here’s what your job interviewers say after you leave the room

usnewsWouldn’t it be great if you could hear what your job interviewers say about you after your interview is over?

Or maybe not — although if you’re worried that interviewers are trash-talking you, they’re probably not, even if you weren’t right for the job. But interviewers do have certain ways of naming potential issues – and potential strengths – of the candidates they talk with. I’ve interviewed probably thousands of candidates in my career, and at U.S. News & World Report today, I run down some of the most common things that my colleagues and I find ourselves saying about candidates after interviews. You can read it here.

{ 83 comments… read them below }

    1. Jadelyn

      Other interviewers if it was a panel interview, themselves if they’re making notes, their manager if they’re going over the candidates prior to making a decision or justifying the decision they’ve already made.

    2. Trout 'Waver

      An on-site interview here consists of several short one-one-one interviews. I’ve heard variations of most of the comments Alison mentions in the context of debriefing other interviewers afterwards when I do hiring.

  1. Liz2

    I would imagine themselves when compiling notes or the interview team during a debrief or when talking with the hiring coordinator.

    1. AdAgencyChick

      Yup. After every round of interviews, recruiting sends everyone who interviewed the person that day a request for immediate feedback, so they can quickly figure out whether to move forward and if so, how.

      1. Mouse

        This is something I’ve always been curious about. Presumably, people talk about me right after the interview, and have at least a rough idea of whether they like me or not. Maybe their interviews are spread out over a week or so, but usually when I’m offered an interview I’m given a choice of slots on one or two days. So then, why does it take so long to hear back after an interview?

        1. fposte

          Because knowing they like you isn’t the same thing as knowing they want to hire you/move you on to the finalists, because they have to do their non-hiring work as well, and because they have to arrange times for the other candidates too. Going beyond that to hearing about final decisions–because sending out rejections tends to be low priority and avoided.

        2. Kate

          Our interviews can be spread over a month or more because of our schedules and candidates’ schedules. And if we don’t love anyone (but some are okay), we might conduct another round of interviews (but the “okay” candidates from round one will stay in the running). Then once we make a decision we need department sign off on salary, etc. We won’t notify second, third choice, etc candidates until the first choice accepts (because if they decline we will offer the the position to the second choice candidate, and so on). It can take quite a while. I’ve been part of several searches where the third choice candidate ended up getting the offer (because the first 2 declined – we’re in academia and our salaries are low relative to industry/govt), so you can imagine how long those took.

        3. Just J.

          Lots of reasons. We are probably interviewing multiple people and it may take awhile to interview them all. Or the hiring team wants to mull over their impression of you. Depending on the position, we may talk about the stronger candidates more than once. And it takes awhile to get us all in the room at the same time. Or for good candidates, we, the managers, then recommend you on to the “big bosses” who also have to take time to consider who you are and whether you meet our needs and are worth making an offer too.

          But mostly, all of the above takes time. We have so many other things to get done to meet the daily demands of daily business, that getting back to our candidates easily “slips”.

        4. Mouse

          Thanks everyone for the answers! I think maybe I sounded a little more adversarial than I meant to. I was really just curious. :)

        5. CAA

          You are probably falling into the group of “she seems fine, but there might be someone better just around the corner if we keep looking”. In my experience on the hiring side, this is the thing that drags out timelines the longest. Companies leave job postings open until filled and resumes keep trickling in as new people apply and everybody wants to choose the “best” candidate for the role. It’s expensive to hire someone, and lousy for morale if they don’t work out, and there’s pressure on hiring managers not to make a mistake.

          One thing I started doing recently is taking job postings down in order to limit the candidate pools so we have a finite group of people from which to choose. We collect resumes for 4 weeks, then I review them all at once and decide who to phone screen. After that, 3 or 4 finalists come in once to do a skills assessment, then meet with me, then a panel of my team leads, then HR; and then we all get together and make a choice. If the choice is “none of the above”, then we start over with a new posting. This should help candidates get a quicker answer (ideally 2 to 6 weeks after applying), and hopefully it will eliminate some of the “I’m just not sure” dithering that happens among the interviewers. There are risks with this approach, and we’ll have to see if the quality of our new hires declines.

