How recruitment consultants can improve the interview process

The interview process is daunting for most candidates. Whether they are in work or actively looking for a role, interviews occur rarely enough for each candidate with such massive consequences that it’s understandable for candidates to be nervous and unsure of themselves.

The interviewers responsibility

Good interviewers understand the responsibility of ensuring they get the most amount of information from the candidates they interview, regardless of the candidate’s fears or personality.

If a candidate is a particularly quiet type, it is not good enough to expect them to overhaul their personality just for the interview – instead, the interviewer should adapt their approach to discover all the talents their candidates possess.

Should recruitment consultants help improve the interview process?

I asked this question on LinkedIn and here are some of the responses I received.

“I would feel responsible for the process just as much as any other part of my job. And it’s not unreasonable. Your client’s success is largely dependant on your contribution – and it’s in your best interest that they are successful.” – Kasia Borowicz, Alexander Mann Solutions

“As part of building customer loyalty, I believe any time we can assist -without offending- our customer, we will.” – Lance Ewing, LaborMax Staffing

Nick Hill tempers his advice:

“I see it as a value added service available to clients.

Care needs to be considered though, selling skills and qualifying are not competency based interviewing skills so not every recruiter can offer this type of advice IMO.” – Nick Hill, Mr Presenter

You can even use the exercise of improving the interview process as a way to keep the clients engaged and keep you on the PSL. As Jan Derks of Derks & Derks says:

Our company provides interview clinics 3 times a year, as a service but also as a way to stay in contact with the clients. – Jan Derks, Derks & Derks

And finally, Kane Billings of Concierge Executive Recruiting had this to say:

I see it as my role to ensure that my customer is able to hire the absolutely best candidate. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t looking at the whole picture. – Kane Billings, Concierge Executive Recruiting

So it turns out clients are interested in any help they can get. Interview training is rarely given by the company, so often the hiring manager has to rely on their own experience to conduct the interview.

The overwhelming majority of consultants who responded to my question indicated that they do see improving the interview process as part of their job.

What happens if you don’t help the hiring manager?

If the hiring manager doesn’t know how to run a good interview and how to get the information they need to make an informed decision then they will continue rejecting candidates for the most ridiculous reasons.

The following question was recently asked on the Recruitment Consultants and Staffing Professionals group:

What is the craziest reason that a hiring manager has ever given you for passing on a candidate? – Amy McDonald, President at REKRUTR

Some answers were unbelievable. Here’s a selection:

They already had one Jane in the office, to have two Janes would be far too confusing!- Kelly Parnell

When the candidate in his usual warm way held out his hand, smiled, and said “‘ello love”, he was immediately dismissed! I was told he was “too common”! – Ray Ellis

We had a client pass on a candidate because their Facebook had a picture of him with messy hair and a rock tee shirt (no middle fingers or beer cans showing). When we met with the candidate he came in a suit and had his hair combed back showing he was professional for interviews. Sad they missed out on a good guy. – Jessica Brown, Ajilon Professional Staffing

What help do the interviewers need?

Firstly, it is likely your clients have the technical aspects or skills and competencies covered. Most interviews will include someone who is expert in the field who will probe the candidates CV to explore the depth and breadth of their knowledge.

As a recruiter it is important to know how to discover these skills in a CV and to talk about them confidently, but probably the best you can do here to improve the process is to teach the technical interviewer to have a wide variety of questions to measure the breadth of their knowledge and to probe answers to discover the depth of the candidate’s knowledge.

… teach the technical interviewer to have a wide variety of questions to measure the breadth of their knowledge and to probe answers to discover the depth of their knowledge. – David Hilditch, Improved Employees

Tools available to help

There are tools available to help the interviewer measure learning speed such as the TQM tests from Hallmark Solutions.

There are other sector-specific testing tools available too such as Technically Compatible who can help you test IT skills in candidates.

The hiring manager will likely wish to measure culture-fit and attitude themselves, although I know of many recruiters who feel confident that they can gauge culture-fit before they send candidates out for interview.

If you wish to offer advice to your clients around culture-fit and attitude, I suggest you read Lou Adler’s article first on how to measure cultural fit up down and sideways.

Soft skills and behaviour

Soft skills and behaviour is something that’s traditionally a little more elusive for hiring managers to extract from candidates. Many personality profiling systems claim to have the solution, but since they are all ‘self-assessed’ they are open to abuse.

