top 10 mistakes interviewers make when hiring

Hiring someone on to your team is one of the most important decisions that managers make, but it’s easy to flub it if you aren’t trained and prepared for interviewing. Here are the 10 most common mistakes that job interviewers make in the interview process.

1. Not being clear on what’s really needed to excel in the job. Employers often overvalue specific skills or knowledge (like knowing a specific software program) and don’t put enough weight on underlying qualities (like critical thinking or initiative) that are harder to develop.

2. Asking the wrong questions. The best way to predict how people will act in the future is to find out how they have actually acted in the past or to observe how they actually act in the present. Too often, though, interviewers ask how a candidate might hypothetically handle a difficult situation. For instance, they’ll ask, “How would you handle a difficult client?” Instead, a good interviewer will ask, “Tell me about a time you had to handle a difficult client. How did you approach it? What was the result?”

3. Not probing deeply enough. Too often, interviewers ask a question and then move right on to the next topic. But good interviewers will probe and probe and probe some more, because they’ll learn more by getting into the details of a few experiences than by covering each and every job listed on a resume. Because their job is to get beneath the surface and into the nitty-gritty of how a candidate actually operated, a good interviewer will ask tons of follow-up questions: “That sounds interesting. How did you approach that? Was it successful? What was the biggest challenge? How did you deal with that? What happened then?”

4. Talking too much. Inept interviews will often go on and on about the company, their own job, their own background … and at the end of the interview, all that talking about themselves leaves them feeling warm and fuzzy – what a great conversation that was! But in reality, they know little about the job candidate.

5. Not simulating real job activities. It’s crucial to see candidates in action, by having them complete activities similar to what they’d be doing on the job. Just like a football coach wouldn’t select players without holding tryouts or seeing them in action, neither should an interviewer make a hire without seeing candidates actually do the work.

6. Conducting intimidating, high-pressure interviews. Unless the position requires the ability to perform in a hostile or pressure-filled situation, a good interviewer will seek to learn what candidates will be like to work with day to day, not what they’re like in an anxiety-producing interview. This means being friendly and trying to put candidates at ease.

7. Not being candid. Smart interviewers ensure that candidates have a thorough and realistic understanding of the job, organization, and culture – good and bad – so that candidates who won’t be happy or thrive there can self-select out and won’t feel they were sold a bill of goods once hired. When employers try to downplay the less attractive aspects of the job—such as boring work or long hours—they end up with employees who don’t want to be there.

8. Treating the interview like a one-way street. A good interview is a two-way conversation, not an interrogation. It’s important to ensure that job candidates get a good understanding of the job, the culture, and the expectations – and there should be plenty of time for them to ask their own questions.

9. Being inconsiderate of the candidate. Interviewers who start interviews late, cancel at the last minute without apology, or read their email during the interview may find that the best candidates don’t want to work for them. Which leads us to…

10. Not “wooing” strong candidates. Interviewers too often feel that they’re the only one doing the picking and therefore don’t consider whether the company is coming across as an appealing place to work. Great candidates have options, and if an interviewer is rude or inconsiderate, that offer might not get accepted. In fact, plenty of people will even choose a lower-paying job over one where they think they won’t be treated well.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 16 comments… read them below }

  1. Dawn*

    I think #7, not being candid, is a good point. My own company is guilty of this. When I first started sitting in on interviews I’d listen to the department manager talk about how it’s great to work here, these are the qualifications, this is what you can expect (all GOOD things, of course), etc. I’d often think to myself, “If only you knew the half of it.” Not that we’re a terrible company to work for, but it takes a certain kind of person, someone who’s a self-starter, resourceful, and willing to sit down and figure out how a process should work, to work where I work and be happy. As a result, we weren’t able to retain the person we hired.

    We’re a very small company (14 employees) so I’m usually involved in most of the hiring, even if it’s not my specific department. Nowadays, the manager starts the interview and then I come in as the person who gives a realistic view of the position (I’ve held most of these positions at some time or another). I’m the one to say that the candidate needs to be able to sometimes work without written procedures, figure out how a system works and document it, figure out where to get answers, etc. Since we started doing that, we’ve had some great hires and they’ve stuck around.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! And sometimes even just knowing about that kind of thing in advance will change the person’s experience once they’re on the job — hearing about it in advance and knowing what you’re getting into feels very different than slowly figuring it out for yourself and maybe feeling like you were misled. So the same person might do great if they’re warned but feel resentful and unhappy if they’re not.

  2. Head Spinning, Still Standing*

    I recently had a many-person, many-hour interview that left me shaking my head. It started late, half the people were in the wrong room, people had to leave early, they talked vaguely about high-pressure busyness (but others hinted that it’s a product of poor prioritization and inability to be clear about what they really want), their questions for me seemed off-the-cuff rather than planned and probing, and the would-be supervisor talked that final hour nonstop. They intended to give me a realistic picture of the job and sell me on a great organization– but the impression they created was that they aren’t really sure what they need; they just know they need someone to come in and figure it out. I hope the interview wasn’t a reflection of how the place runs all the time. And yes, I have many questions if I’ve passed muster and move on to the next level.

