How to interview someone

How to interview someone

Advanced interviewing techniques:

  • Active listening

  • Summarising and reflecting back

  • Controlling the interview

  • Interrupting

  • Prompting

  • Non-verbal control

  • Re-phrasing

  • Strategic silence

  • Evaluating the interview

What would a psychologist do?

Skilled interviewers (How to be a good interviewer?) use a number of techniques in their interviews to enhance the quality of the evidence they gather from their candidates.

Active listening

Some interviewers get so worried about the next question that they forget to actually listen to the candidate. Good questions are of course pointless, unless you listen to the answer. If you have the confidence to listen to the candidate, you will find that the next question becomes a natural follow-on from the previous answer.

First, you must ensure you are showing active attention to the candidate; this involves verbal and non-verbal signals that you’re interested and responsive (rather than bored). Merely showing the signs of attention is obviously necessary but not sufficient; you must also learn to listen, ensuring that you have understood and absorbed everything the person has said.

This is easier than it sounds. In practice you may find that your mind wanders, or, if the person says something vague, you may be tempted to let it go rather than asking them to elaborate further. Asking for clarification and/or asking probing questions may seem to you as if you are putting the person under pressure, but in fact, people will expect this and your questions will themselves confirm your genuine interest in him/her.

Summarising & reflecting back

Summarise what the candidate has told you and repeat it back to them. This will:

  • Force you to listen attentively.
  • Make it clear that you’ve been listening and have understood.
  • Give them the chance to correct any things you have not correctly understood.
  • Help you to remember what has been said by verbally summarising.
  • Help punctuate the conversation.

Always summarise when you have finished an opening question and are about to move on.

Reflecting back is slightly different from summarising; you reflect back the emotion you perceived from the candidate’s response. Examples are:

  • That sounds as if you were very pleased with the result
  • That must have been very difficult for you
  • Did that feel challenging?

The key benefit of reflecting back is to further increase the depth of rapport between interviewer and candidate. Reflecting helps the candidate feel understood. This will encourage them to be even more forthcoming and open with their subsequent responses to your questions.

Controlling the interview

The most effective way to control an interview is to establish a pattern and rhythm early on. Most candidates are looking out for, and are receptive to, the informal rules of the interview. For instance if you press them for concrete answers to your first question they will know to be concrete in the future. Unfortunately not all candidates are controlled that easily. Utilise some of the following tactics to help you control difficult interviewees.

Tactics for talkative candidates

Some candidates will talk a lot because they are naturally gregarious, others because they are nervous. Control then, is important if you want to stick to your interview plan.


It is possible to interrupt without damaging rapport, but it takes skill. The most effective interruptions are made just before the candidate has finished their sentence, but after they have finished their thought. If you wait until they finish the sentence they will be off on another thought. Interrupt with a positive comment such as I see. That’s very clear, but now I want to move on to


These can be used effectively to silence a candidate or change the subject. If they are moving away from the point, interrupt by offering a summary and asking if it is accurate. You can then ask a new question to refocus them.

Praise brief answers:

When you hear a brief answer, praise it so the candidate is left in no doubt that this is the kind of answer you want.

Non-verbal control:

If you have established strong rapport with a candidate, non-verbally breaking this will interrupt their flow. Break eye contact. Try leaning back and looking away or writing notes. Alternatively try looking away, putting down your pen and lean right forward giving intense eye contact. These tactics should be used with caution as they are designed to make the candidate feel uncomfortable and will undoubtedly lessen rapport.

Tactics for untalkative candidates

Candidates who are not as forthcoming with answers may be nervous, shy or simply evasive. They can be hard work, but it is important not to assume that they are unsuitable for the job simply because they are quiet at interview.


With quiet candidates who answer questions, but fail to elaborate sufficiently, simple prompts such as ‘Is there anything else?’ or ‘Tell me more about that’, can be very effective. Prompts can come from mentioning something that appears relevant on the candidate’s CV. Other prompts may involve giving the candidate some examples of the kinds of answer you are looking for.

