A leadership guide featuring step-by-step how-tos, Wall Street Journal stories and video interviews with CEOs.

Interviews are a critical part of the hiring process. But many managers don’t know how to conduct an interview well. Here’s some advice.

– Prepare in advance. Create an agenda and a structure for the interview, including time limits. Work with HR, peers and your staffers to develop a set of questions and topics.

– Come up with questions in four categories: fact-finding, creative-thinking, problem-solving and behavioral.

– Fact-finding questions seeks to identify the candidate’s experience, skills and credentials. Some examples: How large was your team at your previous employer? What were the working conditions like? What did you like or dislike about the environment? Can you describe your Excel skills?

– Creative thinking questions are broader queries that ask the candidate to demonstrate a grasp of wider business trends. Some examples: Where do you see the industry growing? What are the pitfalls ahead for our business?

– Problem-solving questions ask the candidate to solve problems. Examples include technical, skills-oriented puzzles where you ask the candidate to solve a technical conundrum or task. Other questions might concern processes, such as: “You see that project/product X is behind schedule, how would you accelerate the team?”

– Behavioral questions, which many experts say are the most important, get at how an employee acts in certain situations. Some examples: Describe a situation when you made a major mistake — how did you react? How did you defend your position? Or, when you feel like management has made an unfair decision, how do you react? How do you handle a crisis situation? What do you consider to be a crisis?

Hiring experts say behavioral questions reveal the most about how a candidate would fit into the company culture. Another way to get at this is through role-playing. You might set up a scenario in which you are a potential new client, and ask the candidate to deliver a pitch. Or if the job you’re filling is managerial, play the role of an underperforming employee and ask the candidate to coach you.

– Interview the candidate in person whenever possible. If you must do it over the phone, try using a video-conferencing service that allows you to see the person while you talk.

– Create an agenda for the candidate’s visit. The agenda might include these elements: Start time, introduction, position details, company information/overview, interview with manager A, interview with manager B, tour, lunch, closing. Give the candidate the agenda so they know what to expect.

– Take notes during the interview. You don’t need to write down everything, but note highlights and things you want to follow-up on later. Pay attention to whether the employee is taking notes as well.

– Pay attention to the candidate’s nonverbal cues during the interview and how the employee acts before and after the questioning. Try to discreetly observe the front desk or reception area when the employee arrives. How does he treat the reception staff? Is he flustered or poised upon arrival? If you can’t be there to observe, ask the receptionist or anyone else who came in contact with the candidate.

– Consider taking the candidate off campus for lunch or drinks once the formal questioning is done, perhaps inviting some of your co-workers as well. This can be a great way to see how they transition from formal office settings to social situations that are more similar to a client lunch. Often, say experts, candidates will let their guard down over lunch or drinks, and will reveal more of their personality.

– After the interview, have human resources follow up with any fact-checking or background items you noted during the interview. Have HR schedule a second interview or draft an offer letter. Also, watch for the candidates’ follow-up. They should send a note thanking you for the opportunity and offering to provide any additional information you might need.