How to reduce hiring mistakes during the interview

man and woman shaking hands at an interview

The problem with interviews is that they don’t necessarily predict on-the-job performance – they predict being good at interviews. That’s not to say we should all stop interviewing. But it does mean we need to evaluate our process to make sure that we are not making important hiring decisions based on factors that don’t really matter.

Unfortunately, we humans have a tendency to hold all sorts of unconscious biases, and this can lead to poor hiring decisions. But with a few techniques and some self-awareness you can reduce these mistakes and improve your interviewing process.

Check Your First Impressions

Unless you’re interviewing for a customer or client-facing position, factors like appearance, eye contact, likeability and a strong handshake are generally not good predictors of performance. Plenty of people are good at interviews but bad at the job, or nervous in interviews, but good at what they do. Many people also don’t fit the stereotypical personality for a particular field.

At the end of your interview, ask, ‘How would the first impression impact their job performance?’ If the impact would be negative, don’t hire them. But if it makes little to no difference, you’ll want to base your hiring decision on other factors.

Wait Before Making a Decision

First impressions can be deceptive, and many interviewees take a few minutes to get into their stride. Make a personal promise not to come to any conclusion for the first 30 minutes. People tend to go easier on candidates they like, asking soft questions and making up mental excuses for mistakes. We’re also harder on those that we don’t like. Make a conscious decision to do the opposite. If you find yourself liking a candidate, remind yourself to be more skeptical. If you don’t like a candidate, go a bit easier on them. Whenever you catch yourself making decisions one way or the other before the first 30 minutes are up, note your bias and take a mental step back.

Start with a phone interview

Before you meet a candidate in person, conduct a phone interview with them. While some factors like confidence and preparedness will still come into play over the phone, you’ll be able to learn about them without being influenced by their appearance. Some people are more comfortable over the phone, others do better in person, and still others are most confident in their writing. By adding a phone interview to your process, you’ll give the candidate a chance to work in different mediums and your opinion won’t rest only on one face-to-face interview.

Use a panel interview

We all have our own people preferences. Often, we like people that resemble ourselves in some way, or that we think we could get along with. The problem is that this can result in teams of people that are all similar. While culture fit is important, there’s also the risk of team ‘inbreeding’. When every member of your team has the same personality or ‘DNA’, it means they also share the same weaknesses and blind spots.

Be conscious of these biases and ask yourself if you like this person because they can do the job well, or because their personality matches your own. An easy way to escape this trap, is to have a diverse team sit in on the interview. You can also ask other members of your staff, like the receptionist, to give their impression of the candidate.

Use a Hiring Metric

Put your first impressions in their place by creating a hiring metric or scorecard for each candidate you interview. Give them a score for first impressions/charisma/professionalism/likeability etc. If your metric has a total of 50 points possible, you could make this factor worth 5 points for example. This way you won’t count out a great candidate just because they do poorly on one factor, or over-value a candidate because of their charisma.