5 hiring practices you should stop today

Think you’re good at hiring? See if you’re committing any of these five hiring no-no’s.

1. Conducting “courtesy” interviews with no intention of hiring the candidate

Most people who hire know the feeling of wondering if you need to interview a particular candidate for reasons other than the person’s qualifications – for instance, because she’s the friend of a board member, or came referred by your manager, or lives next door. But interviewing someone who you know doesn’t have a real chance just as a “courtesy” is the opposite of courteous: It wastes time on both sides, leads the person to believe they have a real chance at the job when they don’t, and puts them through the time and anxiety of preparing for the interview (and perhaps spurs them to take time off work or incur expenses like a new suit or briefcase).  It’s far kinder to be direct from the start and simply explain that you’re looking for qualifications X and Y and so it doesn’t appear to be a match.

2. Not using phone screens before in-person interviews

If you’re in the habit of inviting candidates in for in-person interviews without first conducting phone screens, stop! Phone screens can save you (and your candidates) an enormous amount of time. Just 10-20 minutes on the phone will often rule people out immediately; you might quickly discover that their experience in a key area is far less than you thought from their resume, or that their social skills aren’t a fit with the role, or that they can start until three months after you need someone. It doesn’t make sense to bring people in to meet in-person – when you’ll generally spend far longer than 20 minutes talking — until you’ve established basic suitability for the role and ruled out obvious deal-breakers.

3. Requiring a degree when the work doesn’t necessitate it

There’s a reason that many employers are moving away from requiring college degrees for many jobs, when candidates are able to show other qualifications: It’s because degree requirements too often screen out candidates who have all the qualifications really needed to excel in the job.

It makes far more sense to look at the totality of what candidates have achieved – degrees, work experience, all of it. Of course, if your candidate pool is made up of candidates new to the workforce, and you therefore don’t have much real data on their work performance yet, degrees can be a useful proxy to signal what someone might be able to achieve. But when you have more experienced candidates, you can look to their actual track record at work. And it makes no sense to rule out experienced candidates who have excelled in their fields just because they didn’t graduate (particularly when they made that decision some 20 or more years ago).

4. Asking softball questions instead of probing into track record

Getting to know a candidate is important – you want to know who you’ll be working with every day, after all. But too many interviewers spend most of the interview asking softball “getting to know you” type questions – like why the candidate applied for the job, what their preferred work culture is, what they’ve liked most and least about jobs in the past, how this role fits into their desired career path, what kind of person they work best with, and so forth. While these questions can certainly elicit useful information, they should make up only a small portion of the interview. You will find out far more by (a) probing into candidates’ past experiences deeply – getting into the nitty-gritty of what the candidate has accomplished and how they did it, and (b) finding ways to see them in action, by having them simulate the type of work they’d be doing on the job.

And of course, while you should indeed be nice to your candidates, it’s crucial to not to allow your desire to be nice prevent you from digging until you have a really clear sense of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Pushing as much as it takes to get into the details is key to making an accurate assessment – and besides, good candidates actually appreciate challenging questions.

5. Checking references after making a job offer

If you don’t engage in this practice yourself, it probably sounds ridiculous to you, but there are plenty of employers who don’t bother with reference checks until after a candidate has accepted an offer. This is a terrible practice, for two reasons. First, most importantly, you’re putting your new hires in a terrible position. It’s not reasonable to expect candidates to resign their current jobs (thus severing times with their source of income) when you haven’t completed your vetting process and might pull the offer if you find something you don’t like. If you want them to commit to your offer, you need to commit fully yourself – not add contingencies that could cause serious problems for them.

Second, reference checks shouldn’t just be about rubber-stamping a decision you’ve already made. Rather, reference checks can play an important part in your decision-making process, if you ask the sort of nuanced questions that will get you more information than a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Someone might be a great employee, but you might learn from references that they don’t have the particular qualities you’re seeking for that particular position (or that someone else has more of them). You can also learn about what kind of management a candidate works best with, where they might need additional support, and other information that can help you make your hiring decision, rather than just validating it after the fact.

If you’re a manager who is guilty of any of the above five offenses, vow to reform your ways right now – and you’ll make better hires for it.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase. 

{ 86 comments… read them below }

  1. B*

    Completely agree with the courtesy interviews. What an absolute waste and completely demoralizing for the person who thinks they have a chance. And it is even worse when the courtesy interviews keep going on through the ranks of an organization.

