Conversational Interviewing: A More Effective Approach To Hiring


Many employers are switching from traditional, behavioral interviewing styles to a more modern approach:  Conversational interviewing.  It is important that employers modernize their approach to hiring in this tight labor market, as candidates have a much greater choice in where they decide to work these days. Employers can successfully stand-out to quality candidates as an “employer-of-choice” if they use a different, more effective approach to interviewing. 

What is Conversational Interviewing?

Conversational interviewing looks much like having a real, less-structured conversation with the candidate.  It’s a two-way conversation where both the employer and candidate are freely exchanging questions and information.  In a conversational interview, the employer throws out the traditional questions for more direct and unique questions that more effectively get at the information they’re looking for.  Here are some example conversational interviewing questions:

  1. Tell me about your overall career journey and how you got to this point in your career. 

  2. Who are your professional role models and what traits and values do they possess?  

  3. What kind of work makes you feel excited to come to your job each day?

  4. How would your supervisor describe your work style?

  5. How do you handle it when someone criticizes your work?

  6. What professional mistakes have you learned most from?

  7. What interests you most about this job?

  8.  If you’re offered two jobs, what criteria will you use to decide?

After the candidate answer each question, it’s important for the interviewer to share information about themselves, the job, and the company just like they would in a real conversation. Real conversations don’t consist of simply questions and answers. Real conversations are an exchange of information. The interviewer sharing information keeps the conversation going and gives the candidate a more realistic preview of the company and the job.  In response to each question above, the interviewer might say:

  1. I found this job by… Prior to working here I worked at….

  2. My favorite role model is….because….

  3. The most exciting thing about this job/position/company is….

  4. My work/leadership style has been described as….

  5. When I get criticized….

  6. One of the professional mistakes I made was….

  7. Here’s what we’re currently working on and our company’s upcoming initiatives….

  8.  What makes our job/company unique is….

Encouraging candidate questions throughout the conversation is also key to an effective conversational interview.

The Benefits of Conversational Interviewing 

In my experience, conversational interviewing helps employers gain better perspective of a candidate’s qualifications and overall fit because:

  • Candidates feel more relaxed and give more honest answers

  • The employer shows a more authentic side of how they interact with their employees

  • Conversational interviewing acknowledges that the employment decision is a two-way street

Conversational interviewing is overall a more authentic approach.  It allows for something that is missing from traditional approaches- it allows the candidate more freedom to ask questions so they make a better decision for themselves, likely resulting in less turnover.

Setting the Stage

Since many candidates will not be used to this type of interviewing, it’s important to set the tone at the beginning of the interview.  This could look something like: “We use a non-traditional, conversational interviewing approach where we’re looking to get to know you better and we want you to get to know us better so we can both make a good decision.  We’ll be asking questions throughout our 45-minute conversation and we encourage you to do the same.  Now let’s get started.”  

The Importance of Screening

A conversational interview is only one component of the hiring process.  It is still important that employers screen candidates carefully.  Almost everything you need to know about a candidate’s experience, employment history, and general qualifications is already stated in the application materials.  For any questions, gaps, or possible deal breakers, it’s best to get those clarified in the phone screening.  (Read this article I wrote about phone screening and to receive a free phone screening checklist.)

If you're taking care of these essentials in the phone screening, then the interview time can be spent really getting to know the candidate, understanding the way they think, and finding out if they’re the best fit for the job, team, and the company.   

Do you need help with your hiring processes to attract better candidates?

As a HR Consultant with over 15 years of hiring experience, I help employers use marketing and customer service techniques to implement conversational interviewing, streamline their overall hiring process, and attract the best candidates for the position and company.  I provide on-demand, customized recruitment and training. I have a track record of success hiring for difficult-to-fill positions.  Contact me today:

Skye Mercer, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

HR Consultant

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Skye Mercer