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10 Things Not to Do When Interviewing (and 4 Bonus Tips)

by
Herb Greenberg and Patrick Sweeney
Sep 19, 2012, 5:19 am ET

Below are some “don’ts” to keep in mind when interviewing, many of which relate to the most common interviewing errors. It’s from our book How to Hire and Develop Your Next Top Performer, 2nd edition: The Qualities That Make Salespeople Great, @2012, McGraw-Hill Professional; reprinted with permission of the publisher.

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions. If you uncover anything during the reference check or employment history review process that warrants tough questioning, do not be afraid to ask about it during the interview. Begin your relationship with a new hire on a frank basis.
  2. Don’t oversell your company. Don’t use pat statements such as, “Since the company was founded a little over a decade ago, we’ve been on the right path, and that road is now smoother than ever.” An adept interviewer will lay out the strengths and weaknesses of the firm, putting them in perspective. Do not paint an unrealistic picture of your company in order to lure an applicant on board.
  3. Don’t ask for information you already have. For example, “Why don’t you tell me about yourself? Let’s see, how long ago did you start your current position?” This shows a lack of interest in the candidate because this information was most likely obtained earlier, via the candidate’s resume. The interview should be used to obtain new information or to confirm or reject tentative information already acquired.
  4. Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted unless there is an emergency. Too many interviewers allow the interview to become disjointed by not taking steps to prevent interruptions. Your office door should be closed. Put calls and messages on hold.
  5. Don’t talk too much. For example, “Well, I’m sure you have a lot of questions about the company and the job. Let me try to anticipate some of them for you.” This is a classic case of an interviewer who loves to hear his own voice. At the most, an interviewer should say 1 word for every 10 spoken by the person being interviewed.
  6. Don’t use the interview as your therapy. Too many interviewers use their sessions to spout out their concerns about the company. When an interviewer vents emotions in an interview, he or she may feel better but may lose a prospective employee in the bargain.
  7. Don’t be afraid to spell out in detail the requirements of the position. For example, if an applicant asks about the specific requirements of the job, don’t brush them off with the pat answer, “But then, I wouldn’t be concerned about that if I were you. I’ve always believed that if you can sell, you can sell.” People should know what is required of them before beginning a job. The interview is the time to outline the job’s requirements, as well as your criteria for evaluating success in the role.
  8. Don’t gossip or swap war stories. Many interviewers try to find familiar ground they can tread over with the applicant. Although this might seem like a comfortable way to get an interview under way, inquiring about friends and relatives can get things sidetracked, wasting a huge amount of time. The interview should be devoted to obtaining as much information as possible in order to make a sound hiring decision.
  9. Don’t put the applicant on the defensive. There is no point in creating unnecessary tension during the interview. Knowing an applicant’s personality strengths and weaknesses is vital to making the best hiring decision. For example: an applicant makes a statement about detail on her former job. This might provide valuable insight, particularly if a personality assessment provided evidence that there was indeed a sufficiently strong dislike of detail to create concern. A speech embodying a long-held philosophy is inappropriate, but a frank discussion of the importance of detail in the job and how the candidate might deal with that aspect would be constructive and would allow both people to make a more reasoned decision.
  10. Don’t be afraid to make the interview as long or as short as you deem necessary. To be effective, the interview should make the fullest use of everyone’s valuable time. There are no set guidelines on length as long as you clearly spell out the anticipated length of the interview and as long as the time is spent wisely.

Additional Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t ask questions that can only be answered by a simple yes or no. Instead, try to ask questions that must be answered at some length and with some explanation. The key to a good question is not only to get a specific answer but to get that answer by listening to the interviewee’s response.

Don’t simply indulge in generalized conversation as though nothing had occurred prior to the interview. The interviewer should have a great deal of information in hand relating to the applicant’s past experience, feedback from references, early impressions from the telephone interview, and of course, the data provided by the psychological test. All these impressions should be checked throughout the interview, and conflicts should be resolved.

If, for example, the résumé speaks about a previous position as a “division manager” and the reference check reveals that the applicant managed no one and the title was simply another name for a salesperson with a territory, that apparent discrepancy should be discussed: “Tell me specifically what you did on the job. Do the best you can to tell me how you functioned on a day-by-day basis.”

If after this explanation the discrepancy is still not resolved, the interviewer should not hesitate to confront the applicant with the evident discrepancy and ask the applicant to discuss it. Obviously, this discrepancy might be more or less important depending on the nature of the job for which the applicant is being considered.

Similarly, if the applicant described his or her previous job as involving hard, frequent closes, and the test indicates some doubt about the applicant’s level of ego-drive, questions could be raised about the discrepancy, giving the applicant plenty of opportunity to sell the interviewer on the fact that he or she was able to close despite what the test says — and getting the applicant to explain precisely how he or she accomplished this. What we are saying here simply is to try to avoid general conversations and home in as precisely as possible on specifics.

Don’t ramble. Although there is no precise ideal length of an interview, it is important to show the interviewee that there is a respect for time, not only the time of the manager but also the time of the interviewee. While being friendly, stay on course, and keep the interview moving in a clearly defined direction.

Finally, unless by the end of the interview you have ruled out the individual, don’t leave him or her with a generalized, “We will be in touch.” Rather, spell out what the next steps will be, even if those steps simply involve a management decision and notification to the applicant. If future interviews are going to be requested, say so. In other words, the applicant should leave the interview knowing, with relative precision, when a decision is going to be made, on what basis it might be made, and what other steps, if any, may be required in the decision-making process.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

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  3. Ken Schmitt

    Excellent article! So often, articles are written about what candidates should and should not do when being interviewed. However, we have learned in our over 40 years of combined experience working in executive career management and recruiting that even the best interviewee can’t do his or her best when the interviewer isn’t following some basic rules. The emphasis is so heavily placed on the candidate to create an excellent interview, and although that is obviously important, it is up to the hiring manager to create an environment that allows a candidate to put his/her best self forth. We work with clients to master the art of interviewing in the career coaching portion of our practice. In doing so, we use institute the “tips” you give. Unfortunately, this is not always the case in a real life situation. Training the interviewer with articles like this can help make most interviews run more smoothly.
    Ken Schmitt
    http://www.turningpointsearch.net

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  5. Jason Webster

    It’s just as important for the job candidate to know about your company as it is for you to know your candidate. If you haven’t already, research them on social networking sites. There may be some questions that pop up after your research. One mistake I’d suggest avoiding is posing any social media related questions — it’s an invasion of privacy. You can put applicants on the defensive easily that way.

  6. Keith Halperin

    Hmmm. Why do so many trendy employers-of-choice have large numbers of unprepared, unqualified, arrogant young jerks act as interviewers?

    Cheers,

    Keith

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