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Shortlisting and interviewing for the role

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Use this series of pages to guide you through the steps to take when recruiting staff. This includes designing, advertising, shortlisting and interviewing for the role, offering the job and inducting new staff.

This page will be helpful when you’re preparing to shortlist and interview for a role you’re recruiting to. It runs through the steps you should take – from establishing a selection panel through to deciding who to appoint to the role.

Establishing a panel

Before you begin the shortlisting process, it’s important to establish a panel that will make selection decisions. You could consider involving service users in the interview process where possible.

It’s also a good idea to identify the panel and put dates for shortlisting and interviews in diaries in advance, to minimise the potential for delays. It can help to publish expected interview dates in the job advert.

Shortlisting

After the job advert’s closing date, the panel should shortlist applicants for interview based on the person specification you set out at the start of the process.

Aim to shortlist up to five or six applicants for each day of interviews. It helps to shortlist candidates in a structured way, considering applicants against each person specification criterion. This helps to avoid unconscious bias. Using a simple scoring system is a good way to go about this.

All members of the panel should shortlist, to ensure that the process is as objective as possible.

Being inclusive when you shortlist

As an employer, you must not discriminate against job applicants based on any of the nine protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.

Generally, you shouldn’t make any recruitment decisions based on these characteristics, with limited exceptions for disability. This means you cannot, for example:

  • decide that you prefer a woman or a man for your post
  • decide not to appoint an applicant because she is pregnant or may perceived as likely to become pregnant
  • treat a person less favourably in any way due to their sexual orientation
  • fail to appoint the best person for the job, due to their age (young or old).

Additional legislation prohibits discrimination against other groups:

  • Part-time status (Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000)
  • Fixed-term status (Fixed-term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002)
  • Equal Pay between men and women (Equal Pay Act 1970)

Inviting candidates to interview

Once you’ve finished shortlisting, contact shortlisted applicants to invite them to interview. In your email, you should explain:

  • any preparation the candidate needs to do before the interview
  • what the candidate can expect on the day.

You should also ask the candidate whether they need you to make reasonable adjustments to the process.

If the interview will take place in person, prepare interview venue in advance (considering any adjustments required). Ensure the venue’s accessible and sets a good impression of your organisation.

If interviewing over video call, ensure you share any joining details ahead of time.

Writing interview questions

Next, you’ll need to prepare interview questions.

Criteria-based interview questions, which explore past performance, are the most reliable predictors of future performance. Use ‘What would you do if…’ questions sparingly – they’re less reliable.

Below are a few examples of interview questions and useful prompts, based on criteria that frequently appear in interviews.

Take a look at these interview questions you should NOT ask (and what to ask instead) on TPP’s website.

Reasonable adjustments

You shouldn’t ask direct questions about disability at interview stage, but you should ask all candidates questions that relate to the essential requirements of the job. For example: ‘Are you able to climb stairs?’ is acceptable if this is required for the job.

Designing tests for candidates

Studies show that interviewing on its own isn’t always the most reliable method of choosing the right person for the job. Adding selection tests increases the predictive reliability of the process.

You could ask applicants to:

  • take part in a work simulation
  • prepare a presentation
  • take part in a role play.

When deciding on a test, consider the following.

  • Determine which criteria you’re assessing from each test. For example, if you ask an applicant to undertake a work simulation, you may be able to assess several criteria at once, including written communication, analytical ability, ability to plan and an understanding of the technical aspects of the job.
  • Don’t use a test that’s irrelevant. For example, if someone will rarely be required to make presentations in the job, then it doesn’t make much sense to ask them to do one as part of the selection process.
  • Make adjustments for disabled people. For example, an applicant with a stammer may require more time for a verbal presentation. You may need to provide documents in a larger text size for a visually impaired applicant.
  • Check the subject matter of your tests doesn’t disadvantage external applicants compared with internal applicants.
  • Give a specific time for applicants to complete the test.
  • Ask a colleague to try out the test, so you know it works.

Interviewing

  • Start by welcoming the applicant and try to put them at ease. Introduce yourself and the other interviewers. Explain the structure of the interview.
  • Remember that interviews should be a two-way conversation. Encourage the applicant to ask questions.
  • Avoid making up your mind within a few minutes of meeting an applicant, to avoid unconscious bias.
  • Use questions you have prepared in advance, based on the criteria in the person specification.
  • Depending on the answer each applicant gives, you may need to rephrase the question or ask follow-up questions related to the criteria you’re testing. It’s acceptable for these follow up questions to be different for each applicant because each applicant is also different.
  • Use open-ended questions.
  • Ask additional questions that arise from the application form if relevant, such as gaps in employment.
  • Keep control of the interview. If you feel the applicant is going off-track, turn the conversation back to the information you need.
  • As the interview progresses, make notes on how well the applicant meets each criterion – based on their answers to questions.
  • At the end of the interview, ask the applicant if they have any further questions.
  • Inform the applicant of the next stage in the recruitment process, such as a second interview or a test. Let the applicant know when they can expect to hear whether their application has been successful and thank them for coming.
  • Keep your interview notes. Only record what has been said in the interview and how you arrived at the selection decision. Be aware that applicants who later make a complaint to an employment tribunal have the right to ask for copies of any notes made during the interview, and you may need them for defending any possible discrimination case relating to the process. Applicants may also ask for disclosure of interview notes in accordance with their rights under GDPR.

Deciding who to appoint

Once you’ve undertaken all interviews and selection tests, the selection panel should consider the suitability of each applicant against the requirements of the person specification.

You should only reach a decision after all panel members have scored each candidate and discussed the extent to which the candidates meet the person specification criteria.

If, for example, an applicant has scored extremely well on most criteria, but scored badly on a key criterion, you may decide that the applicant isn’t suitable, regardless of whether they scored highest overall.

If you decide not to appoint the highest scoring candidate, make sure the reasons are clearly documented. Panel members should challenge each other to make sure the reasons are not based on discrimination or unconscious bias.

Your selection decision should be based on the individual’s ability to do the job, with reasonable adjustments as needed. For example, if a candidate cannot climb stairs but is otherwise the best person for the job, you will need to consider whether you can reasonably adjust the job so that there is no requirement to climb stairs.

Positive discrimination

‘Positive discrimination’ (ie recruiting someone because they have a protected characteristic) is unlawful in most circumstances in the UK.

But if two equally qualified candidates scored the same in the selection process, you could select the successful candidate on the grounds that they are from an under-represented or disadvantaged group. It’s important to note that this is a voluntary, rather than mandatory process.

To find out more, see the Equality Act 2010.

This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 01 August 2022

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