It's obvious that a job candidate needs to spend time preparing for an interview. But interviews are a two-way street – a successful outcome depends just as much on the hiring manager as it does the candidate.
Although you've vetted the person you're interviewing based on their skills and experience, you still have to be ready to ask the right questions to determine if they're the best fit for the position and the company.
To help you be more prepared and confident before you evaluate someone for a job, here are a few important things to keep in mind when you're conducting an interview.
1. Focus on the candidate
The most important thing an interviewer can do before the interview is properly research the candidate, said Kim Dvorscak, business development manager at the Kavaliro staffing firm.
"Make sure you have reviewed their resume thoroughly," Dvorscak said. "From there, prepare questions for the candidate that are relevant to both their resume and the position they applied for."
Vetting a candidate by doing a quick Google search or looking at his or her social media platforms can help you determine if the candidate will fit the position and company culture, too, Dvorscak added.
Research also comes in handy for interviewing a candidate who has a set of skills you're not familiar with.
"Just knowing the key words or acronyms from the job responsibilities isn't enough to provide an educated assessment of their talent, and it is definitely not fair to your candidate," Dvorscak said.
A simple position-specific search can yield information on comparable job descriptions, offer pay comparisons, and even suggest interview questions and answers.
To make sure all parties involved in the hiring process – HR, hiring managers, recruiters, etc. – are on the same page, Stefanie Frenking, head of recruiting and feel good management at Spreadshirt, recommends a quick meeting prior to the interview.
"[Discuss] specific questions, concerns for the candidate and what prioritized topics should be covered during the interview, to make sure you are both on the same page," she said. "Go into the interview with a positive attitude and open mind."
2. Ask questions carefully
While you don't have to stick to "standard" interview questions, you do want to watch what you ask and how you ask it. Any questions or commentary that could remotely imply a discriminatory bias, such as those pertaining to gender, religion, marital status or family planning, are strictly off-limits, said Frenking.
"Also, never pursue questions that pry too far into a candidate's personal life as they can cause some discomfort or awkwardness," she added.
Frenking also advised approaching questions about previous employers with caution: As the interviewer, you should never engage in any negative comments about a candidate's former boss, co-workers or company.
"The reasons to leave a position or company are diverse, and listening to the candidate describe their experience and thought process is the best way to gain insight about their work history and professional journey," Frenking said.
Since it is important that all candidates get the same opportunity to answer the same questions without feeling rushed, Greg Willard, Ph.D., a senior vice president at data science company Cangrade, advised limiting the number of interview questions.
"A good rule of thumb is to ask no more than four to six questions in a 30-minute interview, and no more than eight to 12 questions in a one-hour interview," he added.
3. Know how to ease a candidate's nerves
For an interviewer dealing with a nervous candidate, "a simple smile and some non-job-related questions can go a long way," Dvorscak said. Asking about the person's commute to the interview or how his or her day has been so far are good ice-breaking options, she said.
It might also help to talk the candidate through the structure of the interview before you begin, so the person knows what to expect.
"As the interview progresses with your nervous candidate, take note on how or if they become more relaxed, as this is an excellent indication of their adaptability," Dvorscak added.
If a candidate is so nervous that they are unable to answer your question, Frenking recommends rephrasing the question and adding an example, or elaborating on the question with more detail.
"If the candidate is still confused or simply too nervous to get their thoughts together, tell [them] that you will come back to the question later," she said. "You can then start on a fresh new topic that might be a little less challenging to get the candidate back on track ... redirect the interview for a more solid outcome."
4. Make it a conversation
Having a true two-way conversation – rather than the hiring manager doing all the talking –lets the candidate know you are genuinely interested in their skills, said Dvorscak. She advised asking open-ended questions and giving the candidate an opportunity to answer. You should also give them time to solicit information from you as the interview goes on.
"I think a great interview is always the result of a great conversation," Frenking added. "It should not feel like question-answer-question-answer. Rather, the next topic should come through naturally and authentically. In my experience, if the interviewer can open up a little about themselves, it helps the applicants to open up as well."
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks and Jennifer Post. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.