these are the most important things I want you to know about being a good interviewer

So, you want to be a good interviewer. Maybe it’s your first time hiring people, or maybe you’ve been doing it for a while with less than stellar results. Maybe you’ve had your own terrible interviewers and want to make sure you don’t inflict that on someone else – or inflict bad hires on your colleagues.

I get asked all the time about how to be a good interviewer, so here’s your primer to being a good interviewer.

1. Don’t wing it.

A startling number of interviewers don’t prepare much for interviews. They might read a candidate’s resume for the first time a few minutes before the interview, and they don’t put much time into figuring out specifically what to screen for and how to do that. Instead, they rely on informal, unstructured conversations, which leads them to make hires based far more on gut than on any kind of rigorous assessment.To interview well, you’ll need to put real time into figuring out what you’re looking for and how you’ll suss it out.

2. Get clear on your must-have’s.

It might sound obvious: when you’re hiring, you need to know what qualifications you’re looking for. But hiring managers often don’t do the serious reflection needed to separate the true must-have qualifications from those that are nice-to-have’s or not relevant at all. The most obvious example of this are job postings that require college degrees for work that shouldn’t require a degree at all. (Does your communications manager really need a bachelor’s degree? Or does she need great writing, social media skills, and a track record of getting stories placed?) But you see this with other things too, like interviewers who deduct points for shyness for jobs that don’t require an outgoing personality or screeners who reject people over typos for jobs that require little written communication.

You should also be thoughtful about what’s an underlying quality or talent that would be hard to teach in the amount of time you have available (like critical thinking, meticulousness, or initiative) and what can be developed in the right person (like expertise in a particular software).

3. Figure out how you’ll assess your must-have’s.

Once you’re clear on the must-have skills, experiences, and qualities for the job, your primary goal in an interview will be to find out how well the candidate matches up with that list. So your next step is to figure out how you’ll evaluate those things.

That means you need to devise interview questions that really probe into the traits and experiences you’re interested in. In doing this, be sure to focus on the actual, not the hypothetical. Don’t ask, “How do you think you’d handle X?” Instead ask how the person has actually handled X, or situations close to it, in the past. It’s easy for candidates to come up with good answers to hypothetical questions about how they think they might act. You’ll get much more useful data about candidates if you instead delve into how they have actually operated.

4. Ask follow-up questions.

Once you’ve figured out what you want to ask candidates, you have your starting point for questions, but it’s crucial that you don’t see that list as your complete interview script. To interview well, you’ll need to go beyond surface answers and explore the nitty-gritty of how a candidate thinks and operates. To do that, you’re going to need to ask a ton of follow-up questions based on what you hear. For example: “X sounds like it would have been an obstacle — how did you approach that?” “Was it successful?” “What was most challenging?” “How did you navigate that?” “What happened after that?” “What would you do differently if you were doing it again?”

5. See candidates in action.

Besides direct questioning, it’s crucial to create ways to see candidates in action during your hiring process – so that you’re not relying on candidates telling you what they can do, but instead are actually seeing them do it. You can’t assess effectively assess candidates through interview questions alone; you also need to employ exercises and simulations so you can see candidates’ real work.

For example, you might have applicants for communications positions write a press release for a fake event, or have analyst candidates research and summarize their findings about a piece of legislation, or ask prospective assistants to role-play a tricky situation. (It’s important that you don’t use any of this work for real; it’s for assessment purposes only unless you pay them for it.)

Often in doing this, you’ll find that a person with an impressive resume and polished interviewing skills actually isn’t as strong as they had appeared. You also might find the reverse – that a candidate is stronger than you had assumed from their resume.

6. Don’t ask silly interview questions.

If you’re following the advice above, hopefully you’re not going to ask oddball questions like “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” or “What song would you sing on American Idol?” But in case you’re tempted, let me say in clear terms: Don’t do it. These questions don’t connect to your must-have’s, and they’ll irritate good candidates.

7. Put people at ease.

Interviews are inherently high-pressure situations, but it’s in your best interests to put candidates at ease as much as possible. You want to see what people will be like to work with day-to-day, not what they’re like when they’re nervous and in “interview mode.” So unless the job requires someone to perform well in hostile situations, be warm and friendly and try to lower some of the pressure.