    1. Cajun2Core*

      I fully agree that you should not interview someone if you do not believe you will hire them. However, what about the cases where you are 99% sure you will hire a certain internal candidate but due to company policy or state law (if you work for a state institution) you have to interview X number of candidates.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I tend to think those are bad policies, but if you have a policy like that, you should truly act in the spirit in which it’s intended — which means not making up your mind until you’ve interviewed and really considered all your candidates. When people just go through the motions of interviewing external candidates because they have to, it’s unfair to the candidates and it’s totally contrary to why the policy exists.

    2. Rich*

      Agreed. That was actually my first real teaching interview after graduation. I was told halfway through the interview that I was being given the interview to help familiarize me with the process. At that point, I felt like there was no point in answering the rest of her questions, though I did… followed by a tour of the school.

      I still had all of my references contact the interviewer in the hope that maybe a storm of glowing referrals might change her mind (it didn’t). It’s still something that gets me going. I wasted an entire July morning in 90% humidity in a suit to be told I was just wasting my time as a favor to me.

      1. Non-profit HR*

        Totally agree here on not interviewing for courtesy; who has time for that?

        On Alison’s point about being straight from the beginning about qualifications someone is lacking, how do people handle it when the person has the on-paper qualifications, but you’re pretty certain they’re a terrible candidate based on other data points? For example, let’s say we required 5 years of experience as a chocolate teapot maker, and we get a resume of someone who has 8 years experience, but their experience is sporadic and in short blocks of time, for organizations that have poor reputations, and the cover letter is poor. People inevitably ask why they didn’t get an interview when they “have all the right experience”, and I have a hard time articulating why they didn’t get an interview without coming off as rude. Thoughts?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          You don’t have to give everyone specific feedback just because they asked for it; it’s fine to just say that you had many qualified candidates and you had to make hard decisions to move forward, or that you had other candidates who were a stronger match. Which is true.

      2. Sourire*

        Wait, you had your references contact them? As in they called the interviewer at the school you were applying at unsolicited to offer their praise of you?

        Or do you just mean you told them to go ahead and take the calls even though you knew it was probably going to be moot anyway?

        1. Rich*

          I had them email their recommendations to her. The full story was that my interviewer specifically gave me the “courtesy” because I attended a local university where she also attended and had about 2/3 of her network. My logic was that if my references (all of whom told me they knew her through the university) were timely enough, it might possibly show her I was both committed and capable.

    3. Michele*

      I had a recruiter do that to me when I moved from NYC back to Portland, Oregon for a bit. She really liked my resume and just wanted to talk to me even though she had nothing in my area of expertise. It was such a waste of time. I never called her back!

  2. Brett*

    For #5, are you specifically referring to final offers, or conditional offers too? The whole background check/conditional offer process is a mystery to me and I am getting sick of our organization losing good candidates at the conditional offer stage when they fail their background interview.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m talking about any offer where you expect the person to accept and stop interviewing for other jobs, and especially if you expect them to give notice at their current job. You shouldn’t be making offers at all if you’re not finished with your vetting process.

      1. Brett*

        Well, I asked our personnel why we do conditionals and got my answer. Apparently some parts of our background check (medical exam, drug test, psych eval, and polygraph) are not legally allowed for our agency unless we make a conditional offer. That said, they also mentioned they explicit instruct candidates not to quit their current job, move, or pull out of the application process with other employers while under a conditional offer.

        1. Jessa*

          Yeh , but that’s a special circumstance. The point about having a conditional offer in place is because it’s really not on to do those kind of tests on people you will not hire if they pass them. It can also, depending on where you are be illegal to do them on people you have NO intention of hiring at all. But that’s not the same thing as making offers like others are talking about. It’s very very clear in those kind of offers that you have to pass all the checks to be hired so DON’T assume you’re hired until you are.

  3. Carmen*

    100% agree about the degree issue! I have 17 years of experience in my field, and multiple certifications specific to my specialty. I’ve received awards, given industry specific talks, and yet, that degree issues always comes up.

    I’ve learned to tell my story as to why I do not have a degree, and I am actually back in school finishing up my last 25 or so credits.

    However, there are so many reason why someone doesn’t finish school (mine was a combination of severe health issue and then the subsequent medical bills) and I feel strongly that hiring managers should look at the candidate as a whole and not dwell on one item when there is overwhelming evidence of success in other ways.

