What not to do in an interview, part 2: Interviewer Edition

It’s easy enough to step on a landmine (or swallow a grenade) when interviewing for your dream job. But what about the interviewer? How can you screw up an interview with your dream candidate?

Don’t ask forbidden questions

It’s amazing how many people are asked to interview without being given even the most basic instructions on how not to get the company sued. There are all sorts of questions you just can’t ask, and some on the borderline, so please do everyone a favor and don’t. Race, religion, national origin, disabilities (including mental illness), gender, native language, age, maiden name, childbearing plans (for women or men), where a candidate lives… the list goes on and on. The point is, if something is unrelated to a person’s ability to complete technical tasks, then don’t ask. Don’t say, “what an interesting name, is it Scandinavian?” Don’t tell them they look like an actor or actress. You can talk about your own kids, but don’t ask about theirs. You can easily find lots of lists of illegal questions, and you should read a bunch of them to get a sense for what to avoid, but the basic rule is that any question about a candidate’s life that doesn’t directly bear on his or her ability to perform the job is off limits.

Don’t roll your eyes, or sigh loudly

Some interviews are boring. Sometimes, people make incredibly boneheaded mistakes. Sometimes, you realize almost immediately that the next 30-60 minutes of your life are going to be a complete waste of time. This can be extraordinarily frustrating, especially when there’s important work to be done and you feel like you’ve just been put in a time out. BUT, trust me when I tell you that there’s someone else in that room having a worse day than you. There’s no value to be added by being rude and making a candidate feel worse.

Don’t reply to negative Glassdoor reviews

What’s worse? A bad Glassdoor review of your interview process, or an ugly back-and-forth that makes the front page of Reddit? Beware the Streisand effect. Learn what you can from a negative review, and let it die a quiet death.

Don’t ask questions you couldn’t have answered yourself when applying to the company

If someone had asked me to do a breadth first search at my TripAdvisor interview, I’d likely have bombed it completely. So what would be the point of my asking, now that I’m on the other side of the table? Just because I know it now, doesn’t mean that it’s a good indicator of future job success.

Don’t try to prove how smart you are by answering your own questions

Hey, I get it – you’re smart. Really, really smart. So smart that you know the answer to a question that you made up and have asked a dozen times. Don’t waste time trying to impress the interviewee with how clever your solution is.

Don’t believe for a second that you’re a good judge of character

Is the candidate tall? Attractive? Male? Female? The same race as you? Different? Does the candidate smile and make eye contact? Do you think that any of that’s an indicator of future job success? Do you think that any of it will affect your judgment? No? Really? Science disagrees – nay, science sneers at your unfounded confidence. You’re a terrible judge of character – we all are. We’re all constantly being misled by cognitive biases. Even if you’ve been trained (which most people haven’t), it’s still hard to do effective behavioral interviews, and any non-technical measure you use to judge a candidate’s suitability or cultural fit is impossibly compromised by unrelated, irrelevant factors. Stop believing in yourself. Make your criteria as objective as possible, and stick to that.

Don’t do work during the interview

Nothing says “I don’t give a shit” quite as expressively as doing work on your laptop while a candidate struggles at the whiteboard.

Don’t do stress interviews

Sorry, I don’t buy the argument that the job is stressful and that you’re legitimately trying to determine if the candidate can keep his or her cool under fire. People react to stress completely differently when in a novel low-control situation (e.g., an interview) and a familiar situation with different levers of control (e.g., access to co-workers or a boss, knowledge of the codebase, infrastructure, etc.). A stress interview tells a candidate a lot about you – all of it negative – and tells you nothing about how the candidate will actually perform on the job.

Don’t settle

You interview a great candidate, make an offer, but for some reason it doesn’t work out and they end up going elsewhere. But each candidate after that is a little less shiny – you imagine that you could fix this one, or make that one work out, or perhaps you could create a more limited role for this other one… And then you interview another amazing candidate. It’s only then, when you’ve gone through this downward slide and suddenly had your expectations reset, that you realize how far your standards had fallen. Don’t settle. If you put the hard work in, and have a company and position worthy of a great candidate, you will find one.

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