Rephrasing or reframing:

If a candidate struggles with a particular question, allow them time to think and then ask if it would be helpful for you to rephrase the question. Ask the question again using different words. An alternative is to reframe the question. For instance if you are asking for examples of things the candidate prefers to do as part of a team try reframing the question to explore what the candidate likes to do alone.

Softening questions:

Some questions are potentially controversial. For instance if you ask a candidate to ‘Tell me how you have handled working with someone you didn’t like’, you may anticipate a rather cautious or general answer.

This question can be softened by saying ‘We all have people we work with who we like and others we like less well. It would be unusual to get on well with everybody. I’m interested in how you have handled people you have got on less well with. Give me an example of when you have been in this position.’

The softening is intended to normalise discussion about topics that could otherwise be seen as undesirable.

Strategic silences:

Many interviewers become nervous when there is silence in an interview and so interject before a candidate has finished thinking. Use silence to extract full answers when a candidate is being evasive.

Summarising & praising:

Summaries can be used effectively to encourage a candidate to talk, especially if they are linked to praise. Summarise what the candidate has said in order to communicate your interest. If they are moving away from the point, interrupt by offering a summary and asking if it is accurate. Then ask a new question to refocus them.

Evaluating responses & decision making

During an interview you will be implementing the first two steps of the ORCE (Observe, Record, Classify, Evaluate) assessment strategy; observing and recording behaviours as you navigate the interview.

Once the interview has finished, you need to review your behavioural evidence and perform the next step; classification. Classifying your observations generally involves two steps:

Step 1:

Classifying recorded behaviours that are examples of positive or negative evidence for successful performance.

To do this you need to examine your notes and identify which behaviours are positive or negative. You should do this for all samples of behaviour that you have recorded.

Step 2:

Classify these positive and negative behaviours into the success factors for the role

Link the positive and negative indicators to the selection criterion for the interview. For example if Leadership is a key requirement for this job and the candidate has given ample examples of successful leadership experience then you would link the positive evidence to this criteria.

Once you have classified all the evidence you recorded whilst observing the interview you should move on to the final stage of the ORCE assessment strategy: Evaluation.


Once you’ve classified the evidence into selection criteria you will need to weigh up the evidence to allocate a rating for each of the criteria. The evaluation process consists of 3 steps:

Step 1: 

Allocate a rating for each of the selection criteria

You now need to step back and consider all of the evidence for the selection criteria you have gathered and allocate a rating to reflect performance in this area. Allocate a rating that captures the balance of positive and negative evidence you have observed. The rating scale range is up to you, usually we recommend no more than 1-5.

Step 2: 

Evaluating the whole interview

Step back and consider the candidate’s performance in the whole interview and the candidate’s responses to the debrief questions.

  • Identify areas of strength you observed (strengths can come from any of the selection criteria you have classified the behaviour into). Write them on the front of the form with a short explanation of why they were strengths.
  • Identify areas of concern or where the candidate could have performed better (again from any part of the interview). Provide a short explanation of why the behaviours were inappropriate.
  • Strengths may be used as the basis of feedback for the candidate after the interview. They should be behavioural and backed up by evidence.

Step 3: 

Allocate an overall rating for the interview

You now need to step back and consider the candidate’s performance throughout the entire interview. Consider all of the information you have gathered about them, and how they performed in the interview as a whole. Use the same rating scale to allocate an overall interview rating.

Tips for classifying and evaluating evidence

  • Review your notes and allocate which behaviours are examples of the competencies being assessed. You will not be able to classify all of the behaviours.
  • Avoid classifying behaviours twice. Classify behaviours into only one category. Decide which criterion the observed behaviour is the best example of, and allocate it to only that competency.
  • Use highlighter pens, or different coloured pens to help you classify the different behaviours you have observed.
  • Classify both positive and negative examples of a selection criterion.
  • Avoid judging the appropriateness of the responses too soon.

Ready to level up your interviewing skills?

The Clevry interviewer report provides tailored interview questions for each candidate depending on the results of their personality questionnaire making interviews easy.


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