December 29, 2018

How to Conduct Recruitment Interviews

By Deni Dai, Juanjo Cardona

7 min

How-To GuideJob InterviewsMulti-Industry

Guidelines for a more effective interviewing: gather the right data to better inform your hiring decisions


Stage 1. Opening


Present yourself by name and function. Put the candidates at ease. Make sure the candidates are comfortable. Offer them coffee, tea or water.


The goal here is to eliminate barriers that prevent the candidates from presenting themselves as truthful as possible. This warming up process should take somewhere around five to eight minutes since in China the welcoming is perceived as of higher importance due to Chinese culture-specific behavior.


Brief the candidates. Explain how the interview is going to look like, how long it might take. Tell the candidates they should focus on critical facts when answering. Let them also know that you will be taking notes. (1)



Stage 2. Introductory questions: Review resume & assess motivation


Go through any gaps in the CV that you had previously spotted when preparing for the interview.


Learn about the candidates’ motivation for the role. “What are you looking for in this job?” It is an excellent opportunity to understand if the candidates are looking for growth, or if they are achievers and feel their current jobs are not serving that goal anymore. It allows you to understand if the candidates are running away from a job that is bad or if they are looking for something better.


Whatever the intrinsic motivation of the candidates, this is a question better addressed at the beginning of the interview. If asked at the end, you would most likely obtain an answer conditioned by the information elicited by the candidates during the interview. That is, an answer modulated to fit into the job requirements rather than the underlying factors that fuel motivation in the job applicants. Note this is the reverse technique than the one used in quantitative research when the questioning aims to build models that can explain a variable (let’s say the overall satisfaction with a job) as a function of other inputs or variables. By asking first about satisfaction with several job-related items (with compensation level, with job managers, or with the level of collaboration among team members) the overall job satisfaction will be influenced by the retrieval of the previous “partial satisfactions”. The seminal work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky synthesized in Kahneman’s book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, presents a very elegant example. In a survey to students, the researchers asked first how happy the students had been recently. Following that question, they asked them how many dates they took in the past month. A second group of students was asked the same questions, but in reverse other. In the first case no correlation was found between the two answers; in the second, the correlation was 0.66, “as high as correlations between psychological measures can get”. (2) By bringing up memories of their recent dating life students were happier the more dates they had.



Stage 3. Main body of the interview


Focus on what is relevant, by not losing sight of the competencies that are relevant for the position and follow the questions you had designed, always giving priority to open-ended questions.


No statutory law exists regarding conducting interviews in China. You may pose questions on salary level as well as other personal questions with regards to age and marital status, but interviewees have the right to not disclose such information. We do not recommend asking questions that are irrelevant to the requirements of the job at hand (read more here).



“Do not accept answers that are not relevant, superficial or straight to the point. Get facts and specific details about the candidate’s accomplishments”



If required, guide the candidates


Do not accept answers that are not relevant, superficial or straight to the point. Get facts and specific details about the candidate’s accomplishments.


When necessary, you will have to guide the candidates to stay on course but being mindful of doing it in a neutral way. Avoid using follow-up questions that already suggest a response, whether positive or negative. Whenever the candidates are elaborating on a situation that appears to be insignificant, going into examples that are too far away in time, failing to conclude on what was the outcome, or it is not clear what was their role you will have to intervene:


  • Request another example, something that is more spot-on with regards the initial question (do so politely).
  • Request an example from the candidates´ most recent jobs.
  • Ask directly about the result.
  • Ask what is it that the candidates did in that situation: “What was exactly your role?”


Major accomplishments/challenges and CAR sequencing


The interview should contain a balance between questions that look for evidence about the candidates’ past achievements (i.e., inspirational leadership) and questions that look for evidence on how the candidates fared when confronted with challenges (i.e., integrity and ethics).


Additionally, the questions should be staged in such a way that allows the candidates to give evidence of context, action, and results (CAR). For more on the CAR approach see here.


Finally, remember to use in case you had elaborated them previously when working on the scoring key, the positive/negative points (i.e., positive: uses effective strategies; negative: tries unsuccessfully to fix the situation by herself).



