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Three Common Interviewing Mistakes to Avoid

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In helping our clients make thousands of hires over the years, we’ve seen even the most experienced hiring managers make interviewing and hiring mistakes.  Of those, there are three that stand out as the most common, and therefore, the easiest to recognize and avoid.

It’s easy to think that these mistakes are most often made by newer, less experienced hiring managers.  But, in a surprising number of cases, we’ve seen senior managers and executives make these same mistakes.  Good hiring requires taking a disciplined approach to interviewing and selection, many managers have too little training and too little practice in interviewing to do it well.  Knowing these three common mistakes will help you self-diagnose and improve your selection accuracy.

Mistake #1: Not Understanding What Capabilities Are Required for Success

Most managers take the time to write their list of job requirements.  However, the requirements are only part of what will make a new hire successful in your organization.  Think of it this way: if two candidates possess the exact same set of job skills, how do you know which one will be more successful in your organization?  That answer can’t be found in the job requirements. 

Remember that you are hiring a human being, not just a set of skills.  It is critical to look beyond the job requirements, and deeper into the candidate’s capabilities and characteristics.  Are they an individual contributor in a role that requires high collaboration?  How do they handle setbacks in their work?  Do they listen and take direction easily, or will every project require negotiation to get them on board?   Are they fast learners, or are they resistant to learning new things?  Will their ways of working and personality blend well with existing team members, or will they clash? 

Many managers over-rely on an assessment of technical capabilities to drive their hiring decision.  They do this because it is relatively easy to assess those capabilities compared to assessing the ‘softer’ areas of performance.  Our advice: understand the human capabilities that are required for success in your work group, and interview to gain an accurate assessment of those.  Often, a new hire fails because of a bad human fit, not a bad technical fit.

Mistake #2. Relying on ‘Gut Feel’

“Gut feel” is a phrase that should be banned from hiring discussions.  It means that the hiring manager hasn’t gathered any evidence about the candidate’s capabilities to perform.  It’s just a guess.

Hiring is not a social activity, and simply liking someone, or being struck by a positive impression that someone might make on you, is not a reason to hire them.  The first purpose of an interview is to gather facts and evidence about a candidate’s capabilities to execute the work that they will be assigned.   You need to gather as many facts about someone’s knowledge, abilities, attitude, and future potential as you can in order to accurately assess their potential in your organization. 

When managers rely on ‘gut feel’, they are replacing evidence and facts with a vague notion about someone’s likability.  Likability is a nice trait for anyone to have, but it is hardly a sufficient reason on which to base a hiring decision.

Our advice: focus interview time on gathering facts and evidence about a candidate’s past work performance, their successes and challenges, and the outcomes that they achieved. 

Mistake #3. Hiring in Your Own Likeness

We all have a tendency to like people who share similarities to us.  We like people who went to our college, grew up in our neighborhood, or who have similar travel experiences to us. 

In interviewing, we often see managers make the mistake equating similarities in backgrounds and experiences with high competence.  The thinking goes like this: “I went to an Ivy League school ; I worked at a Big 4 firm; and I am very successful here.  This candidate went to an Ivy League school; they worked a different Big 4 firm; and therefore they will be very successful here too.”

We call this hiring a Mini-Me.  

It’s pretty easy to see that these co-incidental similarities have nothing to do with someone’s ability to perform in a given role in a given environment.  But it’s also easy to see how this kind of thinking can creep into assessment decisions and create a false positive about a candidate.

Our advice: stick to discovering facts and gathering supporting evidence in an interview.  Don’t be seduced by outward similarities that may not translate into job performance.

While there are many other possible interview and selection mistakes, avoiding these three can make a big difference in how well hiring managers can more accurately assess a candidate’s likelihood of success in their organization.