8. Know that bias is a real thing – and work to combat it.

As an interviewer, you have an obligation to actively work to combat bias in yourself and your colleagues as you assess candidates. Most of us are drawn to candidates who remind us of ourselves or who we’d feel comfortable getting a beer with, but this can blind you to people’s weaknesses or to other candidates’ strengths. And unsurprisingly, this is how companies end up with homogenous staffs with little diversity.

Being vigilant about assessing all candidates against the same list of must-have’s can help mitigate some of the biases that creep into the interviewing process, but it’s also worth doing things like taking the (free) Harvard Implicit Association Tests and learning about how bias plays out even among well-intentioned interviewers.

9. Commit to truth in advertising.

It’s natural to want to present your organization and the job you’re hiring for in the best light, but it’s crucial that candidates have a thorough and realistic understanding of what they’d be signing up for: the job, the organization, the culture, the manager, and the people. Resist any temptation to downplay less appealing aspects of the job (like long hours or tedious work or difficult clients). In fact, to the contrary, be proactive about disclosing those things. Otherwise you’ll end up with a hire who feels misled – and who might not stick around.

10. Realize candidates are assessing you as much as you’re assessing them.

Some interviewers approach interviewing as if they hold all the cards and will treat candidates in ways they’d never treat, say, clients – like starting the meeting very late, checking email and taking calls throughout, or being dismissive or even hostile. But good candidates have options, and they’ll be assessing you right back. They’ll pay attention to things like how respectfully you treat them, whether you’re focused or distracted, how interested you are in answering their questions (and whether your answers sound thoughtful or canned), whether you can clearly describe how you’ll measure success in the role, and how they see you interact with colleagues during the hiring process. So as you’re deciding which candidate to choose, don’t forget the candidate must choose you as well.

I originally published this at New York Magazine.

{ 68 comments… read them below }

  1. DaniCalifornia*

    I literally came onto the site today to search interviewing bc my boss asked me to take over an interview today when originally I was supposed to “tag along”! Thank you Alison!

  2. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

    Since I am a serial job candidate, I want to further harp on #10 with please be respectful of job candidates when it comes to making your meetings with them meaningful. I think sometimes hiring managers think they are the only ones being inconvenienced during the hiring process because they have to take time to interview multiple candidates. But understand that sincere candidates typically do a LOT to prepare for interviews. Prepping their answers, buying new clothes and/or dry cleaning, getting a professional blowout (in my case), getting resumes printed, preparing case studies if applicable, taking PTO off work (some of us have to work extra hours to make up the time lost). We may be just a number to you, but we are putting in a lot of effort into assessing whether this is a worthwhile job opportunity for us. Please helpfully answer candidate’s questions about the job and represent the position accurately.

    1. Jamie*

      I co-sign every word of this. I took PTO to go to an interview for a job said to involve minimal travel.

      I was left waiting in a room for over an hour while my interviewer tended to an emergency only to learn after another 40 minutes of talking that “minimal travel” meant 1 week out of every 6 in China in addition to 4 days twice monthly in South America.

      If they knew the definition of minimal when they contacted me it could have saved us both a lot of time.

      1. Adlib*

        Whoa. Just wondering about what kind of job would entail such drastic travel! (I’m sure there are other jobs that would require even more which still boggles my mind.)

        1. Quill*

          “Minimal” might be industry specific but if you’re expecting someone to travel every month, that needs to be made more clear.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              That would be minimal travel at my brother’s job. Whatever they’re paying him, they ain’t payin’ him enough.

            2. Derjungerludendorff*

              Across multiple continents no less.
              So thats going to be at least 5-6 days of heavy travel, with the ensuing jetlag, packing and so on.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Not sure about Jamie’s case specifically but this rings my bells of having other offices/factories that need to be visited for various reasons.

          I previously worked in importing product from South America and so there was travel for a lot of people, not be because I was just a kid out of high school at the time. But had it not went belly up, I would have spent a lot of time at our sourcing farms.

      2. BlueDays*

        I wish more job descriptions were clear about travel requirements too.

        At one interview I went to, they revealed that the person they hired would spend the first six months to a year traveling to the company’s other sites in various states across the country in order to get training.

        At another interview, they revealed that the person they hired would need to drive to their warehouse an hour and a half away a couple times a month whenever there was an “emergency” need for promo items.

        I’m not interested in jobs that require any travel at all and would have not have applied if they mentioned those things in the job listings.

        1. 1234*

          I was low-key recruited for a job about a month ago. Someone met me and said I should interview at her company because they’re fantastic, blah blah. [I was already not interested in the company.]