    1. Rich*

      My mother had to deal with this for a while. They played the degree card on her when she’d been in the field successfully doing her job for 30 years. It was especially bad that the people she trained pulled that on her. It wasn’t as though she could go back to do her degree, either: she averaged over 60 hours a week!

        1. Confused*

          +1 it doesn’t always matter that much
          one former manager had the opposite problem. little experience but constantly citing his degree.

          1. Jessa*

            Even worse when they decide they now want one and don’t grandfather people already working for the company. It’s bad if you’re interviewing and they’re being stupid about it, but when you already work somewhere? That’s just not right.

  4. Anonymous*

    Prospective managers should provide a list of references too so the prospective employee can make an informed decision.

    1. Briggs*

      Haha, you just made me imagine a scenario where the interviewee stands up to shake the interviewer’s hand and says:

      “Oh, and could you draw up a list of past employees so I can have coffee with them and ask them what kind of manager you are?”

      The look on the interviewer’s face would be priceless.

    2. Cajun2Core*

      I like! Often thought doing an internet search and reveal some information. I once did not apply for a job because when I asked around and posted on a forum about a specific company, all I got was negative feedback.

    3. LPBB*

      I’m coming late to this, but I this does happen sometimes in the organic farming world.

      A fair number of farmers seem crunchy granola and cool on the surface, but midway through the season they reveal themselves as bullying psychopaths. I actually had to leave in the middle of the night from one of my farming internships because the situation with the farmer became intolerable. Unfortunately, you don’t really know if a farmer you’re considering working with is a normal person or a psychopath until it’s too late, especially if you’re not already plugged in to the organic farm scene in that area.

      Some interns will proactively ask for contact info for previous interns so they can try to vet the farmer. I provided a reference for another (sane) farmer that I worked for later. Just their response to this question can tell you a lot. However, if you go this rout, *follow up* and contact those references. The couple I worked with on the nightmare farm asked for references, but never actually contacted them. They ended up leaving two nights after I did.

  5. ChristineSW*

    #1 – I experienced a “courtesy interview” years ago, and it did not feel nice. The HR rep who’d interviewed me even had the nerve to actually say that they had someone in mind already but decided to interview me “just in case”. This was, imho, likely the result of a mix-up the week prior that they never fully admitted to.

    1. thenoiseinspace*

      Ugh, I HATE it when they act like that. I’ve had several similar incidences – I’m sure they ‘re trying to be nice, but I’m convinced that as a hiring manager, as soon as you decide you’re probably not going to hire someone, it’s going to show in the interview, and you’re going to come off as rude whether you mean to or not.

    2. Steve*

      I had a courtesy phone interview about 2 years ago. As the conversation progressed, the job specs changed as well as the HR manager progressively made the job less and less appealing. It went from a 40 hour work week, to a 50 hour week, and eventually to a 60 hour week. They had an advertised salary that was in my range, but that, according to her, was a “typo in the ad,” and the salary was about $20K lower. There would NEVER be any chance of promotion, lateral transfers and growth were out of the question, and the graduate degree I was working on would just be a waste of my time. She did everything in her power to make ME be the one to say I wasn’t interested in the position – which I decided I wasn’t going to do. She scheduled a courtesy in person follow up interview, but I canceled it 3 days prior by telling them I had accepted an amazing offer at a salary I couldn’t turn down (I know, childish, but I couldn’t help it.)

      1. WWWONKA*

        I also had a phone interview where the requisite changed. During the interview the ability to lift a small amount of weight was required. When I asked if the job was EEOC compliant because I was disabled but with a little help I could probably do most of the physical parts. All of a sudden the requirement changed to helping the workforce move large pieces of equipment. And this is at a well known world acclaimed hospital in CA. I finally spoke with the head of HR and just felt like I was getting stroked and blown off.

        1. ChristineSW*

          That’s why disability disclosure is such a tricky area, even with the ADA and subsequent changes. I could go on and on about this, but I’ll spare you that novel, lol. Really awful of the hospital to do though.

          1. WWWONKA*

            I have thought of filing a complaint with the EEOC but haven’t decided to follow through. The job description had nothing about moving large equipment but did say the standard M/F/D/V statement. They guy I was phone interviewing with didn’t even know what EEOC meant. I had to explain it to him.

    3. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I had one too, and it was horrible. It was for a receptionist job in a dermatologist’s office, and they had me take both an editing and filing test plus wait 20 minutes past my interview time, only to be told that they’ve already filled the position but they “like to talk with strong candidates such as you.” Yeah, no. Complete waste of an hour.

