Interview tips to find the best candidate with the skills you need

Women interviewing candidate


When a valued employee leaves your company, identifying and hiring a top candidate to replace them understandably becomes an important priority. After all, every day that passes with an empty desk is another day of lost productivity. Yet while we know this can be very frustrating, we also know just how important it is to take the time to find the very best job candidate for your company.

During our years working in recruitment, we’ve seen the same mistakes being made in the hiring process time and time again. Many of these mistakes stem from two critical points – hiring managers either don’t know exactly what they’re looking for in their new hire or they aren’t sure how to assess candidates for it during the job interview process.

The first of these issues can be solved by spending some time on writing a position description. The second can be solved with thorough interview preparation, including taking the time to know the sort of interview questions to ask to assess candidates for the required skills, behaviours and cultural fit.

Crucially, in an interview you are not only assessing the hard or technical skills of each candidate. While this is important, as an employer you also need to adequately assess candidates for less technical (but no less important) soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, teamwork and problem solving.

Below we outline simple steps you can take to identify what it is you are really looking for in candidates, plus actionable tips to measure this criteria during your interview process so you hire the right candidate for your company.

How to assess hard skills in a job interview

What are the core technical requirements for the role you are looking to fill? Hard or technical skills are measurable proficiencies that come from experience and training. So, review your job description and talk to the line manager and key stakeholders to determine the key hard skills required for success in the role. For example, you may require a PA with a typing speed of 70 words per minute and 98 per cent accuracy. Identifying such key technical skills allows you and your recruiter to shortlist the best candidates for the position.

How can you test candidates for hard skills during the interview process? Start by preparing competency interview questions to encourage the candidates to give examples of times they have demonstrated these skills in the past. As we have previously noted, competency based interview questions allow you to learn about and assess skills and knowledge relevant to the job so you hire the best new employee.

You can also design a practical assessment for candidates to complete before or during the interview. Such assessments should reflect the skills required for day-to-day success in the role. For instance, in the above example, you could set a typing test to measure speed and accuracy.

If you are still not sure, and you are looking to fill multiple roles, your recruiter can design an assessment centre to determine exactly how candidates respond to particular situations related to the job you are interviewing for.

How to assess soft skills in a job interview

It is important that you also ask questions to determine if the candidate has the soft skills required for the role. Soft skills are inherent traits that are trickier to teach and harder to measure. So, how can you determine which soft skills the right candidate will possess?

Look back at your job description and think about which soft skills would be of benefit to a person in the position. For example, you may be hiring for a sales executive and require someone who can build rapport with stakeholders. Therefore, you need candidates with good interpersonal skills. Also think about the attributes the previous job holder possessed that were beneficial to the role – as well as those that weren’t.

Your recruiter will most likely meet the candidate before you do, and many soft skills are much better demonstrated face-to-face. Keeping your recruiter involved and fully briefed will therefore help them screen for the right soft as well as technical skills, giving you the strongest shortlist to hire from during the interview process.

Once the candidate is in front of you, how can you assess their soft skills in an interview? Again, you can ask competency-based interview questions to gain an understanding of their soft skills. For example, “Can you describe how you’ve built a lucrative relationship with a client in the past?”

You can also read between the lines to see how each candidate demonstrates their soft skills, such as by the way they talk to you as a senior stakeholder. For each candidate, ask yourself if they come across as a confident person who could build a rapport with key decision makers.

Soft skills are not to be underestimated when interviewing for new talent and they often differentiate between a candidate who is good on paper and one who is great in practice.

How to determine cultural fit in a job interview

Many employers scrutinise qualifications and skills without also properly evaluating if the candidate will be a good fit with the existing team members, organisation and company culture. Ironically, many hiring managers are so focused on assessing the technical and soft skills of each candidate, that they rarely consider if they are the right fit. However, a poor fit is the main reason that a person is either let go or chooses to leave an organisation.

To avoid this mistake and hire the best candidate for your company, before your interviews think about how you would describe your team, organisation and culture. For instance, you may work in a close-knit company where everyone is very friendly and team-spirited and where collaboration and a customer-first mindset are valued. If so, look for these attributes in candidates during the interview.

Preparing behavioural interview questions will help you understand character traits and what motivates each candidate. For example, in the example above, you could ask, “Tell me about a time when you’ve had to work well in a team to achieve a challenging objective.”

You can also introduce the candidate to other team members, either in person or virtually. Let these people know exactly what you’re assessing the candidate on, so they can ask suitable questions and provide relevant feedback on how well they think this candidate would fit in with your culture.

How to assess career goals in a job interview

Finally, think about the career progression, training and development opportunities available within this role and team. Then, in your interviews, ask questions to determine the career goals of each candidate and whether they are likely to take advantage of the opportunities available. For instance, you could ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?” and “What are you looking for in this job?” If applicants cannot give a detailed answer that suggests they have the potential to be long-term employees, then this might not be the right business or opportunity for them.

You should also find out what their expectations are for training and development. If internal progression and development are a core part of your staff retention strategy, you’ll want to hire a candidate whose career goals are aligned.

An effective hiring process

In summary, it’s important to look beyond technical skills to assess the soft skills, working style and ambition of each candidate. While these factors are harder to gauge, doing so will increase your chances of finding, hiring and retaining the very best candidate for the job.

Read more on how to conduct a successful job interview.

About this author

Adam Shapley, Managing Director, Hays New Zealand and Hays IT Australia & New Zealand, began working at Hays in 2001 and during this time has held significant leadership roles across the business including responsibility for multiple specialisms in various locations across Australia & New Zealand.

In 2018, he was appointed to Hays ANZ Management Board and made Managing Director for Hays New Zealand.

Adam is also responsible for the strategic direction of the Hays Information Technology business across Australia & New Zealand including driving growth across Digital Technology, Projects & Business Change and IT Operations & Support.

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