          She then said “Do you like to travel?” and immediately alarm bells went off in my head. Turns out one of her colleagues spends her work life driving up and down and across a few of our nearby states. She wanted to see if I was interested in a similar role and said “The company perks include free car insurance and a company car.” Still no.

    2. DaniCalifornia*

      This! I just spent 8 weeks interviewing, taking assessments and aptitude tests to be put off with a “It’s not you it’s us, we just can’t quite figure out what we need from you.” for a new EA role. Why did you even reach out to my recruiter and ask about me if you didn’t want to hire anyone right now?!?

      Had an interview last week that knew the specifics of my salary range and invited me last minute, less than 24 hours to prepare. Drove downtown in the middle of the day for a short interview and I didn’t really like the company. That’s ok that happens, but my recruiter called me afterwards and said the hiring manager told them they loved me but my salary range was too high. I had to make up the 3 hours I missed and it’s our busy time.

  3. Guacamole Bob*

    I’m in government and our interviews are very structured – we ask a series of pre-set questions to all candidates, take copious notes, and then have more open time for Q&A in both directions. I was a bit skeptical going in, but I actually really like it. Being able to compare candidates’ answers across the same question really does get the panel discussing what the most important qualifications for the role are and each candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Putting some thought into the questions is also important – if you only get 6-8, they each need to count.

    I do think one key is to acknowledge the awkwardness of the structure up front and to be generally warm and friendly in demeanor, not come across like a robot. The hiring manager on a panel I’m currently on makes a point of explaining to candidates that seeing us writing furiously isn’t a sign of anything good or bad and is just what we have to do, and we start off by introducing ourselves and a bit about what each member of the panel does.

  4. Stickler*

    Typos in a résumé/cover letter can indicate a lack of attention to detail, not a lack of writing skills. I could overlook one or two (at the most) mistakes, but any more than that and that candidate would be disqualified, unless there was some exceptional skill/experience I would be unlikely to find elsewhere.

      1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

        I’m usually fairly forgiving for typos because of this fact. Unless I’m hiring for a copy editor or content creator, typos aren’t a deal breaker for me. Even then, with electronic submissions for job postings, you can’t always control what your materials look like on the other side.

        I’ve had a fair number of colleagues try to hold “typos” against candidates that were nothing more than other ways of conveying the same information. Think MTWRF vs MTWThF.

      2. Rabbit*

        Reading the article though I thought that the study didn’t really justify the conclusion in the article – I thought it seemed like being told the writer was black was putting the test subjects in a more critical frame of mind, which might lead them to pick up on more errors in order to justify their own prejudice.

        It reminded me of a study where a group were given CVs for two potential police chief candidates – A with more academic experience, B with more on-the-street experience. They were told one candidate was male and one was female – and another group vice versa. Both groups picked the male candidate as the better choice on average – but depending on whether they’d seen A or B they would choose different justifications.

        Of course most of these studies are done with tiny sample sizes under extremely specific conditions and are therefore of limited usefulness

        1. Evan Þ.*

          In one sense I agree, but in another sense being in a more critical frame of mind is exactly the problem: as the article said, it makes you notice more typos and treat them more harshly. Yes, if you had a hard and fast rule of disqualifying anyone whose resume fails an automated spellcheck, that’d probably be fair – it’d be stupid, but fair. But, perhaps fortunately, that’s not what people are doing.

          1. Psych0Metrics*

            I actually would see the leniency in the white candidate as the bigger issue- noticing only ~3 out of the 7 spelling/grammar errors seems pretty poor.

          2. Rabbit*

            First sentence: yes, that was my point

            Second sentence: I don’t follow the logic – it’s fortunate that people aren’t doing the fair option?

            1. Lance*

              In this sense, it’s ‘fair’ in that it’s completely non-discriminatory; anyone with such errors gets rejected, regardless of any other factors.

            2. Evan Þ.*

              It’d be a fair option in that it isn’t racially discriminatory. But it’s also a stupid option because people would be writing off a lot of candidates based on factors that aren’t really relevant to the work – including, most likely, people who use quite valid industry-specific terms that don’t make it into whatever spellchecker’s being used.

              I’m glad hiring managers don’t have a hard and fast rule to write off everyone who falls in that bucket.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, but that’s the point — when the reader knows someone is black (and you often can take a decent guess at race from contextual clues on a resume), it turns out that they judge typos more harshly. That lines up pretty well with a lot of other things we see with black employees getting less feedback, being judged more harshly for mistakes, etc. It’s really important to be aware of it.

