Expert Tips for Conducting Each Stage of the Interview Process

Hiring is an exhaustive process. When I have four onsite interviews on a single day, I take a deep breath before I head into work. With SHRM confirming that 25% of business-critical positions remain unfilled after five months, pressure to make a faster decision can also get in the way of a good hire. It’s important to make sure you have a robust process from the start where you’re maximizing every candidate and adequately evaluating their whole profile.

The typical hiring process involves five stages: resume screening, a phone interview, in-person interviews, some form of assessment, and reference checks.

When you have a bunch of candidates to get through, this process can seem overwhelming. Don’t worry, you can stop Googling “where to find great candidates yesterday” and rest easy knowing that a well-executed interview process can solve this for you. 

5 Stages of the Interview Process (and How to Ace Them)

We've put together a list of expert tips for each of the five stages of the interview process to help you hire like the pros and secure high-quality talent while you’re at it.

1. Resume Screening

Did you get a pang in your chest just reading that? Resume screening can be one of the most confusing stages of the interview process. One minute you’re incredibly optimistic and the next you’re feeling like all the resumes in that sky-high pile are starting to blur together.

Since resume screening is the first step in every interview process, it determines who will make it to the subsequent rounds. The administrative effort is coupled with the pressure that goes into ensuring the right people make it to the in-person interview stage. 

Resumes are a first glance into your potential new hire's work-related experience and basic compatibility for the open role. They serve as an effective guide to weed out unsuitable candidates from the get-go. It's easy to see from a quick scan whether a candidate has the hard skills and experience you require. 

Pro Tips: 

  • Start by creating your yes pile with the candidates who go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Chances are they have most of the qualifications you’re looking for. 
  • Determine a simple ranking system that incorporates broad but essential criteria. For example, assign points for extracurricular volunteer work (if that's important to you) or for an unusual software skill. After you read through dozens of resumes during the interview process, it will be easier to call up previously reviewed candidates by category rather than relying solely on memory.
  • It is always speedier to rely on internal referrals than a collated list from LinkedIn or other job sites. Even if the referral comes from another team in the organization, it usually means a closer culture fit.

2. Phone Interview

Interview process: Phone interview

After you have identified a short(er) list of candidates based on their past work experience, follow up on their application with an invite to a brief phone interview. 

The phone interview is a key part of the interview process for determining candidate expectations and overall compatibility. This screening interview is about the first impression on both ends. 

Keep things informal and only ask a few questions. It's important to note that while the interview questions should be consistent, this interview is used to gauge communication style and high-level fit, so going off-script is encouraged.

Pro Tips:

  • Use a templated document to guide the conversation. Even if you get off track (which can be a sign of genuine chemistry), you can see right away if something’s missing.
  • Use automated scheduling software like Calendly to confirm the details of the call. This is especially helpful if candidates are in different time zones. They can easily pick a slot from your available openings and book it at their leisure. 
  • Always confirm the next steps before hanging up the phone. Highlight or bold this on your template. If candidates are employed or in-demand, it could slow down momentum. By setting the dates on the calendar while you have the candidate on the phone, you can book your next steps and move on. 

3. In-Person Interviews

The in-person interview is a great way to probe deeper on any assumptions you made in the previous rounds. Including other team members is a helpful way to challenge or confirm your opinions. 

This is a type of interview that offers the most room for true discovery as well as the chance to test your interpersonal chemistry. Learning about a candidate's work experience in more detail gives you insight into their preferred work environment and work style. Observing body language teaches you more subtle information about their confidence and professional aptitude. 

Another secret weapon is competency-based interview questions.

These types of questions are open-ended behavioral questions that allow you to read between the lines and learn more about your candidate. Some examples include:

  1. Tell me about a time when you made a risky decision. What was your process? What was the result?
  2. Share an example of a project that you are most proud of in your former role.
  3. Describe a time that you tried to implement a new process at work. What was the result?

These types of questions allow you to watch as the candidate thinks through their answer. The examples can also be incredibly revealing about how they feel and problem-solve.

Pro Tips:

  • Change course when necessary. If you are used to doing five rounds of in-person interviews that include panel interviews, video interviews, and culture fit interviews, but you feel confident after the first two rounds, consider modifying your process. Continuing to drag out the process allows more time for another company to recruit your first-choice candidate.
  • Ask for candidate feedback from those who don't make it past this round (and even those who do). They have invested in your organization and may contribute to a more empathic hiring process. Think of it as a free focus group.

4. Assessments

Interview process: Filling out assessments

Assessments are powerful tools that help objectively evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of candidates, grow job seeker investment, and increase efficiency in training during the interview process. They can mitigate human error in the interview process. Unfortunately, a person’s true self can be wildly different than how they present themselves in a 30-minute meeting.

A Career Builder survey found that 75% of HR managers caught people lying on their resume. Assessments can help accurately identify discrepancies or skill gaps. This is especially true for hard skills like coding that can be spotted right away. 

The main types of assessments include:

  1. Personality tests
  2. Skills tests
  3. Cognitive tests
  4. Emotional intelligence tests

While you could put a candidate through all these tests, it’s more considerate to limit all testing to a reasonable timeframe of under two hours.

Pro Tips:

  • Always emphasize required assessments from the first touch to minimize any frustrations (or worse, drop-offs) at a later stage.
  • Ensure assessments are closely related to the job description or task they will be performing.
  • Bear in mind the job seeker's timeline as they may be employed full-time and completing assessments after hours. It’s good etiquette to ask what a fair due date is, even if it prolongs the hiring process slightly.

5. References

Strong candidates will already have a collection of strong professional references.

This part of the interview process involves contacting your potential new hire’s former employers, colleagues, or other professional contacts to gather third-party insight. By asking the right questions, you will also uncover coachable areas for the new hire, which can provide value to their hiring manager when onboarding. 

Many recruiters and human resource team members struggle with the time that these phone calls take. There’s often some phone tag before you get connected. And it’s difficult to gather objective, actionable insights through the process.

That's why software like Searchlight is so popular. It eliminates the back-and-forth by automating the process and coordinating between parties without phone calls.

Pro Tips:

  • Try to do more listening than talking and ensure that questions are framed objectively.
  • Use open-ended questions to target specific areas of the candidate profile that require clarity and take word-for-word notes instead of a summary.
  • In addition to the external references, discuss common concerns with members of your team who have had touchpoints with the candidate. You can prepare a more effective onboarding this way.

For a Stellar Interview Process, Remember:

Interviewing is an art. 

We’ve all been on the receiving end of a bad interview process and a really great one. The key difference is in your ability to prepare yourself to be present with candidates who are showing interest in your organization and team. This, of course, can easily fall to the wayside when juggling other competing priorities. That’s why we’re here to help. 

There’s a lot that can happen between the first touch and the first day. To ensure a smooth interview process revisit your organization’s approach and see where you can integrate more data-driven decision making. An easy place to start is by checking out Searchlight to streamline your reference process. It’s timesaving, painless, and incredibly effective — just like making your new hire will be with our expert interview tips under your belt. 

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