Top 15 Mistakes Interviewers Make

Admittedly, the traditional recruiting process is expeditious from a time-to-fulfillment perspective and in the short run is very cost effective. It consists of the following five steps:

A. Review the job description, write an ad specifying the hard-skills of the position, and begin collecting resumes.
B. Select the top 3 to 6 resumes of candidates for face-to-face interviews who on-paper represent the hard-skills, experience, and salary requirements that best match the job.
C. Allow the hiring manager, to whom the open position reports, the freedom to single-handedly implement a free-form personal interview process that unconsciously emphasizes hard-skills, experience, and likability.
D. Check 1 or 2 personal references of the candidates or just accept the letters of recommendation that the candidates bring to the interviews. (This step is often skipped because of time constraints and because the candidate made such a good impression in the interview that he/she couldn’t have any “baggage” that would disqualify him/her.)
E. Make an offer of employment to the candidate who best “sold” him/herself in the interview.

One cannot argue with the short cycle time of the interviewing phase of this traditional recruiting process. However, the objective is not to make a decision in the shortest amount of time and at the lowest cost. The objective is to hire the best person who will “fit” the position and will be fulfilled enough with the job and with the culture of the organization to become a long-term, productive employee.

The interviewing process used by most organizations is not a process at all but rather a “beauty contest” approach to hiring. Many managers use what I loosely call “techniques” such as likability, gut-feel, and chemistry in selecting the person to hire. Here are the top 15 mistakes the typical interviewer makes as well as my recommendations for resolving the issues.

1. Most interviewers make a like or dislike decision about a candidate within the first 5 to 15 minutes of an interview and spend the balance of the time confirming their first impressions – positive or negative impression. This first impression will often taint the interviewer’s perception of the answers received. (e.g., A candidate who is perceived negatively will have his/her answers judged more critically than a person who is perceived more positively.)
RECOMMENDATION: Interviewers should make a conscious effort to reserve any judgment for at least 30 minutes to allow any nervousness on the part of the candidate to dissipate. Very often, a candidate who does not make a positive first impression can really shine as the interview progresses, while the candidate with a great first impression begins to diminish as the interview questions require more specificity.

2. If the interviewer’s first impression is positive and the interviewer uses an unstructured interview process, the interviewer usually begins asking “softball” questions for the candidate to hit a “homerun.” Similarly if the interviewer’s impression of the candidate is negative in this free-form interview process, the interviewer usually ends up asking “hardball” questions which has the tendency to confirm the interviewer’s already negative impression. Both of these situations become a self-fulfilling prophesy in that the interviewer will see what he/she expects to see, rather than looking at the facts objectively.
RECOMMENDATION: Use a structured interview process that levels the playing field for all candidates and reserve initial judgments for at least 30 minutes.

3. If the interviewer’s first impression is positive in an unstructured interview process, the interviewer usually asks fewer questions of the candidate and quickly switches into a “selling mode” in which the interviewer now tries to “sell” the applicant on the organization.
RECOMMENDATION: Use a structure interview format, which creates a more legally defensible interviewing process because it asks all the candidates the same questions. Also be sure to separate the process of gathering information about the candidate from the processes of promoting (selling) the company, making a decision, and negotiating an offer. Each of these processes is different.

4. Many interviewers have a few favorite questions and unofficial tests that they believe are keys to vetting a candidate. (Test Example: An HR Manager who walks candidates to their car to assess the cleanliness of the inside of the vehicle.) Unfortunately, “clever” questions and tests are not supported by statistical evidence that proves the conclusions that the manager believes they prove. There is no empirical evidence that concludes with any degree of certainty that the cleanliness of an applicant’s car is directly related to the quality of his/her work. That is not to say that this hypothesis cannot be proven to be true. However, the interviewer would need to statistically validate his/her conclusions, rather than creating a homegrown test.
RECOMMENDATION: Use a structured interview process that utilizes work-related interview questions, rather than a free-form and unstructured process. Also, forget any personally concocted questions (trick or clever questions), tests, or systems for making “go” or “no go” decisions. Stick to the responsibilities and goals of the open position and you will have plenty of material with which to assess a candidate.

5. Many interviewers assume that the top performers in an interview will also be the best employees.
RECOMMENDATION: Utilize an interview process that is less influenced by the personality and performance of the candidate and more heavily weighted to the quality of the answers and the actual or comparable experiences of the candidates that match the position.

6. Most interviewers don’t have the skills to “coach” candidates to give complete answers to interview questions. As such, less articulate candidates may be overlooked if the face-to-face interview is the only tool utilized.
RECOMMENDATION: Use a variety of forms and techniques in order to get complete details about a candidate and his/her accomplishments.

7. Many interviewers only look at a candidate’s experience and education. Then, they assume that if these two criteria match the needs of the position, the person is a good match for the job.
RECOMMENDATION: Utilizing only a hard-skills match for a position is a mistake. There are many Harvard MBAs who have the education and experience to be senior executives, but lack the interpersonal and leadership skills to effectively run an organization. I recommend a simple formula: Education + Experience + Soft Skills + Values + Personality + Performance + Intelligence + References = A Good Employee. The formula breaks down as follows:


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