HR making a mistake when selecting a new hire means the company loses money and the employee wastes their time. Are you confident in your ability to choose not just a professional candidate, but one fully suited to your company? Which candidate is worthy of an invitation for a job interview, and which is not? What mistakes should HR avoid during a job interview in order not to scare off a potential employee?

We discussed these questions with Svetlana Ivanova, author of 15 HR bestsellers and a former HR Director at Johnson & Johnson Medical.

Svetlana Ivanova

Don’t try to analyze a candidate before a job interview.

It is normal for HR to try to do a little digging and fact-check a candidate before an interview, especially when that person claims a high-level position. At this stage, I advise HR professionals to pay attention only to the facts that clearly discredit this person. For example, it turns out that a candidate took kickbacks or had been rude to customers or to staff members when working at other companies. Or he or she posted a nude picture on a blog or on social networks.

I’ll give you an example from my practice: We were looking for an assistant director of a large, international company and received a resume. The woman in the picture was in a short blouse with a deep neckline, and we could easily see her bare belly. At the bottom of the resume, there was a short note from her: “Don’t offer sex.”

So, pay attention only to the weirdest facts, the clear signs that a candidate is not for you. But don’t analyze a potential employee too deeply. When you do this, you risk getting into a situation that psychologists call “rationalization,” which is when HR gets some information about a person, formulates the own view of a candidate, and then subconsciously connects this hypothesis with everything he or she sees and hears during a job interview.

Besides, don’t forget that human values can change. And all these facts you know about a candidate from his colleagues who worked with him five years ago may no longer be true of this person now.

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Take notes during the interview.

Once, I conducted an experiment. With the help of my assistant, I made two videos of two job interviews with the same candidate; it was presented as a real job interview, and a real candidate was answering five questions. In the first video, she incorrectly responded to the first question, and in the second video, she made a mistake answering the third question. I showed these videos to various educational groups and asked my students to evaluate the candidate without a discussion. In one hundred percent of cases, the professional skills of the woman in the first clip were evaluated worse than in the second one.

This has a very simple explanation: The first wrong answer made a negative first impression. So the students described the woman as an unprepared candidate who probably just guessed the correct answers.

In the second case, some students didn’t even notice the wrong answer on the third question. Some people said that the woman got tired, or lost her concentration – and they excused her mistake. As you can see, the subjective assessment is just a trap of our perception.

That’s why you can’t rely on your own memory and trust the overall impression.  Write down the answers of a candidate, and then analyze them after the job interview.

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Ask for help if you can’t evaluate professional skills of a candidate.

Depending on a situation, there are three variants of conducting an interview.

– HR evaluates the professional skills of a candidate on its own.

If HR or a recruitment specialist continuously does his or her best in order to gain deeper knowledge in the professional sphere, he or she could definitely develop their own skills to be able to evaluate the professional level of the applicant independently.

I’ll give you an example: Working in the medical business, I attended surgeries with members of the sales department of our company. For HR professionals not familiar with the concept of surgery sales, it is when sales specialists get a permission to be present at a surgery where the consumable and medical tools they sell are used. So I had the opportunity to monitor our employees working and saw, for instance, how they secured an agreement for a trial delivery of our materials when the doctors were not satisfied with the materials of our competitors.

Now I can evaluate the qualifications of any sales, but, for example, I would not even try to evaluate the qualifications of a developer independently.

– A job interview in two stages.

This variant seems to be the most rational. At the first stage, HR “cuts off” candidates who don’t align the company’s corporate culture and its value system. Thus, an executive doesn’t need to spend time on unsuitable candidates, and at the second stage, he or she evaluates professional skills of a potential employee on his or her own.

– HR evaluates the professional skills of a candidate with the help of an executive.

I think this variant makes sense only if we are speaking about a regional search where both HR and an executive go on a business trip and have a dozen job interviews in one day. In this case, a job interview can be held together: HR asks general questions, and an executive evaluates based on professional competencies.

But keep in mind that a job interview with two or more persons is a big stress for a candidate who can become shy and introverted. Another important thing to consider — a paired job interview is not an easy task to undertake. Interviewers often interrupt each other, or don’t listen to each other and ask the same questions. If you work as a pair, it requires good preparation and respect for each other and for the candidate — unless you want it to look like a cross-examination.

Think about your company reputation.

Any person who interviews but isn’t hired is a source of positive or negative reviews of your company within the labor market. A candidate can describe a company in a positive way — HR asked intelligent questions, was punctual and polite, but, unfortunately, they need a more qualified specialist. Or a candidate will tell a family and friends that he was forced to wait half an hour, and then three people, interrupting each other, asked stupid questions.

I know a bunch of companies that completely destroyed their reputation not only due to difficult working conditions, but due to awful job interviews as well. So, when candidates hear about these companies, they refuse to go there.

Don’t forget that the first impression of a company also starts with the job interview.

In some cases, find an individual approach.

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Experienced HR understands whether a candidate suits a company or not. But sometimes you see that a person definitely can’t get along with other employees, but he or she will be very useful for a company in general for his or her unique professional skills. It’s dangerous to make this person a part of a team, but if you see the value to the business, don’t miss this candidate. I advise you to offer the special conditions of employment — for example, remote work.

But if you already have such a person in the office, make the situation work. Here is an example from my practice: In the early 2000s, we were looking for a tax consultant with a strong grasp of a foreign language. At that time, it was a complicated task, but finally we did it. We found a woman, a great specialist, but at the same time she was an awful gossiper and a typical negative talker. We couldn’t replace this expert — it was extremely difficult — so we just “insulated” her from the rest of the team.

On another floor, where just developers were working (in the open air), with the help of partition walls we made something like an office. We transferred her to this place and told her and everyone in the team that her demanding job required silence and personal space. As a result, we didn’t hurt her and normalized the situation.

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Master different techniques of conducting a job interview.

Different job interviews need different approaches. For example, if you are looking for grass-roots staff, you need to ask questions to detect alcoholism, absenteeism, theft, and conflicts with the team.

But if we speak about top managers, you need to master more complex methods, and should be able to analyze the results. I was faced with the fact that candidates can achieve successful results, but draw incorrect conclusions. Once, during a job interview, I asked a middle manager if he had problems with employee demotivation and how he handled it. He told a story that one of his best employees decided to leave for another company because of a higher salary. When this person found out about it, he told his employee all the bad things he knew about the company-competitor. As a result, the employee stayed at the old company. But the manager made a completely unexpected conclusion — don’t be afraid to deceive people. He adopted the wrong tool.

But sometimes the situation is different: The result is negative, but a person made the right conclusion. And experienced HR understands that a candidate learns from his or her mistakes.

There are many modern methods for an effective job interview: the competency based interview PARLA, the method of projective questions, the method of pros and cons, the method of philosophical questions, etc.

If an HR specialist plans to work at a high professional level, he or she has to master all these tools and know in which situations to apply each of them.