5 Mistakes to Avoid as a Job Interviewer

“How’d your job interview go?”

“Not so good.”

“What happened? Did someone else get the job?”

“No, I was offered the role. But there’s no way I would ever work for those people.”

Mistakes made by interviewers during the recruitment process not only impact the candidate experience but will ultimately lead to poorer hiring outcomes.

80–90% of candidates say a positive or negative candidate experience can change their minds about a role or company. This means they will either drop out of the hiring process or (if they accept a job offer) they will begin their new job already feeling disengaged.

There are plenty of factors in the hiring process that impact the candidate experience, including a clunky application process or poor communication practices. But as a rule, candidates are willing to reserve judgment until they get past the automated part of the journey and meet real human beings. At that point, they’ll assess whether the interviewers seem competent, professional, fair, and unbiased. 

Let’s explore some of the common missteps made by interviewers that range from inconsiderate to downright illegal.  

1. Treating the candidate unprofessionally

Four out of five candidates say the overall candidate experience they receive is an indicator of how a company values its people. In terms of the interview, poor treatment may include last-minute cancellations or keeping a candidate waiting. According to Talent Board’s Candidate Experience report, “time being disrespected” was one of the top three reasons candidates withdrew from a hiring process.  

Other types of unprofessional or disrespectful behavior include dressing inappropriately, although this varies depending on what type of business you’re in – a polo shirt may be fine in a tech start-up, but out of place in a legal firm.

For video-based interviews, a little preparation will help with avoidable technology issues and distractions (such as the kids interrupting when you’re interviewing from home). Don’t forget the basics we all learned during the pandemic – don’t sit in front of a window, make sure you have adequate lighting, check your background isn’t distractingly messy, and so on.

Keep in mind that it’s a candidate-driven market at present. Amid fierce competition, interviewers should be doing everything they can to roll out the red carpet for top talent who have zero tolerance for poor candidate experiences. 

2. Straying off-script

I get it. Interviewing (particularly in high-volume situations) can be tedious, particularly if you are rigidly sticking to a structure and asking multiple candidates the same questions. It’s natural to give in to the temptation to drop the script and just let the conversation flow. But unstructured or informal interviewing techniques can easily create the perception of bias.

If someone mentions that they studied at your alma mater, for example, this can lead to a chat about the college and a discovery that you have plenty of things in common such as favorite bars and restaurants. This inevitably exposes you to affinity bias.  Unstructured parts of the interview cannot be measured against the answers from other (standardized) conversations. Besides, it’s probably irrelevant in terms of whether or not they’ll be good at their job.

It may be important to assess the candidates’ ability to hold a conversation – is the conversation free-flowing or stilted? Will they be able to put your clients at ease in sales or service calls? However, conversational ability should be assessed within a standardized framework, rather than simply by letting the conversation flow.

3. Interviewing alone

Hiring managers may be tempted to conduct a one-on-one interview to save the trouble of coordinating multiple schedules and lighten colleagues’ workloads. It’s easier to establish a connection with the candidate in a one-on-one setting, but doing so exposes the organization to a higher likelihood of bias.

Create a diverse panel of three to five colleagues. “Diverse” in this case could not only mean ethnicity, gender, age, etc, but also diversity of seniority, experience, and roles. Having a diverse panel will mean interviewers bring their own experiences and perspectives to the process and will make different observations of the candidates’ performance.

Having a higher number of panelists can also be helpful in putting the candidate under pressure and seeing how they react. 

Remember, however, that more panelists means more admin. Someone needs to be in charge of scheduling (hint: use scheduling software in high-volume hiring) and do not allow other panelists to cancel at the last minute (see point one above).

4. Succumbing to any number of unconscious biases

Affinity bias, confirmation bias, conformity bias, likeability bias – there are so many potential pitfalls to look out for when conducting interviews. A good place to start is to accept that we are all biased, be aware of the dangers, and educate yourself to do better.

Don’t interview alone. Build a diverse panel and conduct a structured interview to ensure every candidate is treated fairly. Be open to having your assumptions challenged and seek out the viewpoints of diverse panel members.

You’d be surprised how many interviewers make the rookie error of asking questions that are barred by the US Equality Employment Opportunity Commission. As Inhersight.com points out, these questions are often asked simply to make conversation, but that doesn’t make them any less illegal.

Banned questions include asking about the candidates’ age, birthplace or citizenship, disabilities, gender, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, pregnancy, race or ethnicity, and religion.

Learn what you can and cannot ask on the EEOC website. Don’t try to find workarounds for asking banned questions – for example, asking someone when they graduated is a coded way of asking their age. Concentrate on the basics and uncover the skills and experience candidates need to do their job.

 5. Failing to give the candidate time to ask questions

“Do you have any questions for us?”

This question is often squeezed in at the end of an interview rather than being given the time it deserves. Having questions from candidates offers you a chance to assess their level of interest and the research they’ve done. Are they asking intelligent, thoughtful questions or just cut-and-paste questions they’ve found on the internet?

In a previous article, I recommended that candidates use reverse behavioral interviewing to ascertain the truth of claims made in the job description. Be prepared to answer difficult questions and don’t try to dodge or change the subject.

Treating candidates with respect, keeping to a structure, having a diverse panel, being aware of unconscious bias, and giving candidates time to ask questions will help you improve the candidate experience and help prevent top talent from dropping out of the hiring process.