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10 Tips for Great Interviews

1. Be prepared.

Prepare yourself and the environment prior to the interview. Schedule an appropriate time and place where there will be minimal distractions. Review the candidate’s file and the job description prior to the interview so that you know what questions to ask.  

2. Identify the competencies and skills necessary for the position.

Create a mental model with your colleagues of what the ideal candidate would have in terms of knowledge, skills and abilities. This will help guide you in deciding what questions to ask.

3. Ask relevant questions.

Create a list of interview questions that relates to each skill or competency you identified as necessary to the role.

4. Know what questions are appropriate and legal to ask in an interview.

Interviews for staff employment, transfer or promotion will be conducted in a manner that complies with the university's commitment to equal employment opportunity to ensure that qualified candidates are not discriminated against in employment decisions on the basis of irrelevant criteria such as race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, genetic information, disability or protected veteran status. See HR-110: Interviewing, a section of the HR Policy Manual, for details.

5. Be fair and consistent.

The University of Missouri System is an Equal Opportunity Employer. See HR-102: Equal Opportunity Program, a section of the HR Policy Manual, for details.

When interviewing multiple people, ask the same questions to all of the applicants so that you are able to compare their responses to each other. By asking the same questions of each applicant, this also helps ensure that each interview is fair and unbiased.

6. Start slow and get to know the person you are interviewing.

Begin the interview by greeting the applicant and establishing eye contact. Then start by asking basic icebreaker questions, such as “where are you from” or “what did you study in school.” Cover the basics first to help to begin the conversation on a friendly and neutral level so that the candidate can relax. Asking these questions shows the applicant that you care about them and that they are not just a name on some paper.

7. Listen.

Use the 20/80 Rule: ask questions 20% of the time and then listen the other 80% of the time. The true value of the interview comes from what the applicant says. Make sure that you are paying attention and hearing what he or she is saying. If you ask a question that they have already answered, it shows you have not been listening and will discourage the applicant.

8. Take notes.

Taking notes can help you keep track of applicants, especially in cases where there are several interviewing for a position. Notes should be factual and based solely on what the applicant says, not any inferences on your part.

Tip: Let the applicant know that you will be taking notes on their responses at the beginning of interview. This allows you more time to take notes while also keeping the applicant informed.

9. Ask questions.

An applicant’s response to a question may call for a follow-up question. It is important to remember that follow-up questions should be used for clarification only. Unless you were not listening to a response earlier, in which case see #6.

10. Keep the applicant informed.

Make sure the applicants are aware of the scheduling and the format of the interview. If you plan to ask behavioral questions in the interview, it helps to let the applicant know so that he or she can answer questions more effectively. It’s also helpful to let them know how many people with which they will be interviewing.


Consistency is Key

In order to conduct an effective and fair interview, it is important that the interviewing process remains consistent for all applicants. It is critical to develop consistency in the questions asked, the manner in which the interview is conducted, and the individuals conducting the interview. Consistency ensures that interviews are free of any bias and applicants are being judged fairly. It will work to your benefit to ask the same questions of each applicant, as you will be able to compare his or her responses with other applicants. Developing a consistent interview protocol will also minimize the risk of discrimination lawsuits for the university. Below you can find the university guidelines for the interviewing process and suggestions for highly effective interviews.

University Policies for Interviewing

The HR Policy Manual provides a guide for conducting interviews. See HR-110: Interviewing.

Interview Questions

There are two types of questions that have been shown to be most effective during an interview. The first is behavioral questions, which are questions that allow the interviewer to learn more about the applicants’ skills and past experiences. These questions reveal how the applicant acted in past situations and the work knowledge they have gained from those experiences. Research has shown that by asking the applicants about their past behavior, one is better able to predict how they will act in future situations.

The second type is situational judgment questions that ask the applicant what actions they would take in a hypothetical situation. These questions allow you gain insight on the applicant’s thought process, values, work style and how they would approach different situations.

Picking the Right Questions

Here are some important points to keep in mind when deciding what questions to ask during the interview:

  • Choose questions that are relevant to the skills or competencies you feel are necessary to serve effectively in the position. See the Sample Interview Questions webpage for ideas on what to ask based on the myPerformance success factors for each job's type and function.
  • Be consistent as you are asking questions. This will ensure that the interview is unbiased and also will make it easier to compare applicants.
  • Avoid asking inappropriate or illegal questions, as explained in HR-110: Interviewing, a section of the HR Policy Manual.

