Posted on 9/7/2016

Four Common Mistakes that Interviewers Make, and How to Avoid Them

Jessica Tower

One bad hiring decision can cost an organization in many ways. Estimates of financial impact range from 30-90% of the person’s first year salary and benefits, depending on the level of the position. So, a bad hire in a $75,000 position might cost an organization between $29,250 and $87,750 (assuming benefit costs are 30% of salary). In addition to the financial impact, an unsuccessful hire can decrease morale, damage client relationships, and increase expenses related to overtime, lost productivity, and recruiting and training a replacement employee.  

Despite the obvious business impact, managers don’t always handle the hiring process properly. Below are four common interviewing mistakes, and solutions to protect your bottom line.

Mistake #1: Starting with the candidate, and not the job. When hiring, it can be tempting to jump right in and start meeting with candidates. But, without first knowing what skills and attributes to look for, it’s like getting in the car without having a destination: you’ll get nowhere fast. Too often a manager will get dazzled by a candidate’s charisma, and decide to hire the person without determining if they actually have the ability to do the job.

Solution #1: Determine specific job requirements first. Before interacting with any candidates, make sure everyone involved has a good understanding of the job’s requirements. What do you want this role to accomplish, and what skills or attributes will a person need to support those accomplishments? What skills does this person need to have on Day 1, and what skills are you willing and able to train this person on? For example, you may want a software developer to translate client needs into a working application. Some of the necessary skills are obvious, like SQL or other technical skills, but some may not be as obvious; to be successful, the programmer will also need good communication and project management skills. Once you have a list of the key skills and attributes, you can then determine how well a candidate will fit in the role. 

Mistake #2: Using an unstructured interview. Sometimes a hiring manager will “wing it” and go into an interview unprepared, but this strategy can backfire in a number of ways. First, since no two unstructured interviews will follow the same path, comparing two candidates becomes an apples-to-oranges comparison. Second, a lack of structure can give implicit bias more power, which can cause you to make decisions based on unconscious stereotypes instead of ability or potential, leading to sub-optimal and potentially discriminatory hiring decisions. Third, just as the interviewer is evaluating the candidates, candidates are evaluating the organization too, and they are rarely impressed by an unprepared interviewer. 

Solution #2: Create a standard list of questions that you ask all candidates. Write interview questions based on the job’s requirements, and ask each candidate the same questions. Save the more casual, “getting to know you” meetings for lunch on the new hire’s first day. Standard questions can provide more apples-to-apples comparisons between candidates. Bonus points for behavioral-based questions that prompt a candidate to share a previous experience using the STAR (situation, task, action, result) format. 

Mistake #3: Talking too much. Interviewers can talk too much for a variety of reasons. Maybe they want to appear powerful or smart to the candidate, they feel like they’re clicking with the candidate and get excited, or they’re just nervous. Regardless of the cause, talking too much defeats the whole purpose of the interview: getting to know more about the candidate and what he or she can bring to the organization. 

Solution #3: Talk half as much as the candidate, or even less. You have two ears and one mouth: use them proportionately when interviewing. After providing the candidate with some background on the role and the company, your primary job should be listening and getting the candidate to talk about their experience. Be comfortable with silence. Sometimes a candidate will need a few moments to respond to a question, and that’s ok. 

Mistake #4: Making a hiring decision based solely on an interview. We’ve all seen it: a candidate has a great interview, but once they start the job, it’s like they are a totally different person than the one that was interviewed. 

Solution #4: Use testing to supplement the interview. The truth is, many people can “play the game” and put on a good face for an hour-long interview, and often an interviewer ends up evaluating the candidate’s interview skills, rather than skills necessary to do the job. Using cognitive and personality testing in tandem with an interview allows you to get a more complete picture of the candidate, and ultimately make a better hiring decision. Just as it’s wise to get a home inspection before purchasing that dream home, testing can provide a check on (or help confirm) that gut feeling that you’ve found the perfect candidate.

About the Author

Jessica Tower | Plante Moran

Jessica Tower is a Senior Consultant within the Strategy & Operations team at Plante Moran, PLLC. Her practice specialty is in the area of Talent Assessment and Organizational Development.


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