          1. Rabbit*

            I agree with you I think – but my point was that there isn’t anything special about typos/grammar in particular – so it’s not that judging based on that leads to inadvertent bias, it’s that this is one of the ways that bias can emerge. So the solution isn’t to stop taking typos into account (which is how I read your post in the context of the one it was replying to) – and if that’s all you do you risk the bias finding another route to come out…

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              For me, it’s encouraged me to reflect on (a) how does this line up with signs this person does/doesn’t have the must-haves for the role and (b) would I be more lenient if this were someone I already knew and trusted to do good work in general?

              1. Womble*

                I mainly hire copywriters and editors and therefore pretty much have a zero tolerance policy on typos in applications. The one time in 15 years I overlooked a few typos and hired the person anyway, it was someone I already knew. That lack of attention to detail played out in their work and it was just an all-round mistake. I now double-down on the zero tolerance, but honestly it’s getting harder and harder. I would say at least 40-50% of applications I receive (again, for jobs where clear and accurate written communication is vital) have typos in them. It’s very strange.

      3. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*


        I think the phenomena of double standards applies to more than just typos. My friend and I were talking about this – if you use the metaphor of a scorecard to measure the performance of each job candidate, you can say minority candidates start off with a negative score – 1 point deducted for each quality that makes them unappealing to typical employers. In other words, employers already start off the hiring process not being too thrilled about the minority candidate, making it easier for them to fall in ranking compared to their competitors. It can also affect how the interviewer treats the interviewee – if a hiring manager is not thrilled to begin with, they will be less warm to the job candidates and work less hard to build rapport during the interview.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          > you can say minority candidates start off with a negative score

          This is exactly what “white privilege” is talking about, in its bass-ackwards way. (It’s a brilliant realization that is expressed in this terrible phrase that should have stayed in academia.) Same for “male privilege”. In both cases, the “privilege” is that you don’t have obstacles that some people have.

          John Scalzi expresses it brilliantly when he says that “male privilege” is like playing a computer game on the “Easy” setting. It’s not that you’ll automatically win, it’s just that it’s … easier to win. (I’ll link the essay in a reply to this reply.)

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree – and attention to detail is one of the core skills (must-have qualifications) for which I interview, so if a resume has multiple typos, the attorneys interviewing the candidate are going to be concerned about his/her ability to catch their typos in court documents. But it’s very important to the type of job for which I interview and not just a random pet-peeve of mine.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s the key though, is how does it tie into the job you’re hiring for.

        If you’re hiring a copy editor or someone to proof read court documents, then you are going to be more reasonable being concerned about clerical errors. But if you’re hiring a person to run a copy machine and keep the coffee pots full all day long, why does it matter, kind of thing.

  5. NotAnotherManager!*

    I don’t know how people interview effectively without nearly everything on that list. I have to have a prepared list of questions getting at the skills I think are critical – how else could I assess fitness for the position? And I want to ask all the candidates about those skills to compare/contrast.

    I actually tell candidates that I see interviews as an opportunity to assess us as much as we are them (#10) and to ask about whatever is important to them – it needs to be a good fit on both sides, or it’s not going to work out.

  6. Ben Marcus Consulting*

    I came to a lot of these points on my own after years of experiencing bad interviews. To me, the biggest take aways are preparation and putting the interviewee at ease.

    I’ve witnessed a lot of people “prep” for an interview by assembling a list of questions that they’ll walk every candidate through, regardless of the background they’re offering. I think this is highly templated and gives the sense that the organization is more interested in maintaining status quo that hiring based on talents.

    I’ve also witnessed many interviewers try to put their candidates at ease by asking highly personal questions or make inappropriate jokes. I assume the logic is that it makes them seem more casual, but then they flip right into an intense interview mode. So now the interviewee is feeling both awkward and stressed.

    I try to prepare an outline of the conversation I want to have with each candidate based on their background. I study their resume, and supporting materials, to figure out what talking points are going to give me the most information possible on how well they’ll fit into the company, and I’ll draft out a few exercises to see how they would cope with various scenarios. I feel that this shows that I’m putting actual consideration into a candidate and not throwing spaghetti at the wall. I also feel that an actual conversation helps to put candidates more at ease, rather than feeling grilled with 20 questions.

