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Getting the best out of Face to Face Interviews


I was recently approached by a Director of a well-known global organisation, a friend, who asked if I had a template or guidance to help him with his face to face interviews.

As appears to be the case with most organisations there was no internal support on offer and no coherent recruitment strategy or policy. Do they believe that because they have internal recruiters, access to Linkedin and want the best candidates they will find them?!

As with most people today my friends first port of call was the internet which he had searched as he thought there would be a plethora of blogs. He was right, and came across titles such as “Top 10 Job Interview questions” but these questions were poorly written and were not going to help him distinguish between a great candidate and an average candidate.

My argument is that if you want the same as everyone else then do the same and ask the same questions as everyone else but don’t expect to get the best candidates.
The face to face interview is just one element of the recruitment process and for it to be effective the whole process from start to finish needs to thought through.

Interviewing is a skill in itself and requires application and planning if you are to be successful.

Do you truly know what makes your perfect candidate? is it their skill set or their attitude? I would argue that attitude is paramount yet rarely do interviewers screen for this and if they do it is poorly executed.

From initial screening for relevant attributes, skills, technical assessments, psychological testing the face to face interview offers the interviewer the opportunity to truly differentiate their candidates.

As with most things in life you get what you measure. So getting clarity, focus and planning is imperative.

What is the Objective of a face to face interview?

The interview process is held over many stages and involves different departments and employees from HR, the Hiring Manager to the Decision Maker.

If, as I would recommend, there is a Hiring plan in place for this specific vacancy then each interview stage will have a specific objective.

If skills, and technical abilities have been assessed through an assessment centre then we do not need to reassess these. If we have a number of candidates who have come through this process then as Mark Murphy suggests in his book “Hiring for Attitude” we need to establish their cultural fit, their attitude and their coachability.

Too many questions that interviewers tend to ask are leading, and therefore do not elicit a response that is genuine or measurable. Research carried out by Leadership IQ suggests if you strip out the leading parts of a question then candidates will truly reveal whether they are problem solvers or problem bringers.

What is the Candidates true culture, set of by values and beliefs, true skill set, true behavioural and true communication style.

As Mark Murphy explicitly says you need to ensure there is a three part test to ensure you are asking the right questions in a face to face interview.

Three Part test

  1. Have you identified the specific Behaviours?
  2. Could two strangers have observed those behaviours?
  3. Could two strangers have graded those behaviours?


Planning for face to face interviews

The help you Mark Murphy has established the following process to help you prepare the relevant interview questions, test and measure your candidates against your unique requirements allowing you to make an informed decision I the face to face interview process.

Attitude Questioning for your Unique Organisational Culture

  • Characteristics of the your current High Performing and Low Performing employees in that role.
  • Drill further down into these characteristics so you can differentiate the positive attitudes that these high performers have and compare against the negative attitudes of the lower performers. This also provides you with your answer guidelines.
  • Design Question around the differential situation from Step 2.Always start it with “Could you tell me about a time you…….
  • Always leave the question hanging.

N.B Choose questions based around situations that your employees face most frequently. Using Mark Murphy’s guidelines you can now compare and contrast and measure your candidates against criteria that is specifically relevant to you and not based on any individual or personal bias.


Coachability Questions

In addition to the Characteristic/Attitude questions Mark also suggests that research shows that one of the reasons most candidates fail is their lack of coachability. Through his robust list of questions below and your unique attitude questions you should learn more about your candidates than you ever have before.

Make them Believe you are going to talk to their previous/current boss by asking the name of their Previous/Current Boss. Once you have got the name get them to spell it.

Ask them to describe their boss

  1. What’s something you wish insert boss’s name had done more of?
  2. What’s something you with insert boss’s name had done less of?
  3. What is something that you could have done (or done differently) to enhance your working relationship with insert boss’s name.
  4. When I talk to insert boss’s name what will he or she tell me about your strengths.
  5. Now all people have areas where they can improve, so when I talk to insert boss’s name, what will he/she tell me your weaknesses are?


How to Tally Scores

You cannot do this without something to compare them to so you need to have some sample answers in answer guidelines in order to accurately measure against your current lowest and highest performers.

If scores are average then there is something wrong in the recruitment process earlier in the pipeline.



If you want the best candidates you need clarity and focus. You need to understand what makes someone a high performer within your specific company and within this specific role.

Don’t ask leading questions such as ‘Tell me a time when you had to adapt to a difficult situation?’ and “Tell me about yourself” or “What are your strengths and weaknesses” as you will never get to the true persona of an individual.

Make candidates feel welcome when they arrive, offer them a drink, make sure they are comfortable and give them a clear agenda. The idea is to make them feel relaxed and positive and the more transparent you are the more at ease they will feel and the more you will get from them.

Sound keen and interested in finding out more about them and their history and explain that they will have 40 mins to do that and stick to it. Get them to agree by asking them “ Does that sound Okay?” before getting into asking your Attitude and Coachability questions, measuring them and completing the face to face interview.

Try it and let us know how much of a difference it made to your recruitment process.

Remember not to employ anyone with an average score and if all your candidates are scoring average or below then I would suggest you look at your processes earlier in your recruitment funnel.


David Copus –  Director @ The People Foundry


Gareth Roberts (2005) Recruitment & Selection Second Edition CIPD
Mark Hughes (2012) Hiring for Attitude McGraw Hill

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