Executive Coaching

Human Resources (HR) Consulting

Leadership Development

Human Capital Performance Management

DC and Virginia HR Consulting and Executive Coaching Newsletter - Issue #24

Six Mistakes that Interviewers Make

I am receiving a growing number of requests to help companies improve their interview and selection process.  Most of the companies that I speak with conduct extensive, multi-level, multi-day interviews, but somehow still feel as if they could improve the quality of the candidates they hire.  As I discuss their current process, many times I observe that the process itself is not the problem.  What needs the most improvement is the training for interviewers themselves on how to conduct a good interview!  In this newsletter, I thought that I would share some of the mistakes that I have seen interviewers make.

Before the stories begin, I want to thank those of you who forwarded my newsletter to colleagues and friends last quarter.  If you find this valuable and wouldn't mind taking a second to use the button above to give others an opportunity to subscribe, I would appreciate it!

So let's dive in.  Here are six random interviewing mistakes that I have seen this year.  Do any of these sound familiar?

  1. Talking too much.

    One interviewer gave me his interview formula.  First, he explains the company, the organization, the team, the job (see mistake number 2), and the selection process to the candidate.  Then he asks his interview questions.  He always leaves time at the end for questions from the candidate.  When I looked at what he did in a 45 minute interview, I noted that he talked for about 35 minutes, and the candidate spoke for only 10!

    The rule of thumb is that the candidate should talk for at least 80% of the interview.  Doing the math, that means that in a 45 minute interview the interviewer should only talk for 9 minutes.  If you are talking more than this, you are talking too much.

  2. Explaining the job duties and requirements up front.

    Many of my clients start interviews by explaining the job duties and exactly what they are looking for.  Then they ask their interview questions, and guess what?  The candidates all self-identify as having the exact skills and knowledge that the interviewer is looking for!  What an amazing coincidence!

    The interviewer made the mistake of telling the candidate exactly what she was hoping the answers would be.  Smart candidates pick up on that, and bias their answers to show how they are the perfect candidate.  There is no need to explain anything about what you are looking for in an ideal candidate.  It's more important to get truthful, non-biased answers.

    The only exceptions are screening questions, where you are really looking for a candidate to potentially self-select out.  For example "this job requires lifting 50 pounds over your head, is that something you are willing to do?" is a legit question. Just be sure that these questions are part of a written job description, and that you ask everyone the same questions. Check with your HR department before asking these types of questions.

  3. Failing to ask EVERYONE for opinions.

    Some companies have the candidate go out to lunch with some co-workers during the interview day.  Since they are not really "interviewing", they don't feel the need to include the co-workers in the decision process.  Often, the way people behave in the "non-interview" part of the day can give you lots of information about the individual.  Was the person able to carry on a conversation, were they polite to the waiter, etc. is all fair selection material.

    One candidate that I know had an argument with the company receptionist before his interview time. It seems that he was clipping his fingernails in the lobby, and was rude to the receptionist when she politely asked him to stop!  Luckily the hiring team found out, and he did not get the job.

  4. Asking the same question all day long.

    I love this story.  A team that I was working with had a candidate in for an interview, and everyone was asking questions about the key skill of project management.  They were looking for examples of good project management.  The candidate bombed with the first interviewer and could not come up with anything.  At the end of the interview, the interviewer gave the candidate an example of what a good answer might have been, using an example from the interviewers past.

    At the end of the day, when everyone compared notes, later interviewers said the candidate did well on the managing projects question.  When they compared note, they discovered that the candidate used the first interviewer's story for the rest of the day as his own!  It WAS a good example!

    Candidates learn throughout the day.  If the same question is repeated all day long, the candidate will get better and better at answering it.  It's better to think of new and different questions for each interviewer to get a true sense of the candidate.  This is also where group/team interviews can be effective.

  5. Neglecting follow up questions.

    Many interviewers have a strict set of questions that they follow.  They are so busy writing down responses that they miss the opportunity to follow up.  For example, on a question about teamwork, a candidate might say that they "used to prefer working alone, but during college learned to appreciate working in teams".  Why?  What happened in college?  What did they learn?

    Candidates give clues about what they are really thinking.  Effective interviewers ask follow up questions to get to the interesting answers.

  6. Settling for average.

    At the end of the day, the team usually gets together to discuss the candidate.  I have seen a number of examples where the team didn't particularly find anything wrong with the candidate, but nothing special either.  The results were "average".  However, because the candidate "passed" the interview and nothing was found to rule out the candidate, they decide to offer the candidate the job.

    Seven "averages" do not equal a "great".  If the interview team finds that the candidate is average, they are probably going to hire an average employee.  It's better to hold out for someone who makes a better impression.

If you are starting to hire, please don't neglect training or refreshing your interviewers on interviewing skills.  If you would like help with that, please feel free to contact me!

As always, I welcome your comments on this article.  Feel free to email, Twitter, find me on Facebook or LinkedIn, or post to my blog!

Jim Bowles
James Bowles and Associates