidate to possess a valid CSCS card or a forklift licence, and you haven't already checked their credentials, then now is the time to do so. If you've used a recruitment agency in your hiring process, then this will almost certainly have been done for you at the very earliest stages (although it's best to check), which should save you some time and effort at this point.

Other important things to look at here might be the candidate's DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service - formerly CRB / Criminal Records Bureau) check, references, work permits, or qualifications. Clearly, these checks are job and candidate dependent. 

While you could sit there with the candidate, breathing down their neck, and otherwise making them uncomfortable, the easiest way to do this is simply to let them get on with it.

You should also think about the extent to which you want to tie up your time and resources going through these checks. This will depend not only on the role itself, but also on the type of business you are, and your corporate culture.

As an example of this, you would probably invest more time in recruiting for a new Director-level position where the candidate will be placed into a unique role, than you would for an entry-level position where you already employ a number of people in that capacity. The candidate in the Director role will have much more of an influence over your business - and you'll therefore be much more concerned about how they might perform or fit in with your existing team. That's not to say that there's no room for checks at the opposite end of the spectrum - simply that it makes more sense at the top-end.

You might also want to consider the actual size of your company in this process. Although larger, more mature companies tend to have a greater number of resources to expend on hiring and recruitment, they may have less to gain from this process than a smaller firm. Because smaller firms employ less people in total than larger firms, a single employee can make a much greater difference to the culture of the organisation - and as such, you have to be a lot more careful of who you hire. Getting stuck with a bad egg could even end up dealing a lethal blow to a small business.

Testing candidates for key factors: use scientific theory to find the right people for the job

One way to ensure that a candidate is up to the job - or will fit in with the particular culture at your organisation - is to use testing. Personality and aptitude tests are excellent ways to do this - as academic studies have shown

Personality testing

Personality testing might conjure up uncomfortable images of a Psychiatrist's couch for some, but there's nothing to fear here. This is in fact a very widely-used method of getting an idea of how well-suited a person is for working in your particular organisation or role, and if you recognise questions like 'do you think you are more intelligent than other people?' or 'are you confident when speaking in public?', then it's likely that you've taken one in the past.

There are companies that exist purely to provide psychometric testing to businesses for recruitment and other purposes, but one of the easiest ways to get this done is to get a recruitment agency or your in-house HR department to manage the whole process for you. As you'll see, there are a number of different types of personality test - and unless you've got a degree in Psychology, then things can get a little confusing. 

Whether you're looking for a specialist recruiter, someone with specific local knowledge, or a firm with national (or even international) reach, you'll find them all on the main part of our site.

One well-known type of personality test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), which is based largely on the work of Carl Jung. The Myers-Briggs model uses four dichotomies (such as introvert / extrovert, or  sensing / intuition) to form a list of 16 personality types. You may be familiar with these types already - they have catchy names like INFJ and ESTP!

Another regularly-used model is the Five Factor Model (FFM) - which is sometimes also referred to as the 'Big Five' list of personality traits. As the name suggests, this model uses five factors (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism) to give a measure of an individual's personality.

As you can see, these models are not simple tools, and really require the expertise of a professional to put them into practice effectively. Our site is an easy way to find a recruitment agency in your area and sector who'll do this for you - so you can put yourself one step ahead straight away. They'll have access not only to the knowledge necessary to tell you what you need, but also the latest and best methods and tests.

Aptitude testing

Aptitude testing is a little different to many people's mental image of the process - having more in common with an IQ test than it does a work-based assessment. This type of test concentrates on a candidate's potential to do a certain task well. We discuss skills-based testing (which is more directly-relevant to a candidate's employment) a little further down.

Again, while you could attempt to carry out aptitude testing in-house, probably the easiest way to do this is to enlist the services of a recruitment agency - many of whom have expertise in this area that they will share with their clients. Our site is an excellent way to find such an agency in your area.

We've even heard of companies inviting prospective employees along to 'company days', where serious team-building and idea-gathering exercises are held in a setting such as the conference suite of a nice hotel. This should help to portray your organisation in a very good light.