  7. Psych0Metrics*

    I remember an interview once where the interviewer clearly just had pre-planned questions and responded to every one of my answers with “Alllrighty” before just moving on to the next one. It was tough because I was used to follow-up questions from interviewers where I could explain my answers in more detail. The back-and-forth works better than “Interviewer asks question, interviewee gives answer, rinse and repeat” in my opinion.

    1. Banana Bread Breakfast*

      I work in academia, and we always have to prepare questions in advance and submit them to the university for approval, usually for about a quarter to a half of the process is in this format. At the end, typically, we get some time for back and forth, and there is often a presentation portion with an open Q&A. This is pretty standard across my corner of academia.

    2. irene adler*

      I heard “Awesome!!” after every response.
      As time went on, interviewer gave a robotic, “awesome.”

    3. Oh No She Di'int*

      This reminds me of an interview or two I had. But viewed a bit more charitably, I’ve come to learn that interviewing can be as stressful for some people as being interviewed. People don’t always know what to say or aren’t good at more impromptu discussion, which is what you have to be good at in order to give nuanced follow-up questions or individualized feedback.

      I once knew a lady who was simply terrified by the interview process. She just didn’t feel comfortable doing it, even though she had to as part of her job. There was no way she was going to anything other than ask the question, listen respectfully to the answer, and then ask the next question.

  8. Another Lawyer*

    I’m curious how other lawyers handle a typical firm callback interview, where a law student or lateral hire meets with a bunch of current associates or partners in a single day. At my firm at least, we’re given the resume in advance, but otherwise not given much training or guidance on how to conduct the interview. That leads to a lot of “gut feeling” type assessments from people.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Anyone on the associate/lateral interview schedule at my firm attends an interviewing orientation/101 lunch, and they are also provided (with every resume packet) a set of guidelines for what to ask (and NOT to ask) a candidate. (A work friend and I have named these guidelines (the “Bob Guacamole Honorary Info Sheet”) after a former partner who was not allowed to interview after a regime change in HR because they could not be trusted not to veer into the hard-NO categories.) We also have a recruiting committee (made up of attorneys) that preps interviewers, answers questions, and reviews/follows up on feedback.

    2. Coverage Associate*

      0 training here. It’s actually scary from a risk management perspective. I read AAM, etc., but my paid work doesn’t involve employment law. I could not know the no-no questions.

      But as an associate, I try to make my time with candidates more about what they should know about the firm than an assessment of them.

  9. Quill*

    Recruiters looking for contractors: I don’t need resume coaching from someone who doesn’t know what the equipment or protocols listed on my resume are! Also please don’t ask me to travel to your contracting company office for a fake interview.

    1. juliebulie*

      Ugh, yes (agree) to both of those.

      My fake interview visit turned me off to the contracting company anyway. If you want people to visit your office, it has to look as though you’ve repaired any damage to the ceiling that took place more than 15 years ago. And shouldn’t reek of cigar smoke. (It was 2003.)

  10. Professor Plum*

    I’d love to see a similar article on how employers can set up their online application systems better. Including that they actually go through the submission process itself. Maybe it’d be a good ‘ask the readers’ topic. I’m sure those of us in the job searching trenches have plenty of good ideas.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Seconded. Even the big name recruiting software is craptastic from the applicant’s viewpoint.

      Example: Fill in all your experience in their format, including managers names and salary history, without allowing for contract at $company, THEN upload a resume (Word doc only) and THEN give them your LinkedIn link. Unless I really want the job, I’m not going to do the same thing three different ways. It’s a computer, parse my resume yourself, or don’t ask for it.

      Also, don’t ask me for references up front. For each reference request, I contact the reference, get their current details and tell them what I have applied for. I don’t do this unless it is getting serious. I have more respect for these people’s time.

  11. Mike*

    Regarding biases: Real recently we did some hiring and I noticed that some thoughts/questions came into my head as I was reviewing the resumes. Some positive and some negative but all were biases. Some were “I wonder how well this person communicates in English given their name” and others were “man, it looks like this person just immigrated and could use a hand”. I had to stop and name what I was doing and the focus on the task which was reviewing resumes to determine who to test and interview. How well the person communicated in English would come out during the interview and while helping a new immigrant would be nice that isn’t why we are hiring the position. It also helped to have a boss to talk to and get some grounding. And during the interviews itself it was really helpful to have a diverse group of people who will see different things.

    1. Fikly*

      Props to you.