      1. Anon this time*

        Because the candidate’s time is irrelevant, right? Grrr.

        I had applied for a really intriguing entry-level job in my new field (after completing grad school), working as an assistant in a small consulting firm. After a brief email exchange with the owner to establish my interest and suitability, she said she would set up an interview. Over a month later, after I emailed her with a polite inquiry, she set up the interview. I got dressed up on a hot & humid day, drove to her office, then walked with her to a local coffeehouse… where she told me that she had already hired someone “but your background looked so interesting that I wanted to chat with you.”

        That wasn’t even any use as a networking contact, because she didn’t have any useful suggestions about developing my contacts and career opportunities. She did recommend that I contact another person in the field… who, as it turns out, had been deceased for a while.

        1. ChristineSW*

          She did recommend that I contact another person in the field… who, as it turns out, had been deceased for a while.

          Shows just how much she pays attention to her field! :/

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          Mostly making sure you know how to alphabetize. In this case, it was a list of names in varying formats, and I had to put each one in their preferred format and list them in alphabetical order.

          You’d be amazed at how many people can’t do that, or can’t do it quickly.

  6. Payroll Lady*

    +1 on the degree. I’ve been doing payroll for well over 20 years and do not have a degree. There have been many job listings that virtually say, no degree don’t bother applying, however, that listing ends up posted every 6 months or so. In payroll, there is not a degree that is helpful, it’s all about research and staying up on all the changes in the laws, both federally and at the state level.

    At one of my previous positions, the CFO had to argue with the VP of HR to promote me since I didn’t have a degree. She insisted it was needed, he response was “Show where she can get a degree in Payroll and then we can discuss it” Needless to say, I did get the promotion, but HR was not happy about it!

    1. AnonEMoose*

      And stories like this are good illustrations of why so many people dislike and distrust HR. I know that I personally try to deal with them as little as possible, and HR departments are one of the reasons that I loathe job hunting and interviews.

  7. April*

    Getting “references” during the background check is a process that needs to stop. References worked in a time period when you ran your grocery store, and your neighbor Bob ran the service shop. When Bob’s employee applied with you for a job, you asked Bob about him. You knew Bob, how he worked, and you could take all that into account during his reference. (Prior time periods’ “letters of reference” were more about class hierarchy than actual references.)

    I give your candidate a glowing reference. So what. You don’t know me, or if my level of over the moon performance is your barely scraping by.

    1. Beth*

      I dislike the practice of having to give references. Nobody is going to give them the name of person who didn’t think well of them, so what’s the point?

      References is the same as saying, “Here is three people I know will say good things about me.”

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      References are actually still incredibly helpful, particularly when you talk to multiple references and can piece together a fuller picture than just what one person might say.

      1. anony*

        ..but what if the people you work with are absolute psychos, and you KNOW you won’t get good references from them?

        Where I work is incredibly toxic. I wouldn’t trust any of them with the life of a SEWER RAT!

    3. fposte*

      But I’m going to ask for specifics–what did Li’l Bob do well, and how did he impress Bob? How does his work there suggest he’ll perform the tasks we need him to do, like X, Y, and Z? If it’s that he sure knew his alphabet and never drank on the job, then I understand that Bob’s recommendation has limits. If it’s that he organized the customer records into a database and never saw a problem he couldn’t solve, then my interest in Li’l Bob has risen considerably.

      Maybe you’re thinking written references, which I would agree are less useful (and I say this in a field that uses them a lot). But those are also less common.

      1. Katie in Ed*

        Exactly. If a hiring manager called me in reference to someone on my team, I would be candid about his or her strengths and weaknesses. There are folks I work with who are not well suited to certain types of work, but are exceptional at others (I’m sure that’s the case with most of us). I could easily see my reference varying depending on the job in question.

        This is a bit of a sore post for me though. I just completed a round of hiring, and even after I pushed my superior twice on the issue, he still would not let me check references. I understand that he wanted to hire someone quickly, and lucky for us the new hires are fabulous, but I would have preferred to wait a day or two and make the safer choice. Grump grump.

        1. Anonymous*

          My previous job will not give references. If an employer calls the special telephone number set up for giving future employers and landlords to get the “reference”, they get a message about the dates of employment and nothing else. They also charge a fee for this service. Employees (including managers) are forbidden to give references under threat of dismissal from your job. If they find out you gave someone a reference, they can and will fire you.