    1. anon*

      “…I hope the interview wasn’t a reflection of how the place runs all the time….”

      Unfortunately, that’s EXACTLY what this is.

      If they act like The Keystone Cops during an interview, you can expect to be running around the same way once you’re an employee.

        1. Head Spinning, Still Standing*

          Well crap. I really wanted to like them. Good mission, good culture, free lattes, theoretically less flakey than my current job . . .

            1. Head Spinning, Still Standing*

              They went another direction–which means I probably could not keep the WTF look off my face as well as I’d thought. I’m irritated that I was rejected, but relieved too.

  3. Carrie*

    So what happens if you’re the person a company hired and after some time in the role, you feel like you may not be the right person for the position? That’s how I’m feeling in my current role. I did have 2 separate interviews at my company, I have some of the appropriate background (I work in an online environment now, having come from a predominately print background, but same type of business), and I did a sample assignment during my interview process.

    After about 6 months on the job, I still always feel I’m not living up to my manager’s expectations, she provides little feedback and when she does it’s mostly to say that something isn’t done right. I’m not confident I’m the right fit for this position and I’m not sure I can work for another disappointing manager. I don’t love my industry and when you feel like the work you’re doing isn’t well received or that you’re not doing good work, it definitely effects my overall happiness with work.

    Work has a huge impact on my quality of life, and having come out of a bad working environment in my last job, I took time to interview at a bunch of places and thought this would be a good fit. Should I stick it out and hope things get better or would it be best to look elsewhere for another job or even a different industry?

    Thanks for any feedback. I’m starting to feel like not loving what I do or who I work for is just my lot in life and not everyone is meant to be happy in their work life.

    1. anon*

      I had a manager that was terrible at feedback. Early on he told me, “If I don’t come see you, that means everything is fine. I will let you know if you’re doing something wrong.”

      So, in his view, no news was good news. Of course, that left me with no idea how to improve or grow in my job. It also made me think my work was unnoticed and unimportant.

      As you can probabaly guess, when I made even a small error, he was all over me.

      Maybe your manager is the same way…

  4. Joey*

    You forgot a big one, at least in my book-Hiring jerks. I don’t care how impressive a candidates background or track is you have to screen out the jerks.

  5. MistyMountainHop*

    I just turned down a position because I felt like the interview was weird. The conversation was completely one-sided (the Hiring Manager describing the position) – and I actually had to ask the hiring manager at one point if she had any questions for me. It seemed that they had already decided that they wanted me for this position before they really got to know me, and while I’m glad they read through my resume and understood my background (because the opposite is far, far more annoying), there have to be questions you can ask me that will help you assess whether I am a good fit for the position. I don’t ever want to feel like I didn’t invest an effort in obtaining a position somewhere, to include answering an interviewer’s questions about scenarios that their teams face daily. By the time I left, it was apparent to me that I hadn’t really been vetted for the position at all…unnerving when you are being considered for a position where you’re going to have to work closely with a team – especially for the team.

    On the whole, this was one of the weirder experiences I’ve ever had in an interview situation.

    1. PULSE*

      I wished I had the chance to turn down a job. I recently applied for a job with my company. I knew there would be many internal and external candidates. However, after the interview I quickly realised I wouldnt be offered this post. Then, on reflection, I started to consider the whole interview process – or lack of! I’ve been around the traps a while and have interviewed hundreds of people in my time, and now I have started questioning the professionalism of this interview. There were definitely issues/questions/approaches that were not professional at all. However, that’s by-the-by now. I had started wishing they would offer me the job just so I could turn it down! I eventually found out I didn’t get the job when, in a team meeting, a new manager informed everyone that they had filled the position – nice to have been told! I just excused myslf, got up and walked out.

  6. Kay*

    Oh, Alison, I can’t thank you enough for writing this! I have gone on a dozen interviews this year, and not a single company has impressed me. All of them have done one (or more) of the things you have mentioned here. Unfortunately, it’s an employer’s market out there, and I think employers feel like they hold the upper hand and can treat job seekers like dirt.

    I interviewed with one organization recently where the hiring manager was downright hostile — she called me a “weak applicant” to my face. Then she called me a week later and offered me the job. When I politely declined her offer, she got outraged and then said, “Now what am I going to do? I don’t think I can handle my second choice candidate. She’s definitely not going to be a manageable employee.” I can’t believe she admitted that to me!

      1. Kay*

        It gets worse — the employer was a prestigious government agency. I always thought I wanted to work there until that interview.

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