      The point isn’t to be unbiased – that’s impossible. The point is to be aware of your bias, and hopefully compensate for it.

    2. Texan in Exile aka golddigger*

      My organizational behavior prof in grad school had us submit all work under the last four digits of our social security number so she could be as unbiased as possible.

  12. Susan Windrunner*

    I have also been invited to “first come, first served” interviews. One place gave me a specific time period, another just wanted me to drop in at any time. I thought it was weird because how would the interviewer be prepared for who might come, and if it’s going to be based on personality since I take a while to get less shy with people. I can see this for retail or food service type jobs, but these were supposed to be clerical type jobs.

    1. BlueDays*

      I was asked to drop in any time for an interview during a specific time period too–ended up not going. My fear was that I’d show up and have to wait for a bunch of other people to finish their interviews first, and I’m not willing to wait around for more than 15 minutes. That’s a good point that this kind of interview also indicates the interviewer isn’t doing anything to prepare.

    2. 1234*

      I’ve done these before. Not for retail or food service but customer service roles.

      The manager was more interested in making sure that you had the paperwork filled out correctly rather than asking questions to determine fit. She also focused most of the interview on what their needs were/their company policies and didn’t ask too many questions about your background.

  13. Nicotene*

    On #5 I wish Alison had reiterated what I’ve heard her say before about being considerate re: the amount of time you’re asking a job seeker to spend on an exercise, versus where they are in the process. Soo many jobs now have hour-plus “assignments” in the initial job posting, but you know you are going to reject 99% of applicants – why make them all waste that much time? And even later in the process, it’s disrespectful for skills tests to take more than an hour or so IMO. Personally I would rather do a skills test on site with a time limit, even though that can be stressful, versus an open ended assignment that could take a week.

    1. dovidbawie*

      Interesting, I’m a bit opposite as far as skills tests go. My “working interview” for the company I ended up with [that I LOVED] did a three hour assignment on site. It was paid & the manager basically trained me on the core duties. It worked for me in that it gave me time to get comfortable & get in a really good groove. But I recently did a timed online test for something I can do in my sleep, & because it was only an hour I completely bombed because nerves took over for a good chunk of the time.

      Both of those situations were well after first interviews, however.

  14. 1234*

    I thought the part about “homogeneous workforce” at OldJob to be so true. Of course, maybe in both situations noted below, the people hired were the best candidates. Who knows.

    Finance Manager Arlene hired Katie to be the Assistant Finance Manager. Katie and Arlene had similar hair color, about the same height and sometimes even wore matching/similar outfits. One day, they both showed up in white button down shirts and one of them wore a purple skirt and the other a pink skirt. They were given a nickname in our office similar to “Office Twins.”

    Client Manager Laurie hired Samantha to be the Assistant Client Manager. Both went to college in the south in the same state, known for their football team(s). I can’t remember if they went to the same school or different schools but both ladies are big football fans as well.

    1. Sleepless*

      My old boss could not resist the following package: attractive (bonus points if tall and slim), athletic, outgoing, and highly extroverted. She couldn’t stay away from people like that. If one of them was a bad hire, it took ages for her to admit it.

  15. t*

    Another way to get a feel for people’s actual performance on the job is to use behavioral interview techniques. Basically, you ask a person to describe a situation they’ve been in where they had to do something or deal with something which shows how they handle it. You then ask really detailed follow up to understand how the person behaves on the job.

    I did this with one candidate, asking them to describe a situation where they disagreed with their boss on something. Initially, it sounded like a reasonable disagreement and the high level explanation sounded like the person handled it appropriately. But when I had them walk me through the specifics, it turned out that they had a shouting match with their boss and stormed out of the room. They were not hired.

  16. blech*

    I had to do one phone interview today before gong to an onsite interview with three other people. The first person I talked with was so rude I pretty much decided right then I probably wouldn’t want the job if it meant working with her. On the bright side, less pressure from then on!

  17. Curmudgeon in California*

    I would add, “Don’t use cognitive ability tests.”

    Some folks argue that they give a realistic assessment of whether they have the mental acuity for the job. Sure, they might.

    BUT. They also will screen out anyone with cognitive disabilities that in practice they can work around, but in the tests can’t be compensated for.

    Example: Attention to detail – picking out differences between two pictures. Seems reasonable, right? But what about people with mild vision impairments who can’t pick out the contrasts well enough to spot the differences? Or the person who has something like dyslexia and can tell the difference between two stripes or three stripes on a tiny picture? Your test will wash them out, but they might be perfectly fine working with black text on white, but have no clue about dark blue stripes on black.

