A Guide to Stages of the Interview Process (and How to Improve Them)
At the heart of any organizational hiring process is interviewing—it’s how you get to know your applicants better and, ultimately, decide who is right for the job.
While no two organizations’ processes will look identical, every interview process has to achieve the same core goal of assessing an applicant’s skills, role fit, and culture fit. In this Willo guide, we’ll explore the different stages of an interview process and share our best practices on how you can streamline this process using async interviewing methods and tools.
Let’s dive in.
What Are Interview Stages?
There’s a lot you need to learn about a candidate during the interviewing process before you can confidently say, “Yes, you’re the one.” This includes getting to know their background, skills, and experience, as well as their ability to fit into your team’s culture.
Interview stages are a way to gather this information in an organized, thorough way. Each stage in an interview process is defined by a goal (e.g., “measure a candidate’s technical skills”) as well as the specific interview format, questions, tasks, or exercises you’ll use to achieve that goal.
For example, a common interview stage is the screening stage.
The goal here is (usually) to gain a baseline understanding of the skills, experience, and background of a large group of candidates to quickly cut obvious bad-fits and move the potential-good-fits through to the next step. To accomplish this, you could use an async interview tool like Willo and a set of questions based on your job description.
Interview Stages You Need to Know
There isn’t a “right way” to structure your interview process. That said, many interview processes are made up of similar stages, since employers generally have a similar hiring goal—finding the best possible hire in the least amount of time.
That means it’s possible to give you a general interview process that’s broken up into the following interview stages (and their goals):
- Application: To filter out a large group of potential candidates and narrow it down to those who fit the job description.
- Screening: To get a baseline understanding of the candidate’s skills, experience, and qualifications.
- Assessment: To evaluate the candidate’s skills and knowledge in more depth and decide if they have the potential to handle the job.
- Role fit: To determine whether the candidate is a good fit for the position and team.
- Cultural fit: To assess how the candidate will fit into the company, its values, and the working environment.
The order isn’t especially important here—you might want to do an assessment before screening, for example, if you have a highly technical role that requires precision. The number of interview rounds you have also won’t necessarily correspond to these stages, either. For instance, many companies combine role fit and cultural fit into one round or in a “super day interview” style.
However, these stages will need to be present in some form or another to make sure you’re hiring the right candidate.
The application stage is where you find out:
- Who is interested in the job, and;
- Whether they meet the minimum requirements.
A key point to remember here is that “application” isn’t synonymous with “resume + cover letter”—both of these formats are prone to embellishment and filler. A better option is to get candidates to introduce themselves and what they believe makes them a fit for the role, leveraging either online forms or one-way video interview tools like Willo.
The screening stage is about getting an early read on a candidate through questions and answers before you decide to invest more time in them.
What you screen for will depend on the job and its requirements—skills, experience, and personality are all worthwhile targets. To pinpoint the key things, you need to screen for, create a list of job criteria and write questions that map to each item.
How you screen candidates is also flexible. Generally, there are two methods you can use:
This is a very common method that involves scheduling a short (usually 15-30 minute) phone or video interview with each candidate.
During synchronous screening interviews, recruiters will usually:
- Make introductions and small talk.
- Ask screening questions and record answers.
- Field questions about the job and company.
- Explain the next steps.
There are a few downsides to this method—and all of them boil down to inefficiency.
For starters, it’s difficult to find time slots that work for both the candidate and the recruiter (an issue that compounds as you scale). Then there are difficulties with scheduling reminders, follow-ups, tracking progress, sharing notes & comments, reviewing the interview, etc.
One potential solution?
Asynchronous screening involves asking candidates to answer screening questions (via one-way video, audio, or text) without a recruiter needing to be physically present. Willo makes this simple—recruiters write (or generate) interview questions, send out invite links at scale, and review responses as they roll in.
This approach eliminates the need to negotiate time slots and book meetings. Candidates can record answers at their convenience, making it easier for them to feel relaxed and speak freely.
Recruiters also benefit from asynchronous screening because they get to work on their own time. No more setting meetings or chasing down candidates—the answers all come to them. Plus, recruiters can review answers at their speed and decide whom to bring on for the next round of interviews.
The talent assessment stage is all about attaching qualitative and quantitative facts to the interview process. And while many companies skip this stage, it can be invaluable in making sure the right candidate is chosen.
Assessments could come in the form of:
- Skills tests: To provide insights into a candidate’s specific job abilities and technical skills.
- Personality tests: To provide insights into a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Cognitive ability tests: To provide insights into a candidate’s learning and problem-solving abilities.
- Situational judgment tests: To provide insights into how a candidate responds to specific job-related scenarios.
Once again, there are synch and async ways to conduct the assessment stage:
Synchronous assessment involves assessing the candidate in real-time, usually via video calls, live exercises, or in-person interviews.