Some of the most popular methods of aptitude testing involve reasoning questions - specifically numerical, logical, or abstract reasoning. Examples of these are included below. You'll probably recognise a pattern in them!

Numerical reasoning: e.g. find the missing number in a series.Logical reasoning: e.g. find the missing letter in a series.Abstract reasoning: e.g. find the pattern in a series of shapes.

As you can see, a lot of these types of questions revolve around pattern recognition - although they're by no means limited to this. Employers including the BBC are known for making good use of some advanced techniques here. While the questions above might sound a little easy, they can actually end up being surprisingly taxing - with the beauty of the technique being that it can be tailored to almost any ability level or particular job role. Of course, this tailoring process is the real skill - with professionals generally honing their abilities over many years of real world experience. 

More specialised forms of aptitude testing might even involve creative thinking, or riddles. Such questions or tests might be useful in jobs that require a lot of lateral thinking - like Creative Marketing, or Engineering. 

Directly testing candidates: see how they perform on the job

Of course, while psychological theory can tell us a lot about how a candidate might do at a certain job, there's really no substitute for seeing them actually do it. Whether they're a Bartender showing you that, yes, actually they can pour a perfect pint of Guinness (complete with shamrock), a Developer writing some code, a Teacher talking to a class, or a Salesperson giving you a demo of their cold-calling skills, this technique will show you what you really want to know. 

If you want the candidate to get to know the team whilst carrying out their assessment, be sure that everyone is aware that they're allowed to speak!

There are many ways you can go about this - which will obviously depend on the job and assessment itself. While some tasks - e.g. a Chef preparing a meal - really just call for a decision on things like whether the candidate will get to choose the recipe, and whether or not you will observe their process, others give you a few more options to play with. 

One example of this would be if the assignment will be computer-based - e.g. a Copywriter producing a test assignment, or an Accountant making alterations to a spreadsheet. While you could sit there with the candidate, breathing down their neck, and otherwise making them uncomfortable, the easiest way to do this is simply to let them get on with it. 

Utilising online collaborative software such as Google Docs (a word processor) or Google Sheets (a spreadsheet system) - both of which are available for free - will mean that you can drop in to check how the candidate is doing at any point at a click of the mouse. You should definitely clear this with the candidate first, but it's a nice, non-intrusive way to keep tabs on where they're up to. You can even get a rundown of the time and order particular edits were made to a document if you so wish.

Candidates could also be asked to complete computerised tasks remotely - although in this case you would lose a degree of control over their assessment. In the worst-case scenario you do run the risk of an unscrupulous candidate paying a freelancer to complete their assignment, although the level of initiative required to do this might suggest that you would want them on your team anyway!

Other examples of direct skills-based tests include typing speed tests, and formal tests of a candidate's knowledge of a subject. Like a game of corporate Trivial Pursuit, this is a great way to see how well a candidate knows their patch - although do be careful not to patronise. 

Introduce candidates to your team in a positive manner: the 'half day in the office' approach

This approach can work really well with the skills test outlined above if you choose to bring the candidate in to carry it out. While some firms will 'quarantine' candidates to one side while they carry out a skills test - often in some faraway office at the back of the building, others will get them straight into the action mixing with the team, by setting them up their very own workspace.

Here you get a number of benefits. First off, you can keep an eye on the candidate without actually being there - because your team will be there for you. This will probably make your organisation seem more friendly to the candidate, because they'll be dealing with people who are on roughly the same level as them at this point. Secondly, it's a nice informal way for the candidate to get to know the team, and vice versa. 

If you want the candidate to get to know the team whilst carrying out their assessment, be sure that everyone is aware that they're allowed to speak! The candidate is likely to be in 'interview mode', and won't want to be seen chatting, whilst existing employees probably won't want to disturb them during their test. Make sure that any time-limit is loose enough to allow for a bit of conversation if you'd like this to happen.

More formally, you could take the approach of either introducing the candidate - or even better - having them introduce themselves to everyone in the office. One approach that works well here is to charge everyone in the office with explaining a little bit about what they do and how they do it to the person concerned. Obviously this works best in small offices, otherwise half a day can quickly become half a week. Depending on the personalities you have in your office, this could be a very good, or very bad idea!

