1. Conducting “courtesy” interviews with no intention of hiring the candidate
Most people who hire know the feeling of wondering if you need to interview a particular candidate for reasons other than the person’s qualifications – for instance, because she’s the friend of a board member, or came referred by your manager, or lives next door. But interviewing someone who you know doesn’t have a real chance just as a “courtesy” is the opposite of courteous: It wastes time on both sides, leads the person to believe they have a real chance at the job when they don’t, and puts them through the time and anxiety of preparing for the interview (and perhaps spurs them to take time off work or incur expenses like a new suit or briefcase). It’s far kinder to be direct from the start and simply explain that you’re looking for qualifications X and Y and so it doesn’t appear to be a match.
2. Not using phone screens before in-person interviews
If you’re in the habit of inviting candidates in for in-person interviews without first conducting phone screens, stop! Phone interviews or phone screening can save you (and your candidates) an enormous amount of time. Just 10-20 minutes on the phone will often rule people out immediately; you might quickly discover that their experience in a key area is far less than you thought from their resume, or that their social skills aren’t a fit with the role, or that they can't start until three months after you need someone. It doesn't make sense to bring people in to meet in-person – when you’ll generally spend far longer than 20 minutes talking -- until you’ve established basic suitability for the role and ruled out obvious deal-breakers.
3. Requiring a degree when the work doesn’t necessitate it
There’s a reason that many employers are moving away from requiring college degrees for many jobs, when candidates are able to show other qualifications: It’s because degree requirements too often screen out candidates who have all the qualifications really needed to excel in the job.
It makes far more sense to look at the totality of what candidates have achieved – degrees, work experience, all of it. Of course, if your candidate pool is made up of candidates new to the workforce, and you therefore don’t have much real data on their work performance yet, degrees can be a useful proxy to signal what someone might be able to achieve. But when you have more experienced candidates, you can look to their actual track record at work. And it makes no sense to rule out experienced candidates who have excelled in their fields just because they didn’t graduate (particularly when they made that decision some 20 or more years ago).
4. Asking softball questions instead of probing into track record
Getting to know a candidate is important – you want to know who you’ll be working with every day, after all. But too many interviewers spend most of the interview asking softball “getting to know you” type questions – like why the candidate applied for the job, what their preferred work culture is, what they’ve liked most and least about jobs in the past, how this role fits into their desired career path, what kind of person they work best with, and so forth. While these questions can certainly elicit useful information, they should make up only a small portion of the interview. You will find out far more by (a) probing into candidates’ past experiences deeply – getting into the nitty-gritty of what the candidate has accomplished and how they did it, and (b) finding ways to see them in action, by having them simulate the type of work they’d be doing on the job.
And of course, while you should indeed be nice to your candidates, it’s crucial to not to allow your desire to be nice prevent you from digging until you have a really clear sense of a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses. Pushing as much as it takes to get into the details is key to making an accurate assessment – and besides, good candidates actually appreciate challenging questions.
5. Checking references after making a job offer
If you don’t engage in this practice yourself, it probably sounds ridiculous to you, but there are plenty of employers who don’t bother with reference checks until after a candidate has accepted an offer. This is a terrible practice, for two reasons. First, most importantly, you’re putting your new hires in a terrible position. It’s not reasonable to expect candidates to resign their current jobs (thus severing ties with their source of income) when you haven’t completed your vetting process and might pull the offer if you find something you don’t like. If you want them to commit to your offer, you need to commit fully yourself – not add contingencies that could cause serious problems for them.
Second, reference checks shouldn’t just be about rubber-stamping a decision you’ve already made. Rather, reference checks can play an important part in your decision-making process, if you ask the sort of nuanced questions that will get you more information than a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Someone might be a great employee, but you might learn from references that they don’t have the particular qualities you’re seeking for that particular position (or that someone else has more of them). You can also learn about what kind of management a candidate works best with, where they might need additional support, and other information that can help you make your hiring decision, rather than just validating it after the fact.
If you’re a manager who is guilty of any of the above five offenses, vow to reform your ways right now – and you’ll make better hires for it.