Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

The Four Step Interview Technique, Guaranteed to Suss Out Your Time-wasters!

By Anthony Hughes | Apr 13, 2015 | Assessing Applicants

In an ideal world, when you reach the interview stage of your recruitment process, you’ll already have shortlisted a small group of (between 1 and 6) candidates who’re not only reliable and knowledgeable, but also inspired and motivated by your company, industry and the actual position on offer.

In reality, things often don’t go quite as smoothly as that.

We’ve all been in the position where an interview seems to go fantastically well and a certain candidate appears perfect for the job, only to be faced with an unexpected rejection when a job offer is put on the table.  

Who are these Time-wasters?

Assuming that you offer a candidate the same salary, job role, description and benefits as initially advertised, there are only a few reasons that you’d expect them to reject the role.

  • They get a better offer elsewhere (at which point you can either match it or let them go).
  • You didn’t impress them in the interview (don’t forget, recruitment is a two-way street.)
  • They are a time-waster!

In my experience, there are four main time-wasting personas that plague the recruitment process:

1. The Unmotivated.

These candidate types are seemingly serious about the opportunity, but are likely to flake when an offer is made. Fairly content with their current employment, either through anxiety or lack of energy, they’ll be held back by the hassle involved in changing location, company and joining a new team.

2. The Money Driven.

Some candidates will attend interviews in an attempt to leverage a better position or salary at their current place of work. If their boss caves and offers them a pay rise or new opportunity, they’ll take it without a second thought, leaving you back at square one.

3. The Desperate.

It’s a harsh truth, but jobseekers who’re currently out of work (and in need of a salary) are more likely to get trigger-happy with their CV and apply for unsuitable opportunities. They may accept the position if offered, but often these candidates are less passionate and more likely to jump ship in the near future.

4. The Temp.

This candidate will have long-term goals which don’t involve your business; perhaps they need to save money for an around-the-world trip or you’re merely a stepping stone while they seek their dream job. Unfortunately, we can’t consult the future to find out every candidate’s life plan, but they will display similar warning signs to the other time-wasters.

Recruiter Pro Tip:

One way to assess whether someone is genuinely interested, before reaching interview stage, is to get applicants to fill out an application form as the first stage of the recruitment process.

If a candidate takes the time and effort to fill in a detailed application form (you can usually tell if they merely copy and paste their CV) then there’s a good chance that they’re genuinely interested.

 So, how can we separate the time-thieves from the genuine candidates?

The Warning Signs

Step 1:  Pre-interview Communication

During your pre-interview communication with a time-wasting candidate, there are a couple of things that should set off alarm bells.

– Lack of communication.

As a general baseline, you can expect serious candidates to get back to you within a day; this will also give them a chance to contact you outside of working hours if necessary.

– Inappropriate communication.

If a candidate is too relaxed or even lazy in their contact then it would imply a level of disregard for the job opportunity. Do they use slang and shorten words?

Lady sends prospective employer an email with slang like thx and smiley face

The Telephone Interview

Step 2:  Pre-interview Telephone Screening

It could prove beneficial to conduct a telephone interview before meeting your candidates face to face, to ensure that they’re not wasting your time (and you’re not wasting theirs!)


If you wish to catch a candidate off guard, then calling for an unscheduled ‘chat’ is a great way to suss out their real interest in the role.  They won’t be prepared so it’s your opportunity to get a natural, unrehearsed view of the candidate (just don’t expect them to know everything there is to know about your company!)

Try not to fire off a lot of loaded questions, but have a casual chat and try to figure out how serious the candidate is about moving on in their career and to your vacancy in particular.

 Example questions:

“Do you remember applying for the role?”

“What’s your current role?”

“Why are you looking to leave?”

“Have you applied for any other jobs?”


If you schedule a formal telephone interview then your candidate should be more prepared so you can ask more detailed questions to find out how much effort they’re willing to put in to impress you.

We previously collated the top 10 interview questions you must ask when recruiting, but the examples below work particularly well to wheedle out your time-wasters.

Example questions:

“What do you know about the company?”

“Who are our competitors?”

“What do you know about the role?”

“Why did you apply for this job?”

The Interview 

Step 3:  Immediate observations

The moment your candidate walks through the door, you must put your judgmental hat on.  Immediate observations should include…

– Lateness

Sensible (and serious) candidates will arrive in the interview vicinity early and wait somewhere nearby. However, delays will sometimes be unavoidable and you don’t want to miss out on a star employee, because of uncontrollable circumstances!

A serious candidate who arrives late will…

…be worried and apologetic.

…call to let you know that they’ll be arriving late.

…have tried every possible route to arrive on time (alternative buses, a taxi, a panicked jog).

…have a valid excuse that comes naturally.