          I nearly didn’t get to stay in my apartment because the landlord didn’t want to pay the fee for my “reference”.

    4. AGirlCalledFriday*

      I actually really agree with this. I’m looking for a teaching position, but I graduated at a time where I literally had to take anything that was offered. So I have glowing references from former professors, then a job where the manager hated me because he blamed me for my replacement leaving a week after she was hired. He gives awful feedback or lies about my being there. In my next job I achieved fantastic results, but was fired because I looked at a text message updating me on a family member who was in ICU at the time. First offense on a cell, I asked permission the morning of, and the principal was fired in the middle of the year for being…well she was pretty awful. I had parents who loved me and fought my dismissal and staff that supported me but I still have that black mark. I teach overseas and not only am I recognized for being a great teacher, I was made vice principal and made changes that affected how the school was run as a whole, and I received much support when I left plus awesome recommendations – I had parents and management alike beg me to stay – but if they get the principal of the school he might give a not so glowing reference due to the fact that he blames me for his groping and disgusting brother getting fired (wasn’t me, by the way).

      My point is that references are at best, mediocre ways to judge how a person works and are best taken seriously only from people you know and trust. There are too many ways a person’s reputation can be damaged through them and often no way to determine if the source was someone professional or someone terrible to work for. I can’t say they should be discounted completely as I’m sure once in awhile some valuable information can be gained, but I’m sure most of it is suspect.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But most of it isn’t suspect, even though of course there are cases like yours.

        And you’ve got to remember, the point of references isn’t for an employer to be as fair as possible to you; it’s for them to figure out who they want to hire and to minimize the risk to them of hiring the wrong person. If you were hiring, say, a nanny (using an example that a lot of people encounter even if they don’t hire at work), wouldn’t you want to talk to people she’d worked for previously rather than just relying on her word about what her work is like?

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          It’s probable that my particular experience has colored my opinion of something that may not be an issue for the majority of candidates. :) I know you like to talk with multiple people and not always the ones listed…if more managers did this it would negate the problem completely, but I don’t think I can count on that.

      2. Sourire*

        “My point is that references are at best, mediocre ways to judge how a person works …”

        Isn’t the same true of pretty much the entire hiring process though? A resume could be embellished (sometimes to an astounding degree), some people are very good at bs-ing their way through interviews, a candidate may perform worse than they normally would on a skills test due to interview anxiety, etc. In my opinion, references are a valuable tool, particularly when used correctly (Alison gives great examples all of the time). However, they should of course be treated as just one small part of the overall candidate evaluation.

    5. athek*

      I see what your saying, but personally, I have had three strong candidates get tossed out of the running due to poor references. Even more surprising is that two of them got poor references from people that were supplied to me. Only one of them was from a reference that they had not listed.

  8. AGirlCalledFriday*

    Id like to add that these issues can be mitigated by someone who is adept at hiring but that is unfortunately not always the case

  9. April*

    I 100% agree with the degree point. In certain fields and positions, degrees are necessary, but for the majority of jobs out there they simply are not a hard and fast requirement to manage job duties.
    Many companies and hiring managers out there have become degree-blind when what is needed to survive and thrive in most positions is know-how, experience and the right personality/ mindset (or the ability to be trained).
    I get that when you’re receiving 200 applications for a job that it may seem like the degree requirement is a simple culling tool. But in reality, having a degree simply for the sake of having a degree doesn’t really speak much to those candidate’s qualifications and may be eliminating stellar applicants. For some positions, it would be like eliminating anyone with brown eyes.
    The flip side of this is it creates a society where a degree doesn’t stand for what it once did, expertise in a specified field, and no longer is a guarantee of a job or a salary that will pay off student loans let alone a living wage. Now we’re forcing kids into massive amounts of debt with little promise or hope of paying it off. And for those that, for whatever reason, don’t or are unable to get a degree, we’ve put them essentially in a class where all they are unable to take on professional work or unable to advance for lack of a piece of paper.

    1. Kate*

      Completely agree. Doctors and engineers need degrees. An office manager with 10 years of expertise do not. I like the idea of gap years and taking some time off to see if your career even requires a degree.

