Hiring Staff – Part 2 Interviewing

Added: 15 July 2008

This is Part 2 of three guides on hiring staff to work in an MP’s office. They are primarily aimed at staff of MPs and particularly those of you who have the job of recruiting, interviewing and inducting new staff.  But these guides will also be of interest to anyone wanting to gain an insight into working in an MP’s office, whether at Westminster or in a constituency.

Part 2 is intended as a follow on from ‘Part 1 – Recruitment’ and for those who have already shortlisted a number of candidates to interview.

The three guides are:


Hiring Staff: Part 2 – Interviewing

  1. Preparation for interview
  2. Interview Questions
  3. Interview Format
  4. Once you have chosen
  5. Obtaining References

1.  Preparation for interview

You need to decide on the most suitable place to conduct your interviews. If the job is to be based in the constituency, it may unrealistic to expect someone to travel to London for the interview and, therefore, you should aim to carry out the meeting in the constituency office.

If, however, you are hiring someone to work in Westminster, then the options are to interview in your own office or to book a meeting room. If you are intending to ask your candidates to take tests that involve using a computer, then the office might be more appropriate. However, a meeting room means you won’t be interrupted or distracted by phone calls or usual daily activities.

If you will be interviewing on your own, make sure you book a room near to whichever entrance your candidates will be coming into, as you will have to escort them to and from reception. Alternatively, have another member of staff with you to do this, to allow you time to make notes after they leave.

Ensure that you have water (and cups) available for you and the candidates and keep a mobile phone with you so that your office can let you know when someone arrives or if someone cancels at the last minute.

Take with you a copy of each candidate’s CV and attach a list of the questions with space to write your notes on – you will never remember every detail afterwards and this will help to refresh your memory. It is also worthwhile having a copy of the original job advert to refer to.

You also need to be aware of equal opportunities legislation.  Here are some websites to get you up to speed:

2.  Interview Questions

Try not to make the interviews too long – 30 minutes should be ample time – you can always carry out second interviews if you need to. Asking the right questions will provide you with far more relevant information than an unstructured chat.

These examples are designed to help you to elicit the relevant information and provide you with an insight into someone’s personality – and show how much research they have done on the MP.

a.      What attracted you to this job, and in particular working for (name of MP)?

This will show if they are just applying to any job or whether they have a genuine interest.

b.      What qualities do you think you will bring to this role? What are your strengths/weaknesses?

Any serious candidate will have worked out this question will be asked and should have thought through their answer in advance. Someone who is honest about their flaws but can then turn them into how they could prove to be strengths is obviously well prepared and self aware.

c.       What do you think you will enjoy most/least about this position?

Someone who is applying for an administrative role should not be answering that they dislike filing and typing!

d.      Where do you see yourself in five years time?

If the candidate thinks that they will be an MP and possibly Prime Minister is this the right person for you? And is it the right position for them?

e.      What are your hobbies and interests?

This question just allows you to learn a little more about their personality and whether you think you could work well together as a small team.

If that list looks too short, here are a couple more suggestions:

  • Ask what interesting political news story they’ve read/seen recently. This should weed out people who don’t read newspapers.
  • Rather than strengths and weaknesses, ask them when they last persuaded a person in authority to their point of view, what was their biggest professional mistake and what they learned from it, and other real life scenarios.

Remember, too, that discrimination on the basis of race, marital status, colour, sex, religion, national origin or disability is not legal. Here, for example, is a selection of the sort of questions you cannot ask:

  • Are you planning to start a family?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?

If you are still unclear about this, have another close look at those helpful websites we mentioned in the section above.

3.  Interview Format

Start by outlining a bit about the job and their potential role in the office. You can then ask them to talk you through their CV. This will explain any gaps or changes in jobs and the reasons why; it will also help them to relax before you start grilling them!

Ask the questions you have prepared – explain that you will be taking notes but that you are interested; prolonged silences while you write everything down can be a little unsettling. Don’t forget to go through ‘housekeeping issues’ such as do they have any holiday booked, the hours they would be expected to work, when they are available to start etc. Do also give them the opportunity to ask you any questions – this can be crucial in determining who is most interested in the position, and for what reasons.

Finish off the interview by explaining what will happen next. It is always worth saying that any successful candidate may be called back for a second interview – this will give the MP a chance to meet their potential new employee and if you find you have two strong candidates you may want to re-interview them – no one will ever be disappointed to find out they have got the job but there is no second interview!

Let the candidates know what timescales you are anticipating with regard to telling the successful person and when you would want them to start the job.

Depending upon the position advertised, you may wish to ask the candidates to carry out a test, in order to ascertain how good they are at thinking on their feet.  You may wish to give them a simple piece of casework and ask them how they would deal with it, and ask them to write a sample letter.  This will enable you to assess their literacy and IT skills.  If they have applied for a research position, ask them to give an example of a recent piece of work they have produced.

4.  Once you have chosen

Having completed all the interviews, hopefully you will have chosen the most suitable candidate – don’t reject the rest until you know that person definitely still wants the job! When you tell them that they have been successful, make it clear that it is conditional subject to references; and formalise this by putting any job offer in writing.

Once they have accepted the job you can write/phone the unsuccessful candidates. Try to give constructive criticism to those who took time to come to the interview. If you saw someone that you particularly liked, but that you felt was unsuitable for the position you were advertising, offer to help them out by recommending them to other MPs you know who are looking – this can really help them, and other offices.

5.  Obtaining References

No matter how good a judge of character you think you are, never take someone on without checking their references. Do ask them first that they are happy for you to do this – they may not have yet told their current employer they are planning on leaving.

When you contact the employer ask them to provide a reference and include details of if the candidate is:

  • punctual
  • suitable for the role (i.e. can keep matters confidential, able to work in a small team etc)
  • has a good sick leave record

SG July 2008

Having successfully interviewed and hired a new employee,
get tips on how to start them off in the office by reading
Part 3: Induction – published in August 2008