Your business's survival depends on hiring the right people, yet, finding the best employees can be difficult. If you don't have effective interviewing skills, you risk losing a brilliant candidate, or worse - hiring a person that's not qualified for the job.

In a competitive graduate job market, conducting effective interviews is more important than ever. While you're sizing up a candidate, that person is also considering you as a potential employer.

The key to successful recruitment is having clear objectives and a consistent technique for assessing candidates.

Shortlist the applicants

First, only select good candidates using selection methods for interview - a figure between five and ten should be your target. Review their CVs and sift out anyone that does not meet your essential requirements. If you have more than ten candidates that look suitable on paper then consider conducting a telephone interview to screen out the least suitable candidates.

Interview objectives

Once face-to-face with candidates, you need to:

- Promote the business to attract the best candidate for the job by marketing to students.
- Assess how far their qualifications match the job.
- Find out more about the candidates' education, work experience, career goals, skills and qualities.
- Discover whether they would fit into the organisation.
- Gauge candidates' interest in the position and the company.

An employer and a graduate having an interview

The interview

Effective interviewing is always well structured. Six stages to consider include:

1. Introduction

- Make the candidate feel comfortable, initiate some small talk to put them at ease. For example, tell them a bit about the company and its aims and outline the particular position on offer. Keep it short, you can expand later if you feel the candidate is suitable.
- Explain the structure of the interview.
- Invite the candidate to ask questions and check for understanding at any time.
- From this point on the amount and quality of the information that you establish will be largely due to the effectiveness of your questions. Use open questions (e.g. tell me about... how do you... why did you... talk me through ...) and probe from the general to the specific. Avoid any questions which could be considered discriminatory.

2. Initially assess the candidate

- Using their CV as a prompt, find out more about the candidate's background.
- Ask leading questions, listen carefully without interrupting and let them sell themselves.
- Keep notes of all their replies so you have something to refer to later.

3. Discuss competencies, skills and capabilities

- Get them to expand on their skills and demonstrate how they relate to your job requirements.
- Keep your tone mild and non-judgemental, particularly when asking difficult questions.

4. Sell the job

- If impressed so far, explain the job in more detail, how it fits in, the growth potential, the pay package and other benefits.
- You need to make the opportunity appear as attractive as possible, motivating the best candidates to want to work for you.
- Discuss and sell the branding of your company through its reputation and corporate culture.

5. Candidate questions

- Don't forget to ask the candidate if they have any questions.
- This is a good way to find out how much research they've done and if they are really serious about the position.

6. Closing the session

- Summarise what's been said and clarify any vague areas.
- Ask if they still want to be considered and find out about any obstacles to starting if you both decide to go ahead.
- Explain how the next contact will be made and give an approximate time-frame.

Remember: Effective interviewing is a two-way process - it is as important to sell yourself to the applicant. A good graduate will have other opportunities, so do not presume they will jump at your offer.

Always remember to only hire a graduate who fits the role defined. While you will need to get on with them, don't hire someone just because you like them or they are similar to you. They should complement, not imitate you and your team.

Top tips

1. Understand the purpose of the interview.

2. Rethink your interviewing strategy and tactics.

3. Develop a list of desired skills.

4. Create a list of interview questions.

5. Review your list of interview questions.

6. Tell the applicant about the interview format.

7. Prepare for questions from the candidate.

8. Take objective notes and record responses.

9. Respond swiftly to good candidates and give prompt feedback.

10. Before you offer any position, obtain and follow up references.