          1. Pam

            In my academic job, this is how we work. Resumes aren’t reviewed until the job closes. In the case of a poor pool, we may tweak the ad and reopen it.

          2. MissDisplaced

            I once went on an interview and they guy said that he was interviews people from his “second pass” of resumes he may have overlooked before.
            Great. No job offer on that one.

        6. designbot

          People also may have to be making the case for funding your hire too. For me, it’s easy to get an ad run for a position since my bosses take the position that I should always have potential candidates in mind should the need arise, but harder to get them to pull the trigger on someone. So in between interviewing a candidate I like and giving them an offer, HR is calling their references and also putting together justification for the salary they think is fair. I am meanwhile pulling together timesheets and contracts to demonstrate to our financial team that I have the work coming in to sustain the salary that HR is putting forward. This usually involves a conversation between me and HR, me and the partners, the partners and HR, and an email chain between myself, HR, and finance.
          It can take a bit.

  2. wee_ramekin

    When I follow the link on my iPhone, no article appears, just Alison’s bio. Is this happening to anyone else?

    1. TeacherNerd

      I had a problem in which the article kept scrolling to the bottom, where Alison’s blurb appeared, or I would just be shown ads. Even if I kept trying to manually scroll up, the page wouldn’t let me. I’ve had this problem before with that website because of the sheer number of ads and videos. (I just closed and reopened my browser and then everything was fine.)

      1. Reader 55

        It was impossibly jumpy in Explorer, even when locking on the scroll bar. Nearly impossible to read.

  3. H.C.

    I’d also add any memorable red flags too (like the candidate who mentioned he’s a natural leader because he’s an areas, or another who included high school club fliers as an example of her graphic design knowledge, and those who were woefully underdressed for the interview.)

      1. Kathleen Adams

        Honestly, “areas” is probably better than “Aries,” at least as far as I’m concerned. :-)

    1. Bostonian

      Yes, even for strong candidates, we tend to talk about potential concerns, especially if there’s going to be a second round of interviews.

    2. Fake old Converse shoes

      I remember one candidate who shook hands with everyone but me (when it was my turn he went straight to the guy sitting behind me) before and after the interview. His technical skills were good for the position, but the interviewers decided his behaviour was too weird and he wasn’t called again.

      1. SJ

        Whaaaat? I hate to ask, but are you a woman or a POC (or both)? Just wondering why you you specifically were skipped.

    3. MissDisplaced

      high school club fliers as an example of her graphic design knowledge

      Oh, LOL!
      I had to interview several round of undergrad interns this year. Some of the things they put on their resumes sound as though they’ve been working 20+ years. I’m like, really, you’re a 3rd year undergrad, but you’ve “Led integrated international go-to-market plans for a fortune 500 company?” Uh Huh… And then your previous job was Barista at Starbucks. I don’t know who tells them to put that stuff on. It’s an INTERNSHIP. I don’t expect that much really.

      1. sstabeler

        I’d be inclined to suspect that the candidate drew up a “fantasy” resume- i.e. not to actually submit- and an actual resume, and accidentally sent in the fantasy one. (incidentally, I suspect the appropriate response if you do do this is to e-mail the company with an explanation, attaching your actual resume, since that would likely be your best shot at damage control. (it’d look bad regardless, but it’d better to look like someone who fixes their screwups as soon as possible than someone who is actively decietful.)

  4. JHunz

    I’ve been a part of group interviews a number of times, and the only thing on that list I’ve never said was the one about not understanding what the job was.

    Another negative one I’ve heard (and expressed) more than once is “I don’t feel like their resume was an accurate reflection of their skills”. Unfortunately very common feedback in the software world, where a phone screen failure rate is usually around 75-80%, and some of them make it past the phone screen as well.

    1. Bob

      As someone who is completely honest on their resume (and actually probably sandbags a little), my favorite interviews are the ones where they are just confirming my resume is accurate. My last two jobs, including the current one, were like that. They needed a wide range of skills and I happened to have done at least a little of everything they needed. When offering me the job, they both said something like “we’re hiring the person on this resume so as long as everything is true, you should work out fine.” Both jobs were a great fit with my skill set. The bad part is there is no resume for employers so they can pretty much lie freely but you have to work there to find that out.

