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How to conduct a one-on-one interview: advantages, questions to ask, and traits to look for

Each organization’s hiring process is a little different, but the one-on-one interview will always play a pivotal role. It’s often your best opportunity for digging deeper, confirming behavioral traits, and generally gaining reassurance about a candidate. 

The job interview alone shouldn’t dictate whether you’re hiring top talent; good job descriptions and a streamlined system for getting the right candidates in the door are just as important. But when it does come time for the one-one-one interview (or interviews), you’ll want to narrow your focus with the interviewee.

That means knowing what behavioral traits you’re looking for in the role, what questions to prioritize, and how to read the body language of the job seeker. It’s no silver bullet, by any means, but the one-to-one dynamic can help you break candidate ties and make a habit of nailing the hire—if you have your system down. 

In this post, we’ll walk through the little things that can help you nail this critical stage in the interview process.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What is a one-on-one interview?
  • One-on-one interview questions to ask
  • One-on-one interview tips
  • One-on-one interview advantages and disadvantages

What is a one-on-one interview?

The one-on-one interview is specifically designed to evaluate a candidate’s demeanor, behavioral traits, and potential fit within a team or alongside a particular person. One-on-one interviews are most effective when they’re conducted by someone who will work directly with the candidate, and, ideally, when applying strategic interview questions

There are a number of reasons you might prefer the one-on-one format, but the most common is simple: You tend to get more information out of the conversation, and it’s easier to stay on track. A group interview might keep a candidate on their toes, but it’s also more prone to tangents and questions that don’t prompt the responses you need. In other words, one-on-one interviews can be more efficient—when done right. 

To get the most out of the exercise, it’s on the interviewer to be economical with the questions they ask, and to offer follow-up questions at the correct intervals. Otherwise, the efficiency advantage is negated. 

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One-on-one interview questions to ask

The role the interviewee is vying for will dictate much of your interviewing technique. But there are still some fallbacks you can employ with any candidate, as well as behavioral questions you can use when you’re seeking a particular profile for a role. 

Let’s start with a few general questions you’ll want to hear most any candidate answer:

  • In the past, how did you address conflict with a coworker?
  • Can you tell me about a time you faced adversity, and how you handled it?
  • How do you manage competing priorities or requests?

Each of these questions lends itself to organic follow-ups, unlike generic yet often-employed standbys like, “What would you say is your biggest weakness?” 

Let’s say you’re looking for a candidate who aligns with a certain behavioral profile. You need someone with a high patience drive—a steadying presence who can stay even-keeled amid shifting priorities, and balance some innovative but freewheeling teammates. 

To probe for these behavioral traits, you might ask:

  • How do you hold yourself and others accountable to stated goals/deliverables?
  • How do you organize your daily or weekly priorities?
  • What might warrant a re-evaluation of those priorities? 
  • When is it appropriate to deviate from the plan?

The candidate can’t necessarily prepare canned responses when your interview questions are more behavioral (and sequential) like the above. You’ll also see how well their answers align with the ideal behavioral traits needed for the role and team

One-on-one interview tips

The onus is on the interviewer to be both flexible and keenly observant in a one-one-one scenario. You can’t divvy up responsibilities the way you might in a panel interview. It’s important hiring managers, recruiters, and anyone else involved know how to conduct a remote interview, too. The two-on-one video interview dynamic is much different from the one-to-one.

No matter the medium, interviewers need to practice active listening while both probing for follow-up questions and evaluating non-verbal cues, like eye contact and body language. It’s not easy, but the best hiring managers become adept with practice. 

There are a few cheat codes you can employ, too:

  • Map out your questions (including some follow-up questions) in advance.
  • Keep your phrasing clear and concise. 
  • Allot a certain amount of time for each interview question or section.
  • Don’t allow the candidate to take the conversation too far off track.

Some interviewees will lead you in the direction of your follow-ups better than others. Whether this makes them more viable candidates is a matter of alignment. Do their answers mirror the behavioral tendencies outlined in your job description? You only know the answer if you’ve done your prepwork. 

One-on-one interview advantages and disadvantages

As noted, one-on-one interviews are mostly advantageous for their efficiency. It’s easier for one person to keep things moving than it is in a group interview. With multiple interviewers, you’re more likely to run into conflicting biases, ulterior motives, and generally competing goals. 

That said, one-on-one interviews shouldn’t be your sole source of information about an interviewee. Disadvantages of the one-to-one approach include:

  • Individual biases (one person’s distaste alone can ruin a candidacy)
  • Transcription gaps (it’s incumbent upon the interviewer to take and relay notes)
  • Decision hesitancy (the interviewer feels the weight of having the ultimate say)

Your interview process will be most effective if you supplement one-on-ones with:

The best hiring processes feature clear transitions, from the first interview to the final step, and everywhere in between. Everyone from the HR manager to the individual contributor assessing team fit should understand how they can positively impact the outcome. 

Because after all, no matter your role or eventual relationship with the interviewee, all parties should want the same thing: to hire the right person, regardless of how quickly it closes a job opening.

Individualist

Andy is a content writer and editor at PI. He's an unashamed map geek, hoops enthusiast, and Goldfish cracker aficionado.

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