The process of interviewing should be handled professionally and responsibly as it will reflect on your company. Put candidates at their ease but leave the joke book at home, says Petra Cook

Effective interviewing is crucial to finding the best staff to enhance your business. The process should be approached professionally and responsibly.
Selecting new employees by means of a well-designed process can prevent recruitment mistakes, which are costly and can be problematic for the existing team. So how should you behave towards potential recruits?
A good start is to remember that candidates may well be nervous about the interview. So make sure you give them a warm welcome. Introduce yourself confidently and use humour to break the ice, if appropriate, but never try to force a joke. Managers must ensure candidates are treated with respect.
This means leaving jokes or poor taste outside the interview room. Rather than diffuse the atmosphere, they can actually create an awkward environment if the other person does not laugh.
And think about the setting. It is important, of course, to ensure that candidates see the workplace for what it is - they need to know what sort of environment they may be working in, if successful.
But it is just as important to conduct the interview in a quiet location where you can both focus on the discussion.
Distractions are best avoided, so by all means walk someone through the working area, but make sure that once the formal interview begins there are no interruptions.
You should also begin by explaining the format of the interview. Doing so helps to create a ‘comfort zone’. In other words, make clear what you expect will happen so there are no surprises. In many cases, this
should happen prior to the interviewee’s arrival. Why? Simply because if you and your colleagues agree in advance about what you are looking for, both you and the candidate have more time to prepare adequately. It also means that disputes over candidate suitability are unlikely to happen to you.
Interview technique itself is not just about what you should actively do. Take time to consider the things to be avoided. For example, it may be unwise to ask questions about a candidate’s personal circumstances. If you probe areas such as marital status, children, domestic obligations or family intentions, you are opening yourself up for legal action on one hand and, of course, by asking these questions you are likely to upset or annoy people. They should not feel under investigation during the interview - after all, you should be interested in relevant factors such as their skills, attitude and suitability for the job.
Your questions should, therefore, always focus on the requirements of the job and each applicant should be treated in exactly the same way. Even if you feel that a candidate may be unsuitable for the position after just a few minutes, remain courteous and conduct the interview in full. You do not want to make the interviewee feel uncomfortable or give them the impression that you have already made up your mind. There is always a possibility that another more suitable position may become available in the future and it may be appropriate to interview a past candidate. It is important to bear in mind that those you interviewed will speak to friends and family about their interview experience and this could have an impact on how your organisation is perceived as an employer in the future.
Remember that candidates have just as much right to ask questions as you do. So allow time for them to ask any questions they wish to - and answer as honestly as possible. They will want to learn more about your organisation to help them decide whether they want to work for you if they get a job offer.
And, of course, always make sure that you complete the interview on a positive note. Thank the candidate for attending and confirm a date by which they can expect to hear from you.
The message is simple. Treat potential employees with respect. Remain professional and do not cross any boundaries. Remember, successful companies attract the best people, so make sure your organisation stands out from the crowd.
n Petra Cook is head of Public Affairs, Chartered Management Institute