      1. April*

        I cannot tell you how many job ads I’ve seen that require degrees for part time receptionists (at $12/hr).
        For me, the basic litmus test is: when you require a degree, are you requiring a degree in a certain field or area of study? No? Then why are you requiring a degree? If the area of study doesn’t matter than neither does the degree. Or even better, my SO is a graphic designer. He did get his degree, but several of his professors either didn’t have degrees or only had undergrad degrees because more important than a degree was actually having experience and being able to do the work. If the schools don’t have it as a requirement to teach the next generation, why would you require your employees to have one?

      2. JCDC*

        Also agree! When I applied to my current job awhile back, the posting said that a master’s was “preferred.” I don’t have one, and it luckily didn’t end up mattering. But I wonder, why was that even included? An advanced degree couldn’t hurt in this job, but goodness knows how it would help. A degree in my niche doesn’t exist and it’s essentially impossible to get better through any means but hands-on experience. Odd.

    2. Twyla*

      I completely agree here too and have had the same issue. 20 years of great experience and some nitwit who posts the job thinks “this level position needs a degree”. No degree for my field exists and I am at a point in my life where I enjoy my free time with my family.

      On the flip side, as a hiring manager, I cringe when I see candidates with masters degrees applying for entry level jobs. I realize the job market sucks in a lot of places, but seriously, that’s a time to customize your resume to the position and not tell me you have that masters. If you have put that effort into school and are seriously interested in my crappy $10/hour job , I immediately start thinking “what’s wrong with this person?”

  10. Kat*

    The phone screen part is interesting. I am relatively new to my career path, having graduated two years ago,but I have never undergone a phone screen except for a remote position, where I was given an offer from a phone interview. however, a large number of jobs in my industry require ridiculously long supplemental questions on applications, which may serve the same purpose as a phone screen excluding the social aspect.

    1. some1*

      I like them, to be honest. They aren’t as high-pressured, they take less time, you can conduct them wearing pajamas and last night’s mascara under your eyes, and you can get an initial feel about the company without wasting time and money. And if you are presently employed, it’s much easier to sneak away for a 10 minute phone interview vs an hour in-person interview without your current employer finding out.

    2. Karen*

      I’ve seen in higher volume hiring, assessments (the never ending questions you’re referring to) acts as another layer of screening. It has been helpful for me to use both to get down to candidates that are good on paper, and the phone screen usually takes another good chunk of candidates off the short list.

      There’s a lot that can be attributed to your choice of phone greeting (I’ve gotten everything from sheepish hello’s to picking up at ‘the club’) to your choice of voicemail greeting (insert offensive lyric here).

      Oh, and let’s not get started on inappropriate email addresses…

  11. A.Y. Siu*

    Even though you’ll certainly ask people who think highly of you to be your references, references are still good for two reasons:

    1. Believe it or not, some people are such horrible employees that they can’t even have three people to vouch for them unequivocally. If you say “These are my top three,” and two of them can give you only lukewarm recommendations, that says a lot to a hiring manager (i.e., don’t hire you).

    2. When you’re following up on references, really press them and ask tough, specific questions. Just as Allison says not to ask softball questions during an interview, don’t ask softball questions of the reference either. If the reference gives adjective answers (“great,” “reliable,” “cheerful,” “smart”), press her for specifics. Don’t be afraid, too, to ask things like if this is someone who will stroll in late because that’s just how she is… or if she’s impeccably on time, whether she requires instructions to be laid out explicitly or not, etc.

    As for degrees, I fully agree, but I’d also add that in many positions, “experience” is highly overrated, especially if you’re just looking at years of experience and not what the person actually accomplished. I have an advanced degree in teaching, and I taught for years, but I’m really just an average or above-average teacher, depending on what school I’m in. I have no degree or any kind of official training in databases or tech stuff, and yet in all the tech-related positions I’ve been in, I’ve excelled, because someone knew I could do the job and was willing to take a chance on me based on competence instead of a number or a degree.

    1. April*

      I’ve had problems occasionally coming up with people to list as references for several reasons, none of which are as a result of my being a poor employee. Offices close, people lose touch, or some people have been with a certain company for long enough that previous references would be out of date and they can’t give current references because they don’t want anyone at their work to know they’re job hunting.

      1. WWWONKA*

        I too have issues with references. The last company I worked at was bought up by another company and most everyone scattered into the wind. I only have a few old contacts and some are subordinates that reported to me. I have plenty of accomplishments that speak well of my work abilities but if they were to find an old corporate level manager of mine he probably would not know of what they are asking him about.