– Dress

Whether your company adheres to a strict uniform policy or not, most committed and serious candidates will turn up dressed to impress, in professional (ironed) office attire.

– Body language

We can’t all be behavioural experts, but it’s important to look out for natural hints from a candidate’s body language.  (In our previous post 8 Ways to Spot a Liar in an Interview, we discuss some key methods to effectively reading a candidate’s body language).

Step 4: Down to business.

A quick Google search will uncover thousands of example questions and guides on how to conduct the perfect interview but don’t forget – to wheedle out the time-wasters – you’ll have to ask specific, targeted questions that will reveal each candidate’s true intentions!

– We previously published six essential interview questions every employer must ask during interviews. A balanced combination of those and some of the more targeted questions highlighted below is guaranteed to heighten the success of your interview technique!

A serious and passionate candidate will always be…

1. Prepared.

They’ll have researched your business, the industry and competitors (successful interview technique 101 for ambitious jobseekers) and as with the telephone interview, will be able to answer questions like…

“What do you know about the company?”

“Who are our competitors?”

“What do you know about the role?”

“Why did you apply for this job?”

Of course, the face to face interview is your chance to really get into the nitty-gritty and dig even further into all of your candidates’ true commitment to the opportunity…

“What did you like or dislike about our website?”

“With our ethos in mind, tell me why you think you’d be a good fit for our business?”

“What are the differences between our company and your current/past company?”

“What do you know about the industry?”

“Did you read about {insert a popular piece of industry news} this week?”

“Can you tell us about an {Industry} topic that’s covered heavily in the media at the moment?”

“What do you think we could do to out-sell our competitors?”

If your applicant gives generic answers that don’t relate to your industry or business, then there’s a pretty big chance that they haven’t researched thoroughly (particularly if they can’t comment on your website).

2. Committed.

It’s incredibly hard to work out how committed a candidate is, prior to offering them a job, but sometimes a direct and upfront question will reveal some clues; if nothing else it gives you a chance to gage their reaction…

“We’re looking for someone to stick around for the long haul, how does that sound to you?”

“What would you do if your current employer offered you more money to convince you to stay?”

“What are your long term plans for the future?”

“What do you hope for in life?”

“If I were to offer you the job, what would you do next?”

“If I were to offer you the job, when could you hand your notice in?”

“Is there a reason why you’re leaving your current place?”

Try to gain as much information about why exactly they’re looking for a new job (without coming across too aggressive and intrusive.)

3. Passionate.

Ideally, you want to employ someone who’s genuinely passionate about the role, not just about getting a new job in general. Make sure some of your questions give the candidate an opportunity to show their enthusiasm for your business and the role (don’t just fact-check)…

“What part of the role excites you the most?”

“When would you hope to start with us?”

“What motivates you right now?”

…and of course, that all important pièce de résistance:

“Have you got any questions for us?”

There’s a reason why recruitment guides, blogs and consultants always advise you to end with this question. A candidate who’s passionate and committed to taking on the role will already have a bank of sincere and investigative questions ready for you.

They’re likely to ask questions that reveal how well they’d fit into the position, the team and the culture and will attempt to find out more about the depths of the business. (As opposed to someone who asks about holidays, hours and pay.)

They might ask…

“What is your company ethos?”

“Do you think I would fit in with the team?”

“What has your experience been like, so far?”

“Is there opportunity to take on tasks and activities, distinct from my prescribed role?”

“What training do you offer staff?”

More importantly, the passionate candidate will be able to expand and adapt their questions, improvising as fresh topics naturally arise and you’ll be able to check their reaction every step of the way!

Remember, interviews are stressful for both the interviewer and interviewee alike, so it’s important to try and interpret the difference between nervousness and indifference, confidence and disregard, before condemning someone as a time-waster!

In fact, it’s our job as interviewers to make candidates feel at ease during interviews. Making someone feel uncomfortable is likely to affect the way they behave and therefore negatively alter your impression of them.

Take a glance at our previous blog post 10 Ways You Can Put a Candidate At Ease In An Interview for more advice on how to help candidates overcome their nerves.

As you can probably tell, wheedling out those interview time-wasters is no mean feat and unfortunately, employers can’t get it right all the time.

However, my four step interview formula and the sample questions I’ve included above should help you to recognise the key culprits earlier on in the recruitment process.


- Anthony Hughes

Anthony Hughes

Anthony is a recruitment veteran of 18 years and is also one of the original founders of Coburg Banks. He now trains recruitment consultants on the best methods to utilise when sourcing and assessing applicants for their clients. 


> More blog posts by Anthony Hughes

Get in touch with us.

Telephone: 0121 362 2300
Or send us a quick message and we’ll call you.
*These are required fields
Please leave this field empty.