Other approaches to this involve organising group activities for the day, or (perhaps for a more senior position) having the candidate give a presentation to a group of people within the business. We've even heard of companies inviting prospective employees along to 'company days', where serious team-building and idea-gathering exercises are held in a setting such as the conference suite of a nice hotel. Not only will this give your hard-working employees a welcome break from the grindstone, but, done correctly, it should also help to portray your organisation in a very good light.

Doing things the easy way: the role of recruitment agencies in assessing candidates

You might notice a theme running through this article - which is that while all of these methods have their place and can be worthwhile, many of them can be tricky and time-consuming to put into practice. But help is available. A professional recruitment agency might deal with hundreds, or even thousands of candidates in any given week, and as such, they've become real experts in assessing whether someone is the right fit for a job vacancy. 

Whether you need help with the intricacies of psychometric testing, further advice on how best to assess candidates, or just assistance with the time-consuming task of going through a large number of potential hires, an agency can provide you with the help you need. What's more, you'll be happy to know that finding one couldn't be easier

That's right, because Agency Central isn't just a business and HR blog - we're also a directory of recruitment agencies - taking all the hard work out of trying to find the right consultants to work with since the year 2000. Whether you're looking for a specialist recruiter, someone with specific local knowledge, or a firm with national (or even international) reach, you'll find them all on the main part of our site.

Once you've found a recruitment agency you think will be a perfect match, you'll be able to get through your chosen interview and assessment techniques in half the time or even less. And let's not forget the primary function of an agency - which is of course connecting the right candidates with you, and you with the right candidates. It's in their interest as a business, after all. 

The dangers of too much interviewing and assessment

This article is the third installment in our series of posts looking at interview technique and theory, and together the trio would form a fairly large tome. Yes it's fair to say that there's quite a lot of reading here - but at least you stand to gain from it. Not only are you probably reading this because it's part of your job (which presumably you get paid for, unless you're a volunteer), but also because you believe that it's going to help you find better people to bring into your organisation. As they say, you should hire people you think are smarter than you.

But imagine for a minute that you're not getting paid to do the work that you do. Imagine that you're looking for a new job, or even that you're between jobs. Even if you just had one application to do, it would be quite the time constraint, what with all the forms, interviews, and assessments. But given today's jobs market, it's unlikely that many candidates will get the first - or even third job that they apply for. It really is tough out there.

Now imagine that you're a candidate who really would be perfect for the job you [the real you] are advertising. You've applied for eight or nine jobs already, and you're starting to feel jaded. You don't see why employers have to have such elaborate recruitment processes for the medium-level position you're applying for, and it's really beginning to annoy you. Just writing a cover letter can take a few hours, even when you've got the basic thing planned out to begin with. Writing the original skeleton of it took you a whole Saturday that you didn't get paid for, and will never get back. 

Imagine how you would feel if, following making your application you got invited to take a telephone interview followed by a face-to-face interview followed by an in-house assessment and psychological test. Imagine that the office is half an hour's drive away and you're having to take time off of your current job every time you go in. It's not like twenty days of annual leave even stretches that far to begin with.

Suffice to say that it's really annoying. This employer is beginning to leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Despite the slightly higher salary and improved benefits package they're offering, you've started to wonder how badly you want to work for them after all.

One way to avoid this situation is to make sure that you're very clear with the candidate from the outset about what you're trying to do. No one wants to work in a bad team, with people who are a bad fit or who can't do their job - so if you explain in a genuine manner that this is what you're trying to avoid, then the candidate is unlikely to have much of a problem with it. This is especially true, given that they're going to see how well your team works together when they come in for their assessment / time in the office.

Final thoughts

So, that's it - the end of our trilogy. Thank you for reading, and staying with us right to the end - we hope you've enjoyed the series, and hopefully you've learned something in the process. Don't forget to follow us on LinkedIn for all the latest articles, news, and gossip from the world of HR and recruitment - and let us know how you got on with your interviewing process. Did you enlist the help of a recruitment agency in the end?

Written by Matt Atkinson

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