      1. MashaKasha

        That last point is a really good one. I did have a few employers that told me everything that was wrong with them as a work environment, right there during my interview with them. Not to warn me, but because to them it was normal and not wrong at all.

        It’s just like dating. If you sit back and listen long enough, they will tell you why you don’t want to be dating them.

    2. DDJ

      Oh my goodness, I’ve had that reaction as well. There was one person who was actually perfect on paper, and I actually went to our remote site to meet with them because I was so sure that they were the candidate we’d been looking for. They didn’t outright lie on their resume, but they’d taken some liberties. One of the skills we desperately needed and that they’d highlighted on their resume ended up being “Oh, I did that for a month or two back in one of my first jobs about 20 years ago.” So…not great.

      Or people who make a great effort on their resume of figuring out how their prior experience will actually translate as great transferable skills, but in-person, they have an awfully hard time answering very simple questions about just that.

    3. MashaKasha

      Hah, I have probably failed a lot of technical screens. My resume accurately reflects what I’ve worked on. But I’m terrible at those ridiculous trivia questions where you are supposed to memorize the definitions of things you’ve worked on (“what’s an interface and what is an abstract class” et cetera), then rattle them off at an interviewer. I realize that there is no better way to even attempt to verify whether the candidate is being honest on their resume. But it’s seriously not a great way to check, even if it’s the only one available.

      I also had a bizarre experience once where I was asked to write code on a whiteboard, and it happened to be something that I actually did at work every day and could do in my sleep (as opposed to most of what I do, that is a combination of copy and paste and google it and or rely on intellisense to tell me what it is). I wrote the three lines of code, my interviewer looked at it and said “it is wrong”. “Why?” – “Not going to tell you why, it is wrong.” – “is it not going to work? can we test it?” (he had a laptop with him). “Nope, it’s wrong”. Ok whatever.

      1. sstabeler

        actually, I hate to say this, but it sounds like it might be that you misinterpreted what they were looking for. It’s one thing to know how to create a small piece of code that performs a function- which is what you do- and it’s quite another to understand the details of how to code an entire program. It’s not actually trivia to know the difference between an abstract class and an interface. They are two types of class that have wildly different uses. The idea of the question is to tell the difference between someone who can manipulate code to do what they want, and someone who can design code properly.

    4. SusanIvanova

      I have had the “doesn’t understand the job”, but that was due to the people writing up the job descriptions having a radically different idea of what we needed than we’d been telling them. Culture clash merger of two software companies, one that was very practical and one that thought they should hire PhDs to think elevated thoughts about code and coding peons to implement it – straight out of academia or the 50s! And they managed to find people with the same attitudes, so when we’d ask about coding that just reinforced their idea that they were being hired to direct us lowly clueless coding peons…

  5. Shadow

    Here are the questions I always discuss after an interview.

    1.Do they have the skills to do the job? What made you come to that conclusion?

    2. do we picture this person excelling from a performance perspective? Why/why not?

    3. Does the person have the interpersonal skills necessary to build relationships with co workers and internal/external customers?

    4. Does this position and our org align with this person’s career path and goals.

    5. How does this person compare to past and current candidates?

    1. fposte

      That’s a good list. I’d add, just to dig down a little more specifically, “Are there particular strengths they bring that would enrich our team?” and “Are there areas that they need development in/compensation for?”

    2. Annonymouse

      I’d also add “How does this persons skills/personality fit with the current team?”

      It’s good to have people with complimentary skills on the same level/team/role as well as skills that are backups for each other.

      I.e I’m much better than Jane at face to face interactions with clients and she is a whiz at doing the admin paperwork but we can both do both aspects.

      It would be bad business for only Jane to be trained on paperwork as she can’t have a holiday/business is screwed if she leaves if no one else can do her job.

      Also personality fit is something that matters. I’m not suggesting you only hire one type of person.

      Rather complimentary traits or if someone has to work closely with another team mate find out what each person needs/can’t stand from someone and adjust.

      I.e if I’m a chatty extrovert who loves socialising and Jane is needs long stretches of quiet and uninterrupted time to focus and work having us do the same task at the same table/open office space can easily make one or both of us unhappy if we can’t compromise or understand what the other needs.

