5 Interviewing Mistakes Companies Should Avoid Like the Plague

When it comes to interviewing candidates, regardless of the position, interviewers and interview teams often make critical mistakes. Does that mean there is some magic formula that produces perfect results every time – not in the least. After all, humans are involved, and we are all far from perfect. Among ego, unpreparedness, and just plain lack of interviewing experience, companies make costly mistakes when vetting candidates – and they do it frequently.

Could this be a 350 page book? No doubt, it could, but it’s not. The topic is ginormous but I will keep it contained to something minimal and, hopefully, useful.

1. How Many Interviewers Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

The correct answer is nine. Four to interview the candidate, three to ask redundant questions and two to show up late or miss the interview altogether. The point is, four is a reasonable target. This includes the hiring manager, someone on the direct team who is considered a subject matter or domain expert, someone not on the direct team who is a cross-functional customer and/or supplier to the team, and a peer who is representative of the company values and practices. Maybe sprinkle in an HR contact to discuss benefits and answer related questions.

This really should do it for the individual contributor roles in most companies. Some things to consider would be having two domain experts for positions that are broadly technical in nature. In addition, an introduction to a senior leader might be a positive part of the interview experience.

This is not a one-size-fits-all solution. There may need to be slight tweaks in approach for leadership roles, where it is important for additional team exposure. For example, in addition to a team interview scenario, a senior vice-president of marketing candidate would likely meet with multiple non-departmental heads before a selection is made. In a best case, this would be done as a final decision round.

If it’s not evident, the point here is that many companies over-interview. Rather than preparing properly, they haul an entire team in to interview candidates with little thought given to expectation of the successful candidate, cross-functional insight, or even what a great outcome looks like. For any given candidate, the entire interview team is asked to give a thumbs up/down, the votes are tallied, and the yes/no decision is rendered. Next!

The idea of hiring by committee doesn’t work. Consensus is not the answer. And, for the sake all things that are human resources… no “show of hands.” Good interviews should produce usable data that can be used by someone who is in a position to make a decision.

2. Experience R Us?

How do candidates feel when they leave an interview with your company? How much did they learn? Unfortunately, there is a pervasive mentality among many companies (specifically, managers) who believe that candidates should be overjoyed to have the opportunity to interview - just happy to be there with a shot at a job. Unless you are an employer of the year, this isn’t your reality. If you can get a great candidate in your door, be thankful for that opportunity.

In this market climate, where competition is brutal and employers of choice are rolling out red carpets for top talent, you won’t get past first base with a less than attentive attitude. That actually means preparing for interviews and making them interesting for candidates. It means being punctual and not leaving a candidate hanging out for 27 minutes having no idea of what’s next. And, it means listening instead of telling.

Make sure when your interviews are scheduled that someone owns the candidate experience, front to back (preferably the hiring manager). Not only should the candidate feel important while they are investing time to interview with your company, but they should understand what’s going to happen after the interview. Also, I implore you to never leave a candidate after the last interview not knowing how to get out of the building - it happens more than you might imagine.

Other tips: prepare a written interview schedule and share names and times with the candidate prior to the interview. Find the nicest room in the building - one reserved for your best customers. That’s your interview room. Offer the candidate water, show them how to find the restroom, and offer them lunch if the interview is scheduled across the noon hour.

It’s the simple things that candidates remember. Whether you offer them a job or not, they will say good things about your company to at least one person. Offer them a bad experience, and they will tell everyone.

3. Description Prescription

All companies write position descriptions. Very few write good ones. Even fewer actually use them as intended. First, writing a job description is not a compulsory exercise just so you have something to put out on Craigslist or Dice to draw prospective candidates. It should actually describe the job. It should accurately represent the performance requirements to be successful in the job. And, it should illuminate what someone will need to accomplish in a specific period of time to be considered successful in the job. If you do these simple things, you not only end up with a roadmap for the first year or so but you also get a perfect interview guide for your team to use in vetting candidates. I won’t go into great detail here on how that works, but check out Lou Adler’s Hire With Your Head - or contact me.

