After advertising and shortlisting for your early years staff position, you will be ready to interview the prospective candidates. This article looks at how to plan and structure the interview

Candidates who have been shortlisted should be invited for interview. This can be done by telephone but should always be confirmed in writing, stating the date, time and place of the interview; candidates should be requested to confirm their availability to attend. Be realistic about the number of people it is possible to interview in a day, scheduling in regular breaks for the interview panel.

It may be useful to ask each of the candidates to perform a particular task as part of the interview, for example, to work with a group of children, make a presentation or complete an administrative task. Full details about these arrangements should be sent with the invitation to interview.

References should also be taken up at this stage if it is the setting’s policy to do so, and if the candidate has given authorisation for this to happen. These will give the interview panel an additional perspective on the skills, attributes and competencies of the candidate. 

Preparing to interview
Before interviewing the first candidate the appointment panel should discuss the overall structure of the interviews and agree on the questions to be asked. These should be the same for all candidates and should cover all the key aspects of the role.

  Candidate 1 Candidate 2 Candidate 3













The interview panel may find it helpful to have a checklist (see above) on which to record the candidate’s responses. The categories – eg qualifications, experience, knowledge, skills and personal attributes – are drawn from the person specification for the post. Within each category, details of the essential and desirable criteria should be set out. The interviewers can then score each candidate using a simple system of:

  • evidence available
  • no evidence available
  • insufficient information.

Once all the candidates have been interviewed, the total of “evidence available” ticks in each column will give a starting point for comparing candidates. When the whole interview process is completed, these notes should be collected and kept as a formal record of the process.

To make the most of the interview situation, every effort should be made to help the candidate feel at ease. To facilitate this, interviews should start and end on time and the panel should be very clear about the areas (largely relating to equality of opportunity legislation) about which candidates should not be questioned. At the beginning of the interview it is helpful to introduce the panel, explain the structure of the interview and then start with some straightforward factual questions to help the candidate relax.

Some candidates may already be known to members of the interview panel. In this situation it is important to treat everyone fairly and not assume that any information is already known to the panel. Ask each candidate the same questions, using follow-up questions to probe particular issues in more depth. At the end of the interview there should be an opportunity for the candidate to ask any questions he or she may have.

The candidate should be told when the decision will be made and how he or she will be informed. Finally, is sensible to check that the candidate is still interested in the post and that all the contact information is correct. 

To give the last candidate to be interviewed as fair a chance as the first one, individual candidates should not be discussed between interviews. At the end of the whole interview process the panel should come to a decision after reviewing the information available to them from the following:

  • completed application form
  • letter of application
  • responses to questions 
  • completed interview checklist
  • performance of a pre-arranged task
  • references provided by previous employers.

Offering a job
Having selected the candidate to whom the post will be offered it is wise to agree on a suitable alternative in case the first-choice candidate declines the post. The successful applicant should be contacted immediately and a conditional offer of employment made. This should then be confirmed in writing, setting out the details of the position, the start date and salary. At the same time a request should be made for permission to ask for medical evidence from the candidate’s GP.

It should be made clear that the job offer is conditional on:

  • satisfactory CRB clearances
  • receipt of medical references
  • evidence of right to work in the UK – NI number or Work Permit
  • verification of all qualifications, including foreign qualifications: see
  • references from a previous employer (if not already taken up)
  • the successful completion of any agreed probationary period.

Candidates who have been unsuccessful may request a debriefing. This should be handled as objectively as possible, drawing on the written notes taken by the interview panel.

If in doubt… don’t appoint. Going ahead with an unsuitable appointment is far more costly in the long term than starting the appointment process again.