    3. Oh The Places We'll Go

      Thank you for sharing this. I’ve been involved in a lot of interviews later and feel really scattered during our post interview de-briefs. These are all the topics we touch on, but I really like the structure of these questions.

  6. EA in Partly Cloudy Florida

    And here I thought one of the most common questions would be “Do I have time to use the restroom before the next interview?” :)

      1. MissDisplaced

        Me too. But to clarify, I had a 3 hour drive to the place and no time to use restroom. After about 1 hour of the interview, I still had another 1 hour ‘writing test’ to go, so I asked if I could use the restroom before I started the test. Didn’t get the job. Guess you can’t pee and must hold it.

  7. Hiring Mgr

    “His interpersonal skills seemed fine, but look at this cheap copy paper he printed his resume on. Why didn’t he use high quality paper stock?…I have concerns about his judgment”

        1. Mouse

          Oh good :) Thanks everyone! I thought I was going to have to go out and buy some fancy paper…

  8. Cassandra

    “Great for somewhere, but not here,” when there’s an obvious mismatch between what the candidate wants our organization to be and what it actually is. (This is like “not understanding the job,” but about the employing organization rather than the specific position.)

    In the case I’m thinking of, the candidate had the skills, had the temperament… but wanted a hard-driving high-growth mindset. Our department wasn’t looking to grow, for various reasons not germane to AAM. The candidate would have been a miserable Sisyphus, trying to drag us up a hill we didn’t want to climb. We chose a different candidate.

    1. DDJ

      Yes, this is an excellent point! And there are times when you might have an entry-level position that you’re ok saying “Well, they’ll be great in the role for a couple years before they’ll most likely want to move on,” but that’s not going to be the case for most jobs.

      A couple of the questions we ask during our interviews go pretty specifically into the kind of environment that the candidate thrives in – either dynamic or fairly static, do they like to just have their procedures and work without making a lot of changes, do they enjoy optimizing processes/procedures, those sorts of things. There’s nothing WRONG with preferring or working better in one environment versus another, it’s just that not everyone can be happy/productive in every type of environment.

  9. Aphrodite

    I found the picture that accompanied the article fascinating. The nonverbal language is screaming there. Two men on each side of one woman have squeezed her into a very tiny space, not just with their sprawled legs and posture (“Sit up!”) but also with their shoulders. She couldn’t get comfortable if she tried. The woman on the edge can at least cross her legs and lean to her right to take more space, but if I was an interviewer and came out to this view (I am very knowledgeable about nonverbal communication in everything, not just body language) I would “downgrade” the men and possibly the woman in the middle because I see both too much passivity on the woman’s part and too much aggression (and little consideration for others) on the men’s part.

    1. Alastair

      Can you elaborate on downgrading the woman? Would you dig for passiveness in the interview first or just assume it?

      1. Aphrodite

        I wouldn’t downgrade her interview but I’d be aware that she isn’t sharing the space, she’s accepting what is left over for her. It’s a bit too passive. She could ask one or both of the men to give her more room so she doesn’t have to hunch herself up to fit. Yes, I think that would be something to watch for. It might not be something but it might be. Just one of those brief hints that is worth probing for. (Same for the men too.)

        1. Optimistic Prime

          If a hiring manager came out to get me and then asked me why I had decided to sit upright and say nothing for the 5 minutes I was sitting next to two strange men (presumably either other job candidates, in which case they do these interviews really weird, or some employees, in which case – risky), while I am likely nervous and trying to harness my thoughts, I would personally downgrade the job itself because really?

          Actually, looks like she did take back a little space for herself – her arms are on top of their arms. Her legs may be together because she doesn’t want the world to see what’s up her skirt. (Also, this is reading way too much into a stock image.)

    2. Kj

      Weird, because the way the woman in the middle is sitting is how I was trained to sit in school. Her posture is correct and she looks as comfortable as you can be sitting next to strangers. How would she take up more space and be polite? What if she didn’t have a choice but to sit in the middle? The men are a bit sprawled, but I think that is pretty normal too. They obviously never went to catholic all-girls school! I might wonder at their presentation, but I wouldn’t ding them for it.

