Factsheet number: 2.4

Last Updated: 14 December 2018


Once you have shortlisted candidates to interview for your role, you will need to prepare questions for the interview. This factsheet outlines the types of effective interviewing skills that you need to get the best Personal Assistant (PA) for your job. It outlines the key features of a structured interview and guides you on how to get the best out of your interview candidates.

For guidance on how to decide who to interview and how to arrange interviews please see factsheet 2.3: Sifting and shortlisting applications.


1. Structured interviews

1.1 What is a structured interview?

1.2 Why is a structured interview the best method?

2. Preparing interview questions

2.1 Key things to consider

2.2 Other ways to prepare

3. At the interviews

3.1 When you arrive

3.2 During the interviews

3.3 After each interview

4. Making a job offer

4.1 Choosing the right person for the job

4.2 Making a job offer

1. Structured interviews

A structured interview is the best way of selecting staff and is what most applicants will expect and prepare for.

1.1. What is a structured interview?

A structured interview involves:

  • asking all applicants a list of pre-prepared questions based on the job description and person specification;
  • having a scoring system for their answers e.g. 5 for an excellent answer and 1 for a very poor answer.

1.2. Why is a structured interview the best method?

A structured interview is the best interview technique because it:

  • keeps you focused on what the job is about so that you can find out the most useful information. It is better than simply chatting to your applicants and possibly forgetting a crucial question;
  • stops you drying up and reduces your nervousness;
  • sets a professional tone and shows the interviewee that you know what you are doing as an employer;
  • is in line with equal opportunities legislation.

It is vital that you treat all applicants fairly to avoid illegal discrimination and to ensure that you do not inadvertently rule out the best candidate for the job. This means that you must ask each applicant the same questions and avoid making discriminatory assumptions.

2. Preparing interview questions

The more preparation you do for the interview day, the easier it will be for both you and the people you are interviewing.

It is important that you prepare one set of questions that you are going to ask all the people you interview.

You may wish to use employer template 2.4a: Example interview questions as a starting point for this.

2.1. Key things to consider

It is important that you ask each applicant the same set of questions and that you do not phrase any of the questions you ask in a discriminatory manner.

You should not make discriminatory assumptions e.g. that women are likely to be unreliable because they have more childcare commitments. Another example of this might be a question such as “Will you need time off for religious holidays?” asked specifically because the interviewer believes that the candidate may require this. Such a question could be viewed as directly discriminatory on grounds of religion.

Candidates should never be asked questions about:

  • their relationship status or marriage plans;
  • childcare arrangements;
  • general family commitments and/or domestic arrangements;
  • actual or potential pregnancy/maternity leave;
  • their partner's occupation and mobility;
  • any actual or potential absences from work for family reasons.

It would, however, be OK to ask all candidates a question such as "This job might occasionally require you to work late or at short notice. How would you respond if asked to do this?"

Please see factsheet 2.5: Avoiding discrimination in PA employment for further information on this.

In essence, you want three key questions answered by the interview process:

  • Can they do the job? = ability
  • Will they do the job? = motivation and reliability
  • Will they fit in? = attitude and personality

Therefore you should relate a lot of the questions you ask to their ability to carry out the tasks in the job description and whether they have the qualities listed in your person specification.

There are 2 types of questions that you can ask; closed questions and open questions.

Closed questions get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer e.g. "are you available to work on Saturdays?" whereas open questions enable the applicant to expand on their answer and give examples where appropriate. Open questions are more appropriate for interviewing because you will get more information.

Examples of open questions include

  • "what experience have you had of...?"

"What experience have you had of working with people with Cerebral Palsy?"

"What were you main duties and responsibilities in your last job?"

  • "can you give me an example of a time when you...?"

"Can you give me an example of a time when you have had to deal calmly with a stressful situation at work?"

  • "how do you feel about...?"

"How do you feel about providing personal care?"

  • "why do you think it is important to...?"

"Why do you think it is important to respect privacy and confidentiality? How would you ensure that you always do this?"

2.2. Other ways to prepare

In order to feel confident and well prepared when you are interviewing candidates you should also:

  • read and familiarise yourself with the job description and the person specification for your role;
  • make copies of your interview questions. If you are interviewing with another person, you will need extra copies for them;
  • make copies of the application forms to take to the interviews.

3. At the interviews

3.1. When you arrive

On the day of the interview make sure that you arrive in good time at the interview venue so that you don’t feel rushed and stressed before the interviews start. Essential things to take to the interview with you include:

  • copies of your interview questions
  • a pen and notepaper
  • copies of the application forms
  • interview schedule (names of applicants and times for each interview)
  • copies of the job description and person specification

3.2. During the interviews

Try to make each interviewee feel relaxed and make an effort to smile and be friendly. Welcome them into the room. Applicants are choosing you just as you are choosing them!

You should ask easy questions at first to help the interviewee to feel confident and then in-depth questions later on in the interview. You should finish off with easier questions or clarification.

Remember that the aim of the interview is to find out information, so that you can decide who is most suitable for your job. This means that you should allow the applicant to speak for 80% of the interview time. An applicant might misunderstand a question, or not give a full-enough answer. If they do, repeat or re-word the question to give them another chance to answer. Applicants who care about your job might be very nervous. Be encouraging - give them an opportunity to do well at your interview!

Follow-up questions are a good way of finding out extra information.  For example ‘You said that you helped old people in your last job, but what did you help them with?’ or ‘can you give me an example of that’ or ‘can you tell me about a time when you have done that’.

3.3. After each interview

If you are interviewing more than one person, it can be easy to forget who said what. You will want to make some notes immediately after the interview and complete the scoring for each question. If you find it difficult to write, it can be helpful if your fellow interviewer makes notes during the interview and you tell them (after the interview) what score to give for each question.

4. Making a job offer

4.1. Choosing the right person for the job

  • who scored best overall?
  • who scored best on key questions?
  • Is there anything to stop you employing the ‘top-scorer’ e.g. did you feel they were not truthful; their personality would clash with yours, or they are not available for your key shifts?
  • could you offer cover work (to cover sickness and holidays of the established staff) to one or two of the unsuccessful candidates?

4.2 Making a job offer

When you have selected a successful candidate, you should phone them and offer them the job verbally ‘subject to satisfactory references and a DBS check’. The candidate should let you know at this stage whether they wish to accept your job offer. If they do, then you should write to them to confirm the job offer and let them know their start date.

If they do not accept the job offer, you will either have to offer the job to your second choice candidate or re-advertise and interview new candidates.

For more information on making a job offer please see factsheet 3.1: Making a job offer and support sheet and 3.1a: Template job offer letter.

For the remaining candidates that you interviewed you should sort them into the following categories:

  • unsuitable for the post;
  • may be suitable if another job opens up and/or for casual work.

You should contact those in the first category (by email, phone or letter) to let them know that they have been unsuccessful. You should contact those in the second category (by email, phone or letter) to let them know that, although you have offered to the post to another candidate on this occasion, you would like to offer them casual work as and when it is available and/or that you would like to keep their details on file in case another job opens up in future.

You may wish to use employer template 2.4b: Letter informing a candidate they were unsuccessful at interview if you need to contact unsuccessful candidates.