Selection / Interviewing

Preparing For an Interview

Last updated: January 8, 2019

image of a note pad for interviewing

Preparing for an interview

An interview is an excellent opportunity to get to know a job candidate and learn if they are a good fit for the position. Interviews are as much a chance for you to get to know the candidate as they are a chance for them to decide if they want to work for you.

The best way to find out if the candidate matches the selection criteria for the job is to prepare a set of questions that allow the interviewee to share examples of their past actions and behaviours. You and the other members of the interview team will then use a rating scale to assess these answers against the pre-defined selection criteria.

The value of behaviour-based interviews

You’ll want to make the most of your interview time so you can identify the candidate’s strengths and determine if they are suitable for the position. One of the best interview approaches is to ask behavioural questions. After all, past behaviour is often a good predictor of how a candidate might handle similar situations in the future. If someone has demonstrated strong teamwork, superior initiative and high work standards in past positions, they will most likely demonstrate the same behaviours in future jobs.

Keep in mind that you won’t need to use up valuable interview time by asking the candidate whether they meet the must-have qualifications for the job (such as holding relevant certification), as your screening process will have ensured that all shortlisted candidates meet the minimum qualifications.

How to develop effective behavioural interview questions

Base your interview questions on the selection criteria you defined for the job. You should use the same interview questions for all candidates.

You won’t have time to assess all the selection criteria in the interview. So before you draft your questions, rank which criteria are the most important, and focus on those.

To decide which selection criteria are the most important, identify the essential knowledge, skills and attitudes for the job. You can then develop questions that will help you gather information related to each criterion.

Open-ended questions are the best way to get the information you need. These types of questions usually begin with words and phrases like:

  • “Tell us about…”
  • “Describe a time when…”
  • “Explain to us…”
  • “Give us an example of…”
  • “In your current job, how do you…?”
  • “What did you do to…?”

You might ask:

  • “Tell us about a learning improvement idea you implemented in the last six months.”
  • “Give us an example of how you built working relationships with your new colleagues when you started your last job.”
  • “Please describe a difficult classroom management issue you faced, describing exactly what happened and how you dealt with it.”

This style of question encourages candidates to provide specific examples of past or current behaviour.

Align your questions with the selection criteria

When you’re deciding which questions to ask, it’s a good idea to:

  • Prepare a number of questions for each selection criterion. This will give you enough behavioural information to judge how well a candidate meets the criterion.
  • Start with one open-ended question and be ready to ask for more details.
  • Use both positively phrased and negatively phrased questions.

Let’s say you want to explore a candidate’s ability to manage the classroom environment. Think about what criteria you will use to evaluate this ability and the evidence you are looking for in their response. With this in mind, you can then generate a list of questions that will help you uncover this evidence.

The initial question can be as straightforward as “Tell us about a difficult classroom management issue you dealt with, explain what happened and describe how you dealt with it.”

When the candidate answers the question, evaluate their response based on how well they meet the specific criteria you determined ahead of time. These criteria might include the ability to:

  • establish a climate in the classroom that promotes fairness and respect,
  • establish and maintain standards for student behaviour,
  • use proactive strategies to limit misbehaviours and
  • use a problem-solving approach to management that incorporates escalating consequences, sound judgment and fairness.

Using both negative and positive questions lets you build a more balanced and accurate picture of the candidate, and you will avoid biasing your interview toward either the positive or the negative side.

A positively worded question would be “Describe a time when you handled a parent conflict situation well.” A negatively phrased question would be “Tell us about a time that a conflict you were involved did not resolve itself as you had hoped.”

Avoid leading questions

Leading questions essentially tell candidates what the interviewer wants to hear. For example, if you ask “How have you incorporated student-centred learning into your classroom?”, your question “gives away” the type of answer you are looking for because the question assumes the candidate approaches their instruction from a student-centred perspective. When you ask this type of leading question, the candidate will often come up with an answer to meet your expectations, regardless of whether this is actually their approach to instruction.

Try an open-ended question instead. You could state: “We want to understand a bit more about the methods of instruction you use in your classroom. Please describe a unit or lesson that you were proud of, including the methods of instruction that you used.”

Be mindful of your body language

Your body language can influence how a candidate answers your questions. Crossing your arms, nodding your head, leaning forward, making eye contact and fidgeting are all non-verbal cues. For example, the candidate could interpret your positive body language – like smiling and nodding your head – as a signal that their answer is “on the right track.” .

Interview questions and the Human Rights Code

You need to make sure that your interview questions are not asking candidates to provide information that falls under the prohibited areas specified in the Human Rights Code. In BC, it is illegal to discriminate against a person in employment because of their race or colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age, or because that person has been convicted of a criminal or summary conviction offence that is unrelated to the intended employment of that person.

This influences the type of questions you can and can’t ask.

For example, you cannot ask interviewees questions like:

  • “How old are you?”
  • “Tell us about the country where were you born.”
  • “Are you married?”

Read more about the legal considerations of the hiring process.

Interview logistics

Who should conduct the interview?

A panel or team interview format is a good choice because two or more perspectives offer different viewpoints and minimize the potential for bias.

If possible, have the same team interview all the candidates shortlisted for a position. It’s also helpful if all interviewers can participate in all three phases of the interview – planning, conducting and evaluating.

If you are assessing a candidate’s job-specific knowledge in the interview, at least one of the interviewers must be able to assess the accuracy of the candidate’s responses to the job-specific knowledge questions.

Use a rating scale

Just as you did when you developed your short list of candidates, it can help to create an interview rating scale.

Without a rating scale, it’s all too easy to conduct superficial evaluations that rely on impressions and gut feelings. With a rating scale, you are more likely to conduct a systematic and fair evaluation of the candidate.

You can choose any number of rating scales – just be certain that all interviewers are using it in the same way.

The following five-point quantitative scale for each selection criterion is commonly used:

  • 5 = Excellent. Demonstrated the criterion to an extremely high degree.
  • 4 = Good. Demonstrated the criterion to a fairly extensive degree.
  • 3 = Satisfactory. Demonstrated the criterion to an average or moderate degree.
  • 2 = Less than satisfactory. Demonstrated the criterion to a limited degree.
  • 1 = Poor. Demonstrated the criterion to a minimal or no degree.

This template for rating and scoring behavioural interview questions is a great springboard for you to develop your own rating scale.

How long do you need for an interview?

When scheduling the interviews, err on the side of allowing additional time rather than setting a tight schedule. As a guide, 60 to 75 minutes is enough time for an interview with 8 to 12 selection criteria. After the interview, set aside 10 to 15 minutes for the interviewers to talk about the candidate and recharge before heading into the next interview session.

What’s next?

Now that you’ve prepared a list of potential interview questions and shared a rating scale with the interviewers, it’s time to interview candidates. Learn more about best practices in interviewing.