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The 5 Stages of a Productive Interview: A Cheat Sheet for Newbies, a Refresher for Experienced Interviewers

When it comes to developing interviewing skills there’s really no substitute for racking up years of intentional interviewing experience, reflecting on your interview behavior, the candidate’s, and the interview process — and then seeing (and measuring) how that employee’s career played out post-hire. However, if you’re new to interviewing or just rusty then this five-stage breakdown will help get you set up. 


Stage1: Before the Interview - Prepare!


The pre-interview period is about setting everyone up for success. Skipping the preparation step can make the rest of the interview a waste of time and a poor candidate experience. 


  • Build time into your schedule to prep before an interview, while you’re at it build time into your schedule for post-interview tasks too. 
  • Understand the purpose of the interview and what you need to cover. Is it a technical interview? Is there a hands-on exercise? If so, you’ll need to check that you have the environment you’ll need set up, otherwise, you will be delving into soft skills. 
  • Now you know what to cover, do you know how to gather evidence the candidate has the right skills or not? 
  • Read the resume and any other submissions from the candidate (code sample, portfolio, etc.). Read any notes available from previous interviews and find out if there is anything to follow up on or areas to probe.
  • Know what skill set is needed for the role.
  • What is important to the candidate in their next role? The recruiter can tell you this, knowing this is crucial so you can share with the candidate the great parts of the role, company, culture, and opportunity that match what they’re looking for. 
  • If you are pair-interviewing with a colleague, discuss your approach before entering the interview room. Decide who is leading, which topics each person is covering, etc.
  • What is the next step for the candidate if they continue on in the process beyond the interview with you? It is important to know this so you can share it with the candidate. 
  • Take a moment to breathe before you get into the interview so you can be calm and present. Leave any negative vibes at the door. 

Related: 4 Reasons Why Candidate Experience is Driving Recruiting In Today's Market


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Stage 2: Beginning of the Interview - Set the scene


This section of the interview is about creating rapport, building trust, and sharing the framework of the interview. 


  • You are the “host” of the candidate’s experience in this interview, so don’t be shy to take the lead. It’s better for everyone, I promise.
  • Make introductions. Give a little context about yourself so the candidate knows how much technical detail to go into or which of their questions about the role and company you can field.
  • Check the candidate’s comfort level, *smile*, and put them at ease. Do they need a glass of water? Bio break? Interviewing is not a blood sport, you’ll get much better information from a relaxed candidate. For virtual calls ensure they are in a place where they can talk freely and that it’s still a good time for them to meet.
  • Share that you’ve reviewed their information and what you’ll be covering during the interview (e.g.delving into their technical skills? Focusing on consulting and soft skills?). Let them know you’ll be taking notes or that they are welcome to ask questions during or at the end. 
  • Verify what the candidate is looking for in their next role. Explain how the role or company will match up to this. It’s important to be truthful here and not oversell, but definitely highlight the areas where the opportunity meets their requirements. 
  • Check-in with yourself; are you already forming an opinion about the candidate? Keep an open mind!

Related: How Hiring Technology Is Creating Great Recruiter-Candidate Rapport

Stage 3: Middle of the Interview - The main event


This middle bit is the lion’s share of the interview. It’s where the rubber hits the road and all your planning and prepping is paying off. It’s also the part where the most is happening. You are shaping in real time what you are going to ask the candidate, dynamically responding to changes in the direction of the conversation, assessing both their answer and how they answer, monitoring your own reactions, checking yourself for bias, and keeping track of the time. It’s a lot. and this is why pairing interviewers can be particularly helpful; it’s really easy to miss something. 


  • Find out what the candidate knows and what they don’t know. Assess their abilities versus assessing their confidence in their abilities. 
  • Check-in with the candidate. If they’re nervous, take a break, make small talk for a minute, share an anecdote, and reboot the interaction. 
  • Check-in with yourself. Are you doing all the talking? They’re assessing you too, are you presenting your team and company as somewhere great to work?
  • Check your gut reactions. Your gut can be right, but it can also be very wrong. Listen to it but keep an open mind and get evidence to back it up or correct it. This is incredibly important to avoid bias. 
  • It’s best practice to write notes. Even the best memories can get blurry on what was said after some time. Make your notes evidence-based and specific. 
  • Manage your time and leave time for questions at the end. 

Related: See How to Measure Candidate Experience


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Stage 4: Finishing up the Interview - Stick the landing!


Bring it home—another chance to earn the candidate’s trust by finishing on time and answering their questions well. 


  • You build trust when you do the things you said you were going to do. Did you cover the things you said you’d cover? If not, there’s still time; do it now. 
  • Save time for candidate questions. What do they ask you about? You’re still assessing at this point. And they are assessing you. 
  • Thank the candidate. Whether or not you’re going to recommend them for the role, it’s important to respect their time and that they leave having had a good experience at your company. 
  • It’s a nice touch to give them your contact information and tell them to reach out if they have further questions. Only offer this if you will actually reply to them if they contact you. :)
  • Let them know what will happen next. Is the recruiter coming to finish up or do they have additional interviews after yours? Do a final comfort check with them. 


Stage 5: After the Interview - Passing the baton


This period is where you do yourself as an interviewer (and the candidate, the hiring team, and your company) proud by relaying accurately and fairly the pros and cons of a candidate joining your company and, if there is another stage after you, set the next interviewer up for success. 


  • Collect your thoughts on the candidate. Debrief with the right person or group.
  • If you’re recommending passing on a candidate (and especially if it’s a near miss) it’s helpful to state what would be needed in order for your answer to change to proceed (e.g., a training course, one month shadowing another team member). 
  • When you’re sharing your candidate feedback beware of the word “seems”, it might indicate that you’ve made assumptions versus actually assessed. 
  • If you ran out of time and didn’t cover everything or if new concerns or unanswered questions came up in your interview pass those along to whoever is coordinating the interview process so they can address those at later stages. 
  • Take a few moments after the interview to convert the memory-jogging notes you made during the interview into something more robust to add to your applicant tracking system (ATS). Write your notes respectfully as though the candidate would read them at some point in the future. 
  • Take a moment to reflect on the experience. Was there something you could have done better? If you interviewed as a pair, ask your pair for feedback. 
  • Always be learning!

Related: How Interview Ready Are you? Take This 3-Question Quiz to Find Out


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It will take some time and repetition for all of this to feel natural. Don’t worry if it feels stiff at first, it will get smoother and become a great habit. Over time you’ll get better results from your interviewing which will save you, your team, and your candidates more time in the long run and make the whole hiring process more enjoyable for everyone too. 


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Jo Avent

by Jo Avent

Chief People Officer

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