Hiring? Don't Make the 7 Most Common Interview Mistakes

Last Updated Oct 20, 2011 2:42 PM EDT

Interview mistakes aren't limited to job candidates; interviewers make lots of mistakes too.
Here are seven of the most common mistakes interviewers make, and how to avoid them:

1. Talk about possibilities. Candidates naturally sell themselves, but interviewers often try to sell the candidate on the job. (That's especially true when you love your company.) Without thinking you describe exciting new projects, enhanced benefit programs, opportunities for promotion due to potential expansion... lots of hopeful stuff that might happen in the future. The problem is the candidate doesn't hear the word "might." The candidate hears "will," and you create expectations you may not be able to meet.

What to do: Never describe possibilities. (Describe typical career paths, for example, but only in a general sense.) When you discuss future plans only share details on approved projects or efforts currently underway. If you can't promise, don't bring it up.

2. Spring the surprise group interview. Group interviews are entertaining for interviewers but usually terrifying for candidates. Rarely will you get candidate's best. Plus, it's easy to fall into the group consensus trap, where during the group debrief everyone tends to drift towards the same opinion.

What to do: If the position will require working predominately within a team, a group interview can provide a feel for the candidate's suitability. Otherwise, hold individual sessions. And when you do conduct group interviews, tell the candidates ahead of time so they can prepare. It's only fair -- to them and to you.

3. Mistake discomfort or shyness for inability. Some people don't interview well. They're nervous or shy and don't make a great impression. An awkward interview does not mean mean a candidate can't do the job, though. Having a great desk-side manner in no way signals expertise.

What to do: Don't flip the "no way I'll hire this guy" switch too soon on uncomfortable candidates. Stay the course. Try to help them relax. You're a leader -- your job is to get the best from people. Plus, you may be the reason candidates are uncomfortable. If it happens a lot, think about your approach.

4. Fail to go off script. An interviewer should follow a plan and ask a reasonably specific set of questions, but it's easy to get so focused on asking questions that you don't listen to the answers. The best questions are almost always follow-up questions. (Most candidates are prepared for an initial question, but questions that drill deeper are much tougher to fluff.)

What to do: Listen. Then ask why. Or when. Ask how a project turned out. Ask what made a position hard or made a project difficult. Not only will you get past the prepared answers, but you could also learn great details the candidate never thought to share.

5. Monopolize. Interviews often turn into monologues -- delivered by the interviewer. Candidates rarely interrupt or try to restore balance to the interview because they want you to like them. Thirty minutes later the interviewee walks away dazed and your hiring decision is based on whether the candidate is a good listener.

What to do: Describe the position briefly. (Better yet, make sure the candidate has a good feel for the position before the interview.) Explain you'll answer questions at the end. Then dive in. The conversation should be 90% candidate and only 10% you -- at most.

6. Assume 10 "maybes" equals "yes!" Do you want to hire the candiate whose qualifications and interview fail to raise any red flags (or really excite you), or do you want the candidate who excels in a number of critical areas? It's easy to check off mental boxes during an interview: Experience, okay; qualifications, okay; attitude, okay... and before you realize it a mediocre candidate with no negatives seems like a great candidate.

What to do: An absence of negatives is not a superlative. Always look for excellence. Feel free to use the "mental boxes" approach as an initial sort tool, but then look for the candidate who not only meets requirements but destroys requirements. Never settle for good enough; if good enough is all you find, keep looking.

7. Fail to debrief the front desk. Everyone has had a great first date that was followed by a so-so second date and a terrible third date... only then to have a friend say, "What did you see in him in the first place? I could have told you about that guy..." Job candidates also give you their best: They're up, they're engaged, they're on. But how do they act when they are not trying to impress you?

What to do: What candidates do in the lobby can indicate a lot, so ask. Find out how they treated the receptionist, what they did while they waited, what they read... occasionally you will identify a disconnect between the candidate's presentation and the real person inside. A great lobby manner never outweighs poor qualifications, but a jerk in the lobby could be a candidate you don't want to hire after all.

Jeff Haden is a ghostwriter and speaker and has ghostwritten four Amazon #1 bestsellers.
Related: Photo courtesy flickr user bpsusf, CC 2.0
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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.

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