      1. Kathleen Adams

        I thought everyone looked kind of sloppy except the woman in the middle. They were OK for work, but for a job interview? Jeez, guys (and other gal), take a little trouble.

        1. Optimistic Prime

          All of these people look perfectly appropriate for an interview – maybe the guy second from the left is a tad bit sloppy but that’s mostly because he’s got the shirt unbuttoned. I do work at a tech company so we don’t do suits, but all of what they are wearing would be perfectly fine and in fact have been worn by successful interviewees here.

      2. nnn

        That’s what I was wondering. Her knees are together because she’s wearing a knee-length skirt and would be flashing the camera if she were to sit with them apart. Her shoulders are already overlapping the people next to her. What more could she do that would take up more space and would also be more appropriate?

        I think this fictional stock photo organization’s real problem is that their chairs are narrower than 75% of the people who need to sit in them.

    3. memyselfandi

      To me the woman in the middle is the only one who is positioned appropriately . That’s how I was taught to sit. She looks poised, to me, not passive.

      1. Christmas Carol


        Today seems to be salute to Miss Manners day

        Dont get me wrong, I dearly love both Allison and Carolyn , but sometimes I think many of the AAM issues could be solved w/a good dose of MM’s etiquette, and no small share of Haxville too

      2. Optimistic Prime

        Ehhh. Her reasoning seems to be mostly “Well, since men don’t cross their legs, women shouldn’t either,” which I reject. If I’m wearing pants and flats (which is what I wear to interviews), how is crossing my legs either distracting or unprofessional? Crossing your legs at the ankle is actually really annoying and honestly, for me it’s harder to keep my legs pressed together that way than if I just cross it at the knee.

    4. LabTech

      I noticed the differences in posture with respect to gender, too, but the men are sitting with their knees at roughly shoulder-length apart with their legs neatly crossed underneath the chairs. Aggressive posturing to me would be if they had their legs spread more widely, past the endpoint of their chairs, or splayed out their legs so their feet were kicked out.

      That’s not to say the gendered “polite” posture for women sitting down isn’t structured to be more passive than the “polite” men’s posture (it is), and all the institutional sexism that that entails, but were the men to emulate the women’s seated posture, it could very well be a strike against them by the interviewer due to the inherent hiring bias against LGBT people that would be associated with defying cis-gender norms. (As a gay man, I think about gendered body language a lot, having to ‘code-switch’ from more effeminate to more masculine gestures and postures depending on the circumstances and how friendly or hostile the environment may be.)

      Circling back to the article (so that my post isn’t too off-topic), I wonder how much bearing the interviewer’s immediate reaction following the interview has on their final decision on who to hire. I also tend to worry about how things like who interviewed most recently (so who’s most recent on the interviewer’s mind) and whether you’ve interviewed before lunch when they’re hankering for coffee have on who they go with.

    5. JHunz

      The crowding at shoulder level is because the chairs are too close together. An interviewer concluding anything else from this view is making some pretty extreme assumptions.

    6. Trout 'Waver

      For a lot of men, myself included, it is uncomfortable to sit with your knees above parallel. When faced with a too-low seat, it’s much more comfortable to sit as the men are in that picture. To infer anything about their personalities based on that is really weird and judgmental.

    7. Kikishua

      Honestly, I assumed the stock picture represented the interview panel, not the candidates!

  10. Akcipitrokulo

    I was helping interview… manager was leading, and as senior team member who would be doing day-day working with new person, I was involved. One was great…. confirmed their cv was accurate, answered technical questions confidently, warm, enthusiastic and felt like they would fit. Last 10 min of interview was “if you got it… ” followed by some technical chat about how job would go, what parts they were good at, where they weren’t as confident… and they were upfront about that but very keen to learn.

    I shook hands, manager shook hands and showed them out. Manager and I looked at each other. I said “yes.” Manager said “I’ll tell HR. ”

    And they accepted that day :)

    1. DDJ

      I had one of these as well. It was actually the initial phone interview for a position at a field location, but we knew as soon as we got off the phone that this was the right candidate, and trying to plan travel and another interview just didn’t make sense.