After the Interview

Background and Reference Checks

Reference Checking

Reference checks serve as an important function in the selection process that can contribute to the overall performance of the university. This process is conducted to verify the information provided by the applicant. By gathering information about the applicant, reference checks provide the department with insight to the applicant’s employability, while also ensuring the protection of the university and its employees.

Why Should You Check References?

  • Verify the Information – reference checks can be used to ensure that the information given by the applicant is honest and accurate.
  • Learn about the Applicant – you are able to gain perspective of individuals who have had experience working with the applicant.
  • Protect the University – By reference checking, the university is more protected from any harm that could result from dishonest applicants. Reference checks also help defend the university from any legal claims throughout the hiring process, such as negligence in hiring.
  • Past Behavior is a Good Predictor of Future Performance - Through your interview, you can obtain information about the applicant’s strengths, weaknesses and work experience.

The Structure of a Reference Check

Getting Consent from the Applicant

The first step to reference checking is asking for consent from the applicant to contact the references they have provided. For reference checking purposes, it may also be useful to ask the applicant for consent to contact off-list references, such as someone they may have mentioned in the interview. Once you are given consent, you must inform the applicant that you plan on contacting the references.

Contacting a Reference

  • First, introduce yourself, your title, and the university and department name. Then inform him or her that you are calling about a reference for the applicant you are considering.
  • Ask him or her if this is a good time to talk or if he or she would prefer to schedule a different time to speak.
  • Give a brief description of the position you are considering the applicant for so that the reference can have a context for their comments.

Asking the Right Questions

Ask questions based off of the skill set required for the position. Questions to ask:

  • What was your relationship to the candidate?
  • What were his/her strengths?
  • What were some of his/her accomplishments?
  • What would you say were his/her areas of weakness in this position?
  • Would you recommend (candidate’s name) for a position as (Job Title)? If not, why not?
  • Do you think (candidate’s name) would be successful in this position?
  • What attributes would (candidate’s name) bring to (position name)?
  • Do you have any concerns about (candidate’s name) abilities to do this job?
  • When did he/she work for your company?
  • Are there other people that you think we should talk to?
  • Is there anything else we should know about (candidate’s name) that we have not already discussed?

Making a Decision

Communicating With Applicants Not Selected

It is important to follow up with all applicants throughout the screening and interview process. This can be done by phone, email or a letter depending on the stage in which the hiring committee decides to no longer include him or her in the pool of applicants they will be considering for the position.  

For applicants who do not meet minimum qualifications or are not chosen for an interview, the hiring manager for the position needs to send an email through eRecruit (for instructions, see the Job Postings and Recruiting webpage).

For candidates that were interviewed, the hiring manager should send an email through eRecruit (see above for a link to instructions). The department may also consider calling these applicants along with sending a letter. This way the department is able to thank them for their time and explain why they will not be moving forward with the university.

The Job Offer

When extending a job offer, it is important to give the prospective employee a realistic preview of the position. Both the positive aspects, such as flexibility and culture, and the negative aspects, such as unusual hours or travel required, should be discussed. Information regarding salary and benefits should also be discussed.

The Background Check

The final candidate for a university position, whether it is an Academic position or Administrative, Service & Support position, is required to pass a background check prior to beginning the duties of the new position. Such background checks are not required for transfers or promotions of current employees within the same unit or department. This background check may include, but not be limited to, criminal history, verifications of employment and education, and driving records.

The background check is the final step before the official hiring process begins. The job offer extended to the prospective employee is contingent based on the background check.

For more information on the university background checking, see HR-504: Background Checks and Criminal Convictions, a section of the HR Policy Manual.


Staffing Research: Getting to Know the Candidate: Conducting Reference Checks (PDF), by Mary Elizabeth Burke and Jennifer Schramm for the Society for Human Resource Management

Recruitment and Selection: Hiring the Right Person: A two-part learning module for undergraduate students (PDF), by Myrna L. Gusdorf for the Society for Human Resource Management

Reviewed August 24, 2016.