“Many Chinese candidates are observed to have high expectations, as many see their peers quickly move up the corporate ladder and expect that the same should happen to them”


Stage 4. Closing


Besides the fact that you should have been keeping track of time, you can close the interview effectively once you have gathered the information you had previously established as necessary (See Figure 1). Did you tell the candidates about the role and its growth opportunities? Are the gaps in the candidates’ CVs accounted for? Have you been through all the questions with regards the competencies? It is ok to backtrack a bit if you realize that you missed something. (3)



Closing the Interview |


If you have it all covered it is now the time to allow the candidates to ask questions. These questions are a helpful complement to the information you gathered at the beginning regarding the candidates’ motivation. 


The type of questions the candidates ask will indicate interest. If the questions revolve around the number of days of paid-leave, compensation or overtime, then it sends a different signal that if they are about the company’s mission, the team background or the projected growth of the business.


Many Chinese candidates are observed to have high expectations, as many see their peers quickly move up the corporate ladder and expect that the same should happen to them. Despite current signs of an economic slowdown in China, Chinese employees’ salary growth expectations rank among the highest in the world. The biggest concerns of candidates are salary, benefits, and career development. Now is a good opportunity to manage candidate expectations.


It is advisable that you inquire about their availability. When could they start? Or ask if they see this role as the next step in their career. Both questions invite for answers that will show to what extent they are interested.


Another (potential) benefit from taking questions from the candidates is that it might uncover concerns or highlight positives with regards the job that were not considered when designing the job communication materials, thus giving very valuable insights on how to remodel those.


Finally, inform the candidates what happens next: when will they hear back from you, and if there are going to be other interviews. Give the candidates your business card, to reach out to you if need be. Leave it in a positive note but be mindful not to raise any expectations.



Stage 5. Follow up


Both the candidates and you have invested a sizable amount of time in the process. Whether their gets or not the job – and especially if they do not – you want to leave a good impression of yourself and your company.


First, think about the long-term impact in your employer branding if you handle properly interview rejections: the candidates sure will appreciate a proper follow-up, and you will be lowering the risk of them criticizing you or your organization – something relatively easy to do with the vast array of social media platforms currently available. If yours is not a well-established employer brand, not following up stacks up against the path to building one. And even if your organization is a well-established player, not handling carefully the candidates’ experience in a systematic way might tarnish that reputation. (4)


Second, no matter if you are an in-house or an external recruiter, the candidates are a potential referral source, and they might be the right profile for a future opening. They might even become a prospective client, for all you know.


Give the candidates a phone call and tell them why they did not get the job: be as truthful and honest as possible. In this respect, beware of comments that could be discriminatory (i.e., “we were hoping to find someone that already has children”). You might want to check with HR and Legal, so you don’t leave yourself exposed. Avoid mentioning the experience and qualifications of other applicants.


After that, you can send an email to the candidates, so they have a notice of rejection. Keep the email short – don’t elaborate too much – and stick to the same provisions we mentioned above for the phone call. Most applicant tracking systems (ATS) have rejection templates, so this won’t take too much time to set up, but make sure you adapt them for each candidate, so the email feels personal (here you can make good use of your interview notes).


Finally, to nurture the relationship for future job openings or other opportunities keep in regular contact with the candidates (once every six months should suffice).





This the latest on a series of practical guides and articles at around the topic of effective recruitment for organizations in China.


If you found this guide interesting, then we invite you to check other works on this topic: how to minimize biases during the interview,  yeses and noes during the interview process, how to design interview questions and how to create a rating scale to evaluate all candidates by using the same standard criteria. 



(1) “Competency-based Interviewing. Assessing Candidates Based on Their Past Performance” UNESCO (2016). Page 29

(2) Kahneman, David (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow. Penguin Random House. UK. Paperback Edition, 2012. Page 102

(3) Dumitrascu, Sorin (2017). Essentials of Interviewing and Hiring: A Practical Guide. Kindle version. Page 124

(4) Tegze, Jan (2017). Full Stack Recruiter. The Modern Recruiter’s Guide. Kindle version. Page 410


Deni Dai

Recruitment Consultant at Direct HR

L: Chinese, English

T: +86 574 8848 7007



Juanjo Cardona

Editor at

L: English, Spanish

T: +86 21 6010 5000