By actually interviewing candidates against a set of performance-based hiring requirements, you can be assured that all candidates are measured equally and it will not be left up to the interviewer’s whim as to what is discussed in an interview. It’s odd to me that this doesn’t happen most of the time - in fact, it happens rarely. Most hiring decisions are made in five minutes or less of encountering a candidate unless something changes drastically. Most hiring decisions are gut-level. And most hiring decisions are not rendered with the rigor they deserve.

So, don’t forget the job description. It’s where a job starts and it should be utilized throughout the entire candidate vetting process, and later as a roadmap for the new hire.

4. I Get No Respect, I Tell Ya

This one goes hand in hand with #2 (candidate experience), but it’s noteworthy. If I’m a candidate for your job, respect my time. Just because your interview team can’t seem to get together in a consecutive 3-4 hour time block, please do not ask me to come back to your company three times. If the hire is important enough - and it should be - then set some expectation with the team to prioritize accordingly. That means freeing up time to interview and to be present during the process - not just by showing up, but by preparing and adding value.

If there is one top talent acquisition killer, this is it. Not respecting someone’s time may get you the one-star review on Glassdoor. And, while we’re on the topic of time and respect, don’t wait until you’ve completed all candidate interviews for a position to update your top candidates. These candidates will move on to other opportunities. It’s understandable that reasonable time may pass before a final decision is rendered, but don’t expect to contact your top candidate three weeks later, offer letter in hand, and expect them to come running. Granted, if they’re interested they may contact you, but always beat them to it - always.  

5. Breathe, then Decide

As noted briefly above, studies show (they always do, don’t they) that many, if not most, interviewers make a binary decision within five minutes of starting an interview - if not consciously, then somewhere down close to the crocodile brain. This is based on a gut-level instinct rendered through eye contact, posture, greeting, handshake, appearance or a thousand other highly-subjective assessments. Not only is a decision made in that five minutes, but that knee-jerk reaction most often influences the entire interview quality to the point that, even if this were the best candidate for the job, the interviewer may never discover that fact because the interview went south before it ever made liftoff. And, the inverse is true as well. Some candidates are simply great interviewers - buttoned up, looks like me, talks like me, and says all the right things.

But wait. I know you are a proficient interviewer. It’s human nature to make snap judgements - positive and negative. It’s not to say that your opinion can’t be changed later, but consider this a better approach. Rather than using the interview to make a hiring decision, think of the interview as nothing more than a data collection opportunity - an increment of time to acquire the most empirical (and objective) data available to determine, at a later time, if the candidate has the ability and motivation to do the job. Yes, it goes against our nature to judge, and it certainly goes against our instinct to rank things in some logical manner so the universe makes sense. But that’s all an interview is and should be. It’s not an opportunity to judge someone, nor a chance to exert power with your opinion. It’s merely a time to collect data to use later. Done, done and done.

So, to recap - get yourself a right-sized interview team, create a pleasant experience for candidates who invest time to come by the office for a few hours, write a real performance requirement for the job instead of a laundry list of things a candidate should have, respect the time of others, and by all means, take a lap around the building before making a decision as to whether or not you’re going to hire someone.

Happy interviewing!

Follow me @skipgraham

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Comment by Katrina Kibben on August 3, 2015 at 10:10am

"there is a pervasive mentality among many companies (specifically, managers) who believe that candidates should be overjoyed to have the opportunity to interview - just happy to be there with a shot at a job."

You hit the nail on the head with this one. I would even go so far to say this is the #1 road block in creating a better candidate experience.

Comment by Skip Graham on August 3, 2015 at 11:54am

Certainly a top challenge Katrina. Until Talent Acquisition has a legitimate seat at the adult table (not necessarily represented by/through HR), it's uphill all the way. Recruiters -- even the ones in the know and willing -- simply do not have the muscle to push big change up to the business. The old machine has a lot of gravity and only the most influential recruiters are winning managers over, one at a time. 


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