How to be a good interviewer

Being a good, effective interviewer requires more than just having a charismatic personality.

When interviewing, the best interviewers utilise a combination of their people skills, communication skills, and a good set of strategic interview questions to ask candidates that have been well researched. The best interviewers will do all of this while also making their candidates feel relaxed and at ease throughout.

The most successful interviewers all share some of the same behaviours. So what are they? And how can you be a good interviewer?


  • Ask broad, concrete and open questions early on and then focus on specific examples of behaviour
  • Probe until they are satisfied that they have revealed a true representation of how they have behaved in the past
  • Use soft but direct questions that reasonably deserve answers
  • Look for evidence of patterns of behaviour across different circumstances and in response to different questions
  • Take comprehensive notes
  • Stop candidates from meandering into speculations about what they ”would do” or from talking generally about ”we” rather than I
  • Explore in-depth:
    • Why?
    • How?
    • Likes & diskiles
    • Rationales for choices
    • Self-evaluations
  • Withhold judgement
  • Encourage openness by acknowledge achievements
  • Feel comfortable with silences so as to give candidates enough time to think
  • Try to make the candidate feel at ease and to build rapport so the candidate will trust them to be open and honest
  • Non-verbally communicate encouragement and interest – nodding, smiling, making eye contact

In order to get the most from your interviews, as well as the above points, it is equally important that your candidates feel relaxed. Nervous candidates don’t often show themselves in the best light, while candidates who are in a highly motivated state have a greater tendency to impression manage. Therefore it is important that the candidate is in a relaxed, natural state of mind before beginning the main part of any interview.

How to ensure your candidates are relaxed

Unconscious behaviours

Small talk can be used to help the candidate relax, although if overdone can appear false. Many candidates are eager to get on with the interview so ask them a friendly question very early on to start them talking openly and settle their nerves. For instance you could identify a positive area from their CV and ask them to tell you about it.

We all subconsciously use a complex system of body language as well as encouragers and other non-verbal cues such as grunts of approval or agreement or by interposing ‘uh-huhs’ or ‘ers’ in conversation, raised eyebrows, smiles and appropriate levels of eye contact.

These behaviours have a powerful but largely subconscious effect upon the progress of a conversation and it is important to give them some thought prior to an interview. Non-verbal behaviour has a particularly strong influence when it comes to communicating the level of attention you may be giving to the other person. Since you must communicate the importance of the interview to the candidate it is essential that you at least appear to be attending fully.

Your aim here should be to encourage the candidate to smile, relax and get the feeling that you understand them and that they can trust you. To do this, you should ensure that you are demonstrating behaviours that we all naturally demonstrate unconsciously under normal circumstances:


Match the candidate’s posture, facial expressions and gesture. Matching is an unconscious form of communication that deepens rapport. Matching is doing the same i.e. sitting opposite the candidate, you match them leaning to their right by leaning to your right.


Mirroring is where you do the opposite i.e. as they move their right arm you move your left arm as a mirror image. Be subtle in the way you do this by matching or mirroring larger movements, like leaning forward or backwards rather than more precise movements.

Match or mirror when it is your turn to speak, rather than when the other person is gesturing.


Pace the candidate’s speed and style of delivery. When pacing the voice listen for rhythm, volume, speed tone and pitch. Fast talkers are quickly frustrated by slow talkers and slow talkers quickly find fast talkers difficult to understand.

There is a good technique that is worth practising, which can help you build rapport, and can easily be remembered through the acronym SOLAR:

Sit Square-on to the candidate, facing them. Adopt an Open posture with your shoulders back, your arms unfolded and your legs uncrossed. Make sure there are no physical barriers between you. (This includes a desk).

Lean forward slightly. Demonstrate that you are attending fully by nodding appropriately, using non-verbal encouragers and appropriate facial expressions and by avoiding distracting habits such as scratching your nose or looking at your watch.

Relax. If you are tense, then the atmosphere will become tense very swiftly and nothing is more likely to inhibit the development of rapport with the candidate.

Building rapport with the candidate is a skill which can be developed with practice and stems from a combination of verbal and non-verbal behaviour.


Posing powerful questions

Once you have your candidate relaxed the main part of the interview is spent exploring their suitability for the role. This involves asking past-tense, concrete questions to identify areas of strength and concern in terms of the role.

Past-tense, concrete questions are the key to a successful interview, but very few interviewers can think up sufficient good questions spontaneously when put on the spot. Therefore, even the best interviewers need to prepare in advance. When preparing make sure you use questions with the following qualities:

Ask open questions: The ‘W’s’

  • What? Where? When? Why?
  • Also: How? and ‘Tell me about…’
  • Questions that require more than a yes/no answer
  • For example…
  • Which project/aspect of your work have you been most pleased with?
  • What has been your best achievement this year?

Concrete examples

Questions that require the candidate to give you concrete examples about what they have actually done or achieved.

Past tense/historical

Questions that explore the candidate’s past behaviour, not what they might hypothetically do in a scenario in the future. Examples of open concrete historical questions are:

  • ‘What was the most demanding call you took from a customer?’
  • ‘Give me an example of a time when you met a tough challenge at work?’

As an interviewer you can practise asking open questions until you feel that you can deploy them comfortably in an interview setting, without having to root around for the appropriate wording. Also practice getting comfortable with silence; if you can sit in silence for even 30 seconds it could be a great asset in persuading a reticent candidate to be more forthcoming!

If you’re interested in brushing up on your interviewer skills check out our other blog post; Good Interviewer Skills: 7 ways to master interviews or our Interviewer Report, which generates tailored interview questions for each candidate based on their personality profile.

Alternatively drop us a message and one of the team will get back to you.


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