  12. WWWONKA*

    Don’t forget #6. Posting a job description that is so exclusive to your company that people on the outside do not understand your needs.

      1. WWWONKA*

        Yup, a lot of mumbo jumbo is posted to keep the job internal I think. Why would anyone try to decipher the foreign language and waste time trying to get in?

  13. Mike C.*

    So with regards to references, how does a hiring manager suss out the difference between a candidate who wasn’t very good at their job, and one who left because of a really bad/toxic situation? Say, they were terrible at their job versus being retaliated against for reporting safety violations or something.

    I ask because one of the main risks of being a whistle blower is having to find a new job, and outside of well publicized cases it’s really difficult or impossible to talk about.

  14. telephones are so outdated*

    I disagree about the phone screens. I am horrible on the phone and my profession doesn’t require phone skills in any way. Not being able to see the people and interact with them makes communication impossible in my opinion. And I do understand the point of not wasting people’s time, but can’t any reasonable person do some of that screening via email, i.e. when would you be able to start or does the salary range of $x to $x fit within your expectations? Make these questions into a writing sample and you can kill two birds with one stone! I know I’ve lost out on some great potential opportunities because of lousy phone screens!

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Phone screens aren’t just about gathering the types of answers you could get in writing. It’s about getting a feel for the person — their sanity, their energy level, their personality, etc.

    2. some1*

      “Not being able to see the people and interact with them makes communication impossible in my opinion.”

      I find it hard to believe you have never been able to have meaningful communication via telephone. It sounds like your issue might be more about being able to think on your feet when you are not talking in person.

  15. ThisWholeMessSucks*

    Well I benefited greatly from what may have been a “courtesy” interview (due to good relationship with the hiring manager). I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was forced to prepare for this interview for a position I thought was slightly out of my league… maybe I would get lucky and get the offer anyway! I did not get the position, but that preparation had me ready for a fabulous interview with another company for a similar job – and I got it! MUCH to the shock of those from that first “courtesy” interview.

  16. HR Competent*

    I’m a big supporter of phone screens for the noted reasons. I’ve also found that simply because a candidate provided a resume they may have minimal understanding of the actual position. I take the opportunity to clarify a number of points-
    Pay range- Are the comfortable with the number
    Location- The commute can be tough coming from the East or North side.
    Schedule- We do East Coast business too, start time can be 7:00 AM
    Benefits and PTO-
    I think this is a great benefit to the candidate and puts the best candidate in front of the hiring managers for the in-person interviews.

    1. Esra*

      Every yes to listing the location. I live in Toronto, so you see postings for all of the GTA and some places are notoriously unwilling to list location. Seriously, it doesn’t matter how good the job is if it’s going to take me 2 hours and three different types of public transit to get there.

  17. Erik*

    As for item #1 – I’ve blacklisted some companies because of this practice.

    #2 – definitely a problem with some companies. I always request a phone screen before taking time out of my schedule just to find out that I’m not a match within 10 minutes.

    I just had an interview this week that could’ve easily been done over the phone. It wasn’t a complete waste, since I had to be in the area anyway, but still…

  18. Confused*

    4. Asking softball questions
    I think it’s also important how you ask. I once had an interviewer who tried to ask a behavioral question but phrased it oddly and about a specific high profile person I had worked with as “did you have any problems working so-and-so?” It was awkward as I didn’t have anything bad to say, would never ever mention anyone by name in that context, and didn’t even realize, until later, what he was trying asking so I could answer using a different example.
    But this was years ago, I had less interview experience, and was not yet a AAM reader :)
    “When you know better, you do better” -Maya Angelou

  19. MR*

    I suspect that in the next 15-20 years, degrees will become less of a barrier to entry to the workforce then they are today.

    I received my MBA from a Big 10 university just over six years ago and as time goes on, I feel more and more as though it was a waste of time and money.

    All it is, is a nice fancy piece of paper on the wall. It doesn’t make me any better than a lot of people I’ve worked with in my career who don’t have college degrees, let alone graduate degrees.

  20. Ali*

    I am in the process of applying for internships for experience for my grad program, and one company showed interest in me. I asked if they wanted to do a phone interview being that I live about two hours away from them, but they would only do in person. Honestly, I feel like it’s kind of a pain to have to drive two hours away for what…what may be a half-hour interview at best? Maybe an hour if we’re really pushing it? And for an unpaid, part-time internship that I’d be balancing with my full-time paid job and my grad school work….ugh…

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