10 Mistakes You’re Making When You Interview Job Candidates

Hiring is one of the most important things managers do, but too often they use interview techniques that won’t help hire the strongest candidates. Here are the top 10 mistakes interviewers make when hiring.

1. Hiring too quickly.

The damage caused by a bad hire is far more significant than the impact of taking some extra time to make sure you’re hiring the right person. It’s worth it to leave a position open longer in order to find the right fit. But on the other hand…

2. Not moving quickly enough.

Employers who drag out the hiring process when they do have good candidates in the mix risk losing applicants to other offers. Plus, good applicants respect workplaces that can move quickly and make decisions.

3. Making hiring decisions that aren’t based on the right criteria.

For example, it’s not uncommon for interviewers to reject a candidate for being overly shy when being an extrovert has nothing to do with the job, or over-valuing industry experience rather than industry accomplishments.

4. Not distinguishing between what can be taught and what can’t.

You can teach someone to use a certain software program or understand your industry. You can’t teach someone to be organized or efficient or have a work ethic.

5. Not asking the right questions.

Interviewers often ask only superficial questions in interviews and don’t really probe beyond surface answers. For instance, think of the difference between “What were your responsibilities in that job?” and “Factor X must have been challenging. How did you plan for that?”

6. Letting candidates get away with superficial responses.

Too many interviewers simply run down their list of questions and don’t bother to probe the answers further in follow-up questions.

7. Not simulating the work.

It’s crucial to see candidates actually do the work, not just take their word for how they’d do it. If you’re not using exercises or simulations as part of your hiring process, you’re setting yourself up for a gap between how someone interviews and how they perform on the job.

8. Flakiness.

Imagine it from the candidate’s side: You say you’ll get back to them next week, but they hear nothing. The job description seems to be a work in progress that keeps changing. They arrive for their interview with Jane and learn they’ll be meeting with Bob instead. You tell them you’ll email info on benefits, but it never arrives. All these things send powerful messages about how they might be treated once they’re working with you.

9. Conducting intimidating, high-pressure interviews.

Unless the position requires the ability to perform in a hostile or pressure-filled situation, it’s more important to learn what candidates will be like to work with day to day, not what they’re like in an anxiety-producing interview. Interviewers will often learn more by being friendly and trying to put candidates at ease.

10. Not accurately portraying the job.

You might be tempted to downplay the less appealing aspects of the job, like boring work or long hours, but if you do that, you’ll end up with an employee who doesn’t want to be there. Instead, be up-front about the negatives so that candidates who won’t thrive will self-select out before you hire them.

Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sheila-Jenkins/100000412359301 Sheila Jenkins

    10.

    THIS so much!  I left a job a few weeks back (granted, it was phone sales, I took it in desperation) and found out that they’d lied about the pay.

    Base + commission is just that: an hourly base pay, plus commission.  NOT “It’s all commission, but it breaks down hourly into this depending on how much you make.”  Lying about how my pay works is an instant deal breaker.

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  • stellzbellz10

    That last one is SO important.  I tend to over-emphasize the negatives to candidates in the early stages of recruiting, and then start highlighting the positives once we are getting closer to making them an offer. 

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  • Evil HR Lady

    Yes, yes, and yes. All of these things happen far too often.

    [Reply]

  • Vicki Brown

    #10 is so important. Not just with regard to downplaying the bad parts but simply not being complete. I accepted a job 6 months ago that seemed like a fit during the interview. When I arrived on the first day, I discovered it was very different from what I expected… so different, in fact, that I respectfully declined to continue after one week.

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  • Vicki Brown

    Re: #4 – Sorry to be pedantic but “shy” vs “extrovert” is not an appropriate comparison. There are shy extroverts. You could say “…reject a candidate for being overly shy when being outgoing or gregarious has nothing to do with the job”. (We introverts are working very hard lately to dispell the “introverts are shy and shy people are introverts” myth. :)

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  • http://twitter.com/HBCUCareerCntr Marcia Robinson

    You are hitting the nail on the head right here!

    [Reply]

  • http://twitter.com/TheDataNerd Phillip Marquart

    So the real issue is hiring managers aren’t trained or qualified to make hiring decisions… Perhaps this plays into our slagging hiring? Almost 4 million open positions. Surely the talent gaps play a role, but hiring managers lack of confidence (or ability?) to make solid hires has to make they shy to hire. 

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  • David

    I would suggest that (4) should be “not distinguishing between what you are willing and are not willing to teach”.  Organizational skills, efficiency and work ethic can be taught  – no one is born with these skills and so we all have to learn them somewhere.

    Perhaps you are willing to teach organizational skills, perhaps you have such a rigid process that people don’t need their own. In that case, you don’t need to get the candidate to display such skills.

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  • http://twitter.com/sparkhire Spark Hire

    Great post! These are all major mistakes that unfortunately hiring managers are making too often in the hiring process. Whether your interview with a candidate is in person or through online video, it’s important to make sure you’re asking relevant questions that tell you about their skills and experience. It’s also important to ask questions to help you judge their organizational fit. Even the best candidate isn’t worth hiring if they don’t fit the organization and will need to be rehired soon.

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  • http://www.turningpointsearch.net/ Kens

    Fantastic article! I work with hiring managers all the time as the owner of a boutique executive career management and recruiting firm.  Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of “wrong hires” in my experience for many of the reasons you listed above.  However, I think many of these can be avoided from minute one by addressing #10- not accurately portraying the job.  Unfortunately in these times people are often being hired to do more than one job.  In defense of the hiring manager and recruiter, however, this is not always made clear to the hiring manager. It is next to impossible for those in charge of hiring to accurately create a job description and expectations and therefore impedes the hiring process.  Establishing an accurate job description is the essential stepping stone to starting the hiring process.
    Ken Schmitt
    http://www.turningpointsearch.net

    [Reply]

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  • Cathlyn Park

    I have seen item number 2 firsthand here. My company was hiring using multiple interview methods, sometimes sending the applicants to a different branch for testing. It took weeks, and the good applicants sometimes would then get another job elsewhere. So definitely have like a minimum process time for applicants. For the interview itself, check out: http://smallbusiness.printplace.com/2012/11/20/small-business-hiring-conducting-employment-interviews/ . It has some nice tips on how to conduct the actual interview.

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  • Kahekili

    #8 – I did an interview a few months ago for a position in which I had experience. The manager who interviewed me told me that he would get back to me by a certain date. That date passed, so I emailed him asking what the deal was (not those exact words), and his response was, “We have decided to move in a different direction.” I was a little bummed about not getting the job, but I felt that it was best considering that if I hadn’t contacted him, he wouldn’t have contacted me as he said he would, which led me question what type of manager he is.

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