Interviewing Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring

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An effective hiring strategy is crucial to the success of a small or midsize business — and that means avoiding common mistakes. Even if you feel you know how to conduct a job interview, this stage of the hiring process is where you are most likely to falter. Interviewing mistakes — such as succumbing to interviewer bias or failing to conduct a standardized interview — can lead to bad hiring decisions, along with their associated costs.

It’s human nature to be swayed by subjective or irrational thought processes that can color your assessment of candidates. Fortunately, it's possible to overcome interviewing mistakes and achieve greater objectivity. Here are some common pitfalls, along with tactics to help small business owners avoid getting trapped.

Introducing interviewer bias

In the world of scientific research, a scientist’s expectations can influence the outcome of an experiment. Similarly, in the context of an interview, a hiring manager may develop an interviewer bias based on expectations about an applicant. For example, a manager might believe that a candidate who comes highly recommended by a colleague is in a sense "pre-qualified" and better suited to the position than an "unknown." Interviewer bias can also be more subtle — for example, when an employer unconsciously favors an applicant whose first name is the same as the interviewer's generous, hard-working uncle.

The solution: hold multiple interviews

The best way to overcome interviewer bias is to have several qualified individuals meet and question each candidate. The first interviewer, for example, might be a human resources manager, while the supervisor the applicant would report to would conduct the second interview. The business owner or division head might conduct a third interview. Alternatively, a committee composed of a senior executive, a manager and potential coworkers could interview each candidate.

Not ensuring a standardized interview

Interviewers often believe they are fairly consistent in the candidate evaluation process, when in reality the interviewers are assessing variable criteria. For example, a hiring manager may have gleaned extensive details about one applicant's past accomplishments but rushed that part of the interview with another candidate because of time constraints.

The solution: ask the same questions each time

Before scheduling the first round of in-person interviews with candidates who passed the initial phone screen interview, create and prioritize a standard list of appropriate interview questions to ask. These should be based on the key skills and aptitudes required for the job. Generally, standardized interview questions can be grouped into three broad categories: experience (to review the candidate's education, job skills and work history), aptitude (to explore special abilities and willingness to learn) and interpersonal skills (to assess the candidate's ability to work independently, as part of a team or in a leadership capacity). Questions touching on professionalism, judgment and career aspirations can also be useful.

Finding it tough competing against larger companies for the best job candidates? Explore our small and midsize business resource center for advice, salary research and other information that can help level the playing field.

Being dazzled by a halo

The halo effect occurs when a positive detail about a candidate causes everything else about the candidate to be seen more favorably. For example, the halo effect might cause an interviewer to overestimate the qualifications of a candidate who went to the same college as the interviewer. A negative detail can have the opposite effect and cause a candidate’s qualifications to be underestimated.

The solution: be analytical

One way to overcome the halo effect and improve your selection process for hiring is to be sure that you evaluate the candidate on each key skill and aptitude needed for the job. Appraise each aspect analytically — you could even assign a score from 1 to 5. This will allow you to make sure there’s evidence for your positive (or negative) impression of the candidate and give you a more realistic basis for comparisons between candidates.

Contrasting the candidates

When candidate interviews are scheduled close together, a contrast effect may come into play and distort how candidates are evaluated. For example, stronger candidates interviewed right after weaker ones may appear to be even stronger than they really are.

The solution: space interviews out — and take good notes

It’s worth considering the contrast effect when scheduling interviews.  If possible, leave a little time between conversations with different candidates.  Of course, just being aware that contrasts between candidates could be coloring your judgment can help you improve your objectivity. Taking good notes and reviewing them later can also help you get a better sense for how the candidates really stack up.

Forgetting the details

No one's memory is perfect, and that can lead to interviewing mistakes. After interviewing dozens of candidates, it's inevitable that a manager might have trouble remembering details, or may confuse one applicant's qualifications with another.

The solution: keep meticulous records

Take careful notes during each interview to make it easier to compare candidates and to reveal gaps in information. Note-taking also helps offset a natural tendency to place too much importance on an individual candidate's performance during the interview. A person who interviews well doesn’t always turn out to be a good hire — a reserved, unassuming candidate may end up being a better match for the position. 

Identifying and screening job candidates can use up a lot of time and energy. If you need some help, contact Robert Half. We are experts at finding highly skilled candidates who meet your job requirements.


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