  11. Bob

    Unfortunately, other comments I have heard are things more out of your control like “I think he’s a little old for this position” or “she’s perfect but it’s a shame she has a nose ring”. I’ve heard the age thing a lot, especially as candidates hit their mid-50’s. Being in my mid-40’s now, the ‘older people aren’t relevant in IT’ stereotype concerns me a lot.

    1. Shadow

      I’ve said:

      “She talked a lot but didn’t really say much”

      “Even after asking specifics about them those accomplishments on her resume as suspect”

      “She kept saying “we” even after I specifically asked about her specific role . I wonder what role she really played in that.”

      “It was like pulling teeth to get her to talk. I wonder if she’s like that all the time.”

      “She sounded like she’s more interested in any job instead of this job at our company.”

      “That’s pretty impressive that she did some homework on our backgrounds on linked in, knew what our company is working on right now and how she’d contribute to that effort.

      1. DDJ

        “Talked a lot but didn’t really say much” is something I experienced during one of the first interviews I ever conducted. People who are really good at BS-ing and talking around a point without actually answering anything specifically. After a few redirects during the interview, it became clear we were dealing with someone who would only deal in generalities. I didn’t immediately notice what was happening (being a rookie to the interview process), but the manager who was sitting in with me caught onto it pretty quick.

        1. Felicia

          I’ve experienced that one too similar to the “she didn’t really answer the questions” person who was also similar to the “did she totally misunderstand the job?” person.

      2. Stranger than fiction

        If you don’t do that last one, then you risk being the second to last one.

  12. Kate

    “X is a deal breaker” (usually preceded by: “I was surprised by X”)
    We get a fair number of people exaggerating their analytical or language skills/experience in the CL and resumé. It always becomes obvious in the interview, and it is usually a deal breaker (both the fact that they don’t have the experience/skill and the fact that they try to claim that they have experience, say, coding an application, when really their experience consisted of testing the app and reporting bugs)

  13. Lora

    The only really odd thing I can remember, other than interviewees who were downright ignorant or rude in their interview, was a guy who was one of the most nondescript people on the face of the earth. Average height, brown hair, resume and answers were OK but nothing special, and for the life of us none of us could remember his actual name, only that he wore a yellow shirt. Of the five people who interviewed the guy, nobody could quite remember his name, to save our lives. So we named him Yellow Shirt Guy. HR asked us, what did you think of (person)? and we all asked, who? “(Person), the guy you interviewed for the supervisor position last week?” We had interviewed three people that week, we were all still lost at sea. “Wait…do you mean Yellow Shirt Guy?”

    There was a guy who out of the blue went on a rant about how evil Big Pharma was for both me and my boss (both of us were Big Pharma veterans at that point, although this particular job was at a startup) and we sort of blinked and said, well, uhhh have a nice day. Then my boss and I exchanged war stories about the worst interviews we’d ever done: his was one where the candidate lied on his resume, mine was one where a lady told me about the day she ruined a $$Millions$$ clinical trial and couldn’t understand why her boss was so upset because it should have been no biggie.

  14. Becky

    I recently participated in an interview as a senior team member for one candidate and both myself and the other senior team member stated the concern that the candidate might be overqualified right after she left. We otherwise thought she was a good candidate.

    Though it came down to her vs an internal candidate who already is familiar with our software and we ultimately chose the internal candidate.

    1. DDJ

      Overqualified candidates have been pretty prevalent the last little while. The sad reality in my job market is that there are a lot of people out of work who are just trying to get any job they can.

      Only one candidate actually said “I’m mostly interested in getting my foot in the door, because I’ve heard it’s a great company to work for.”

      But I had someone with 20+ years experience as a financial controller, who had been responsible for a department of 30 or so people, applying for an entry-level job. And as much as someone can say “I’m just looking for a change,” when the candidate has already been out of work for 18 months…it’s tough. Now, I’ve had people who I believed when they said “based on where I am in my life right now, I need to take a step back and work regular hours/have less on-the-job stress/take less of a supervisory role, but you can tell when someone is genuine, for the most part.

  15. Pooja Krishna

    Excessive aggression or cockiness is always a put off – it’s hard to make out whether the candidate is super sure of themselves or they are trying to project that image for our benefit. Either way, it doesn’t help your cause. I’d say, go for quiet assurance and be amiable. Companies always want to hire someone who will work well with others.

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