The trick here, as a recruiter, is to use a soft skills or behaviour report as a talking point in the interview. A good psychometrics-based soft skills report will cover the candidates approach to decision making, problem solving and more making them ideal for competency-based interview preparation but really they help candidates prepare for any interview.

By using the report as a talking point you discover how much the candidate agrees or disagrees with each part of the report but most importantly you get them talking about their softer side and their soft skills.

Improving the pre-interview telephone calls

You can help the hiring manager improve the interview process by calling your candidates a day or two before you send them to their interview. Talk to them about their CV, although most candidates will know to practise this. More importantly, talk to them about their soft skills and any personality report you have produced for them and it will help them prepare to explain their softer side at interview.

This means your candidates will arrive at interview ready to talk about their approach to work, not just their history of work.

Improving the face to face interview

You can improve the face to face interview by teaching the hiring manager any of the following:

Questions they should avoid because of the law

Innes Clark, partner at Morton Fraser has the following advice:

When employers are recruiting new staff they should be careful to avoid any direct or indirect discrimination towards potential candidates, on the basis of sex, race, age, disability, sexual orientation or religion/belief (the protected characteristics), during the recruitment process. In particular when asking questions during an interview or preparing questions for an application form, the employer should avoid questions which relate to protected characteristics. For example questions about childcare arrangements, living arrangements, plans to get married or to have children should not be posed. Instead only questions relevant to the job and determining if the person is suitable for the post, should be asked. There are also restrictions on what a prospective employee can be asked about their health at the interview stage.

You can find out more in his article – How to avoid discrimination when recruiting staff

The biggest dangers are questions around age, gender, race, marital status or disability.

How to get candidates talking about their soft skills

This is easy – pass the hiring manager a soft skills report or psychometric report and tell them not to read it, but to get the candidate to talk them through it.

Pass the hiring manager a soft skills report but tell them not to read it… get the candidate to talk them through it – David Hilditch, Improved Employees

Can personality tests really improve the interview process?

The answer to this is yes, but only if used in the right way. Every psychologist will tell you to trust your own knowledge and information over and above the psychometric reports so it’s imperative that you remember this.

The best approach, as I outlined in Trevor Kupfer’s recent article about personality testing, is to use the psychometric report as a talking point at one of the interview stages.

Allow the candidate to walk you through their own psychometric report says and you’ll have the candidate talking openly about their soft skills using the report as a framework.

How to probe candidates answers to discover the depth and breadth of their knowledge

I gave some advice on depth and breadth above but I think the Interview Skills website says it better:

Candidates are asked questions relating to their behaviour in specific circumstances, which they then need to back up with concrete examples. The interviewers will then dig further into the examples by asking for specific explanations about the candidate’s behaviour or skills – Interview Skills, Competency Based Interviews

When should I avoid giving advice?

Some clients will not appreciate any advice on how to run their interviews but this needn’t prevent you improving the interview process anyway by focusing on the pre-interview telephone calls. By helping your candidate prepare properly, you increase the chances of the interview running smoothly.

Here’s what some other recruiters have to say when their clients don’t want their advice:

…in our market if we even suggested that we might be able to improve our clients’ interview technique we would be well and truly told where we could put our suggestion!!! Alexandra Malloch, D H Associates


Improving the interview process is within your grasp. Helping your candidates prepare well for interview is something that every recruiter can achieve, regardless of the hiring manager you’re dealing with.

By providing your candidates with a framework for describing their soft skills you will help them in all of their future interviews which increases engagement between you and your candidates.

Mary Kaye McCallie has this to say:

Our candidates walk into places they have never been before, to meet with people they’ve never met before, with their careers on the line. They’re nervous. If someone is not properly interviewed and then qualified for the position itself, we need to be doing that to know if we have matched the values of the firm and the candidate. After that ‘s determined, we need to prepare our candidates by painting ‘word pictures’ of what candidates will see, personalities they will meet and ask them again some of the same qualifying questions that we asked them that made us want to present the candidate to that position in the first place. Sometimes we may have to help them repackage the words, without changing the meaning of the answer. Prepping is the key to good send outs.
Mary Kaye McCallie

If you keep hearing the worst kind of excuses from your hiring managers, maybe there’s now something you can do about it.

Find out how the Improved Employees Soft Skills product can help you improve your clients interview process.