One-way interview tools like Willo can be of great help in the assessment stage. You can create dedicated assessment interviews, set time limits for responses, allow for text, video, and audio responses.
Alternatively, there are tons of test-based assessment tools out there. For example, Arctic Shores helps you assess candidates on key job-relevant skills using AI-proof tasks and questions. You can then generate reports on each candidate to decide if they're suitable for the position.
4. Role fit
The role fit stage is a longer-form interview stage that’s focused on both “hard” and “soft” skills.
At this stage, you should try to get a sense of how your candidate could fit into the job at hand—but also what kind of contributions they can make that go beyond just ticking boxes. To do so, it’s useful to ask in-depth questions that focus on experiences with:
- Challenges (e.g., “Tell me about a project that went badly and what you did to turn it around”).
- Critical thinking (e.g., “How would you approach this client’s case?”).
- Problem-solving skills (e.g., “Describe a time when you had to come up with a new solution”).
- Skill set (e.g., “How would you go about testing this piece of code?”).
How you conduct these interviews will depend on your company’s structure and your hiring goals.
Larger companies with international offices and smaller companies hiring locally often handle role fit questions during their in-person job interviews. Live video interviews are popular with distributed teams who want to get a better sense of the candidate's personality.
However, you can still use async methods like one-way interviews to save time and increase recruiter capacity during the role fit stage. Just create a role fit interview, invite your shortlisted candidates, and review the recorded responses,
5. Cultural fit
The final stage of the interview process is typically a dedicated cultural fit stage.
While you’ve been gathering information on a candidate’s culture fit throughout the hiring process, it’s important to ensure that they will fit in with your team and company values. This is generally done through an informal chat or lunch with members of the team who are candidates for this role.
This is one area where async methods sometimes fall short. If the job you’re trying to fill involves a lot of face-to-face interaction, a face-to-face interview (either video or in-person) is the only way to get a sense of how a candidate will perform.
That said, there are plenty of jobs (especially with distributed teams) where cultural fit is more about work habits, values, and communication style than anything else. In these situations, async methods can be extremely helpful.
How to Conduct Asynchronous Interviews
1. Develop questions
When drafting questions, consider the goal of the interview stage a candidate is at and the criteria you’re looking for at that stage. For example, if you’re at the screening stage, you probably don’t want to go too in-depth (this slows down the review process).
Come up with a list of criteria and work backwards to think of questions that will help you assess the candidate. If you’re writing technical or role-specific questions, make sure you involve the relevant stakeholders.
Willo helps you beat writer's block with an interview question generator designed to get you the answers you need.
2. Set deadlines and time limits
As we mentioned, a major advantage of async video interviews is that candidates can record them at their own convenience. However, you can’t leave the interview open indefinitely because that doesn’t provide a reliable structure.
With a tool like Willo, you can set deadlines and time limits. Candidates can be given a deadline to respond, and the length of each video question can be limited. This keeps the process moving efficiently without sacrificing quality.
3. Establish a review process
You’ll need to determine how your team will review the interviews once they’re complete, so you can shortlist your candidates accordingly.
For example, you can select certain hiring managers to review the interviews or use Willo’s Showcase™ feature to securely share the interviews with multiple colleagues so that they can give their relevant feedback on candidates.
Best Practices for Effective Async Interview Stages
1. Explain your process
Many candidates will be expecting a traditional hiring process.
While we’re well aware of the many benefits of async interviews, it’s important to explain what you’re doing and why. A simple overview of the steps involved, including the types of activities you’ll expect from the candidate and how much time they should expect to spend on it, helps ensure everyone is on the same page right out of the gate.
2. Make it personal
As sending applicants to a one-way interview can strip personal connection from the process, it’s important to add a personal touch elsewhere. For example, in the email you send sharing the interview link, you could add a personalized message to help candidates feel more comfortable conducting the interview.
3. Allow candidates to ask questions
Traditional interviews allow candidates to ask questions directly to the interviewer. Since this direct line of communication is lost in an async interview, you need to add it back in. You can do this by giving candidates a contact on the hiring team to reach out to with questions during the interview process.
4. Collect feedback
It’s important to continuously review if your interview process works well for your candidates. Otherwise, you may lose some special talent.
After the interview, don't forget to ask candidates for their feedback on the interview process and the relevance of the questions. Similarly, gather feedback from your hiring team to ensure a smooth and effective interview process for everyone involved.
Optimize Your Interview Process Using Willo
Gaining a good understanding of the different stages of the interview process is a great way to build structured interviews, establish clear communication with your candidates, and optimize your candidate evaluation.
At Willo, we specialize in providing hiring managers with powerful tools to effectively screen candidates at scale. If you’re a company looking to accelerate your hiring processes—like airBaltic, who screened over 100 high-potential candidates in just 7 days with Willo—you’re in the right place.
Still not sure if this is the right solution for you? Book a live demo to see Willo in action.