These Interviewing Mistakes Are Sabotaging Hiring Results

When it comes to effective interviewing, there are several common techniques that are preventing hiring managers from getting information to make solid hiring decisions. 

As a certified forensic interviewer, I’ve seen what works, and what doesn’t, for getting truthful information out of people when it really counts. Here are the top four interviewing mistakes I’ve seen hiring managers make, as well as how to shift your approach so you can hire better.

Mistake #1: Valuing the Wrong Qualifications

One of the biggest interviewing mistakes is overvaluing some qualifications and overlooking others. For example, experience is not a predictor of new hire success, and yet this detail can be a dealbreaker for candidates without the right number of years on their resume. But do you really need someone with 10 years of experience, or do you really need the skills and abilities you believe it takes 10 years to generate? Those are two entirely different things, so get specific on what you’re really looking for.

Other overvalued qualifications include:

  • Work experience in a similar industry
  • Education
  • Certifications
  • Assessment scores

While this obviously doesn’t apply to every industry, these details likely don’t matter as much as you think. If you get into a “check-the-box” mentality during an interview, you can overlook the characteristics and skills that will actually determine whether a new hire will succeed.

Do this instead: Pinpoint skills and traits that would make someone successful in each role. Focusing on things like maturity, perspective, and problem-solving skills, especially in younger and more inexperienced candidates, will help you gain more valuable insights that are actually relevant to performance and cultural fit. Even better? You’ll have a much wider talent pool to choose from.

Mistake #2: Asking Questions With Implied, Expected Answers

Another huge barrier to conducting an effective interview is spoon-feeding candidates the “right” answers. You may get the answer you want — it just may not be the truth.Leading questions can take many forms, including:

  • “Can you” or “have you” questions. Such questions convey what’s important to you, so candidates’ answers will always be yes. 
  • “Tell me about a time” questions. While the thought process is sound, the execution is often poor. That’s because many interviewers tend to either give candidates the bullet points for their entire story in the question itself or ask it in a way that’s so broad and vague that gives an extreme amount of poetic license to craft the perfect answer.
  • Questions based on what we want to know vs. what candidates need to experience. One manifestation of this is asking compound questions, which might look something like: “Please tell me about a time when you were challenged by a manager, what the challenge was, how you initially reacted, how you got yourself to commit, and how you achieved it?” Candidates know what you want to hear, so they tell you. 

Do this instead: Instead of “can you/have you” or “tell me about a time” questions, get specific. For example, when was the first time you did X? When was the last time? When was the most difficult experience? When was the most challenging experience? This will help limit candidates’ poetic license so you can get a more accurate read on their answer. 

And instead of a complicated compound question, simplify your setup, then go back and ask any follow-up questions. This will avoid leading the witness and still allow you to drill down to the details you need.

Mistake #3: Trying to Catch a Candidate Lying 

It’s natural to want to know if a candidate is being untruthful during an interview. However, there is no behavior that’s always indicative of truth or deception. 

Traditionally accepted indicators of lying, including sweating, shifting, furrowed eyebrows, fidgeting, etc., are likely to occur during a job interview — they just don’t necessarily indicate dishonesty. Many candidates can get nervous, and that can actually be a good sign! In addition, if you try to catch someone lying, confirmation bias will set in, and you’ll only end up convincing yourself you did.

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Do this instead: Focus on changes in someone’s comfort level during the interview. 

Over the course of your conversation, do they appear more or less comfortable? If they suddenly look nervous or unhappy, what’s the likely reason for their comfort shift? Follow up with additional questions if necessary. 

What’s most important to note is any shifting away from their behavioral norm. If a candidate is already nervous during your introduction, fine, that’s their baseline. As you dive into the questions, though, look for deviations from that. When a behavior changes is much more important than what behavior changes. 

Mistake #4: Being Influenced by Own Biases and Expectations

The biases and expectations you bring into an interview impact how closely you listen, how well you observe, and the quality of your questions — basically increasing the likelihood of committing the first three interviewing mistakes. 

If you go in looking for a reason not to hire someone, you’ll find it. On the flip side, if you look at a resume and think a candidate is perfect for the job, you’re more likely to overlook any shortcomings during their interview. It’s easy to explain away red flags when you already convinced yourself that you know how things will end.

Do this instead: Be aware of your preconceived notions and intentionally work to consider each candidate as objectively as possible. Take some time to reflect on your mindset before entering an interview. Do you have any preformed opinions that might prevent you from conducting an objective assessment? Do your best to leave them at the door so they don’t cloud your judgment. 

Even the most experienced hiring managers can unwittingly fall into bad habits that can have catastrophic results on the makeup of their workforce. But by valuing the right qualifications, asking more effective questions, being more observant, and being aware of your biases and expectations, it’s possible to overcome today’s hiring challenges and build better teams.

Michael Reddington, CFI, is a certified forensic interviewer and president of InQuasive, Inc., which integrates key components of effective non-confrontational interview techniques with current business research for executives. In his new book, The Disciplined Listening Method:  How a Certified Forensic Interviewer Unlocks Hidden Value in Every Conversation (Per Capita Publishing, March 2021), Reddington draws on his background in forensics and his understanding of human behavior through interrogation to teach readers how to improve their listening, communication, and relationship-building skills — and how to use truth to their advantage.

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