    Another Example: Short term memory – see a “face” or “faces”, and pick them out of a bunch of faces flash by. Seems reasonable, right? But some people who have had head trauma, or god forbid are older than 30, may use other methods, like writing things down, to remember things. Are they not allowed to work for your precious start up with all the cool kids? Never mind that they have more experience than all of the people you’ve already hired, if they can’t remember a set of cartoon faces they are no good?

    Sometimes what you might think are absolute requirements for how to do things aren’t, and there are a lot of ways of paying attention to detail, remembering stuff, and doing math etc that aren’t covered by cognitive tests. I shouldn’t have to be able to do math in my head to work for you. That’s what calculators and spreadsheets are for.

    1. Sleepless*

      I have prosopagnosia. I’m pretty sharp, but I would flunk a test of facial recognition cold.

  18. Clisby*

    As a job-seeker, my favorite ever opening interview question was when I was applying to work at a small newspaper in SC.

    The editor looked at me and said, “Well? Are you worth a damn?”

    I said, “I think so.”

    And we went from there. I got the job, worked there for 3 years, and moved on.

  19. tamarack & fireweed*

    I recently had the first of two important job interviews (the second being tomorrow) – I mentioned it in the Open Thread. The first one was for an academic faculty position. My first. Tough. But fair … I anticipated most of the questions, but they were asked in a more pushy manner than I expected, which got me to scramble a bit. But I understand why.

    One question though I really disliked, and continue to think it was a bad one. The opener. It was something like which achievement in my entire career am I most proud of. Asked in a way that you could have used it for just about any job at any level except maybe for a teen’s first job.

    Why do I dislike it, other than being surprised by it? Because I think that ultimately the people who answer it well are one of two types: A) The ones who have encountered it before and have thought up a nice, thoughtful, reasonably sincere answer that fits well with the position they’re applying for. B) The ones who hear “what is your greatest scientific accomplishment”, are very proud of a particular scientific accomplishment and can’t stop talking about their scientific accomplishment.

    Neither of these is very significant for being a good academic scientist (and the question about scientific accomplishments comes up later anyway, when you talk about research programs).

    Me, of course, I had NOT thought up an answer that I could make sound sincere and thoughtful, so I went with the truth, which had the advantage that I’m able to talk about it sincerely and thoughtfully. About half-way through I realized that I was going down a path that any academic interviewing guide would strongly discourage…

    1. Hiring manager*

      Interesting perspective – we use a similar question in interviewing for roles that are moderately senior, but frame it as ‘tell us about a piece of work or project from which you have derived great personal satisfaction, and why you found it so satisfying’. I guess it’s a little different from asking about what someone is most proud of, since it’s a more about probing what motivates someone rather than asking them to impress me with the specific accomplishment. I find it a really helpful question to assess fit to the role, and in the context I interview in, I tend to find it puts people at ease (at least strong candidates for these roles, since the roles involve quite a lot of thinking on one’s feet). For me, your truthful and sincere answer would actually be far stronger than something that appeared pre-prepared, or someone who only named their best scientific paper!

  20. Hope*

    Alison (or AAM commenters), have you heard of the Applied platform (
    It’s an online job application tool that works to remove bias from the hiring process by asking job applicants to complete 3-6 short (250 word) answers related to the job, and then 3 hiring managers review those answers without looking at resumes in order to select the people who go to interview.

    I applied for a job that used this platform and it was the best job application process I’d ever gone through. Not just because of Be Applied, but it started things off on a great foot. When I first applied I thought “this job isn’t for me? They’re looking for someone more extroverted and confident in style” and it was being able to give some thought to the content of the job, and to know I’d be initially judged just purely on the quality of my ideas and experience, gave me the confidence I needed to ultimately do well in the interview process. I ended up not getting the job, but was one of the finalists and I’m still in touch with the hiring manager and have a great impression of the org, recommending them to others etc.

    It’s probably better suited to certain types of organisations and roles, but i think it’s such a great thing to get people immersed straightaway into what the job requires. Makes for a richer interview process too.

    The be applied blog is interesting reading too!

  21. Ralph Wiggum*

    I like to assess the usefulness of questions by noting my opinion of the candidate (yes/no, strong/weak) throughout the interview. This way I can track which questions actually drive me to useful information.

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