Job interviewers, avoid these 6 gaffes

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Interview mistakes aren't limited to job candidates; interviewers make lots of mistakes, too.

The smaller your business the fewer employees you typically have ... and the fewer interviews you have under your belt. But even experienced interviewers often make mistakes. Here are six of the most common mistakes interviewers make, and what to do instead:

Expand on possibilities. Candidates naturally sell themselves. Interviewers also often try to sell the candidate on the job. That's especially true when you love your company, and without thinking you describe exciting new projects, enhanced benefit programs or opportunities for promotion due to potential expansion. It's great to be excited, about your business, but the problem is the job candidate can easily translate "maybe" or "possibly" or "someday" into "will," and as a result you create expectations you may not be able to meet.

Instead: Never describe possibilities. For example, if you describe typical career paths, do so only in a general sense. Only share details on approved projects or efforts currently underway. If you can't promise, don't bring it up.

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Conduct a surprise group interview. Group interviews are a relatively efficient way for a number of current employees to meet a candidate. Group interviews may be efficient for you, but they are at best intimidating for the candidate. And keep in mind it's easy to fall into the group-consensus trap, where during the group debriefing everyone tends to drift towards the same opinion.

Instead: Use group interviews only if the position requires working predominately within a team. In that case, a group interview can provide a solid feel for the candidate's suitability. 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. Otherwise, stick to individual sessions.

Assume shyness equals inability. Some people just don't interview well: they're nervous or shy and don't make a great impression. An awkward interview does not mean a candidate can't do the job, though. Great communication skills in no way signal expertise.

Instead: Hang in there when the candidate seems uncomfortable. Try to help them relax. You're a leader; your job is to get the best from people, even people you haven't hired yet. And if you find yourself holding a lot of interviews where the candidates are uncomfortable, take a step back and consider your approach -- you might be the reason.

Stick to the script. As an interviewer you need a plan. You should ask a reasonably standard set of questions (at least for that particular job), but don't get so focused on asking questions that you don't listen to the answers. The best questions are almost always follow-up questions, since most candidates are prepared for an initial question but questions that drill deeper reveal a lot more.

Instead: Ask a question and then listen. Think about the answer, and follow up. Ask why. Or ask when. Or ask how a project turned out. Or ask what made a position hard or made a working relationship difficult. Not only will you get past any canned answers, you may also uncover great details the candidate never thought to share.

Take over. Interviews often turn into monologues delivered by the interviewer. Most candidates are unlikely to interrupt or try to restore some sense of balance to the interview because they want you to like them. When you get on your soapbox and fail to step off, 30 minutes later the interviewee walks away dazed, and your hiring decision is based on whether the candidate was a good listener.

Instead: Make sure the candidate has a good feel for the position before the interview. Briefly discuss the company and the position in person. Then start asking questions, and start listening. The conversation should be 90 percent candidate and only 10 percent you.

Decide six or eight "OKs" equals "awesome!" It's easy to check off mental boxes during an interview: "Experience, OK; qualifications, OK; attitude, OK .." and before you realize it decide an average candidate with no real negatives - and no outstanding qualifications, either -- is actually a great candidate.

Instead: Stay focused on the fact that an absence of negatives does not equal a superlative. Look for excellent, not acceptable. Never settle for "good enough"; if good enough is all you find in the candidates you interview, keep looking. 

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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.