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5 mistakes managers make during an interview (and how to do better)

Written by Lien Ponnet on 31 July 2023 for Companies

The internet is full of helpful articles on how not to botch an interview as a candidate. But what nobody seems to be talking about is how you can lose a great candidate due to a terrible interview. If the interview isn’t done right, your potential new colleague can be left feeling uncomfortable and frustrated. This can lead to them rejecting an offer and signing a contract with a competitor.

Below, we’ve highlighted 5 common mistakes managers make that put off high-quality interviewees. But we don’t want to leave you high and dry: we’ve also included 4 powerful tips to help you nail your next interview and make that hire!

1. Not taking enough time for the interview

By the time you get to the in-person interviews, you’ve already selected your top candidates. So take the time to really get to know them. Most interviews should take between 30 minutes and an hour – by only investing 15 minutes of your time, you might make your candidate feel underappreciated before they’ve even started working for you.

During the interview, it’s also important to manage your time well. Make sure the interview moves along at a brisk pace, but still give candidates enough time to answer your questions in a relaxed way. You should also put aside 10 to 15 minutes at least to answer questions your candidate has prepared.



2. Making candidates feel uncomfortable

Some managers believe they should be testing how well candidates hold up under pressure. This is actually a pretty good way to sabotage your own interview, as by making candidates unnecessarily nervous you’ll likely not see them how they really are. On top of that, you might put them off working for you entirely, since nobody wants to be bullied at work.

Some common intimidating techniques are:

  • The silent treatment. After a candidate clearly gave a complete answer to your question, you might stay silent, as if you’re waiting for more information. Don’t do this. The awkwardness that comes from this silence will unbalance even the most confident of candidates and reflects badly on you and therefore the company.
  • Acting like you’re not interested. Overtly yawning or doodling all over the interviewee’s CV is a big no-no; always make sure that interviewees feel engaged with you as a person and consequently with the business.
  • Cutting people off. When a candidate is in the middle of an answer, don’t interrupt them mid-sentence. It’s just rude and makes it look like you’re not really listening. If a candidate is lingering a bit too long on one question and you feel you need to move on to keep good time, then you can let them know in a polite manner.

3. Asking unfair questions

This mistake is related to the previous one of being intimidating. Some managers think it’s a good or even fun idea to purposely ask candidates a question they don’t expect them to have an answer to, just to see if they will try to bullshit their way through anyway. This technique will likely scare a perfectly good candidate away from your job, and it might also make you look like you haven’t done your research (for example when you ask a technical question that goes beyond the scope of the position you’re interviewing for).

Although going over your candidate’s CV together is a great way to start an interview, your time is precious, and this also goes for your candidate. You don’t want to spend too much of the interview making them repeat what’s on their resume. It will make your candidate feel like you haven’t taken the time to look at their carefully prepared CV and cover letter, and it will keep you from getting to know the candidate better. If, after you’ve studied the candidate’s background, you’re left with gaps or confusing points, you can ask for clarification during the interview.

4. Acting unprofessionally

On the opposite end of the unfriendly manager, is the overly friendly manager. While it’s good to have a good vibe with the candidate, you want to make them feel relaxed and comfortable, you should avoid behaviour that makes you look unprofessional.

Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Don’t bond over shared negative experiences. It might be tempting to make a connection with your candidate by talking about a personal, negative experience, or a frustration you have. But don’t. Saying anything bad about the company, your job, your colleagues or your manager might make your candidate feel uncertain about taking a job with your firm.
  • Don’t ask inappropriate questions about their personal life. It’s important to know what you can and cannot ask. Subjects to avoid are race, ethnicity, age, desire to have children, gender, religion, and so on.
  • Don’t show you’re nervous. If you’re quite inexperienced as a manager, you’re bound to be a little nervous. While that’s very natural and perfectly alright, you should make sure to keep your nerves under control. You’re obviously not going to get the best candidate if you’re stuttering, fidgeting and trembling

5. Talking too much

The interview isn’t about you, it’s about them. As a rule, you should listen more than you talk. Keep in mind the 80/20 rule: 80% listening and 20%. If you do too much of the talking yourself, you run the risk of leading candidates to give answers you want to hear. Your main job as a manager is to listen. By listening actively, you can discover a lot about the candidate’s personality and motivation. You can take notes of things that strike you and ask about them later.

4 tips for a great interview

So, we’ve already given you a pretty good idea of what not to do, and how to do better. Here are 4 additional tips for a successful interview. We’re hoping this will help you to turn that candidate into a colleague!

1. Prepare the interview thoroughly

Preparing the interview beforehand is key. You should carefully study the candidate’s CV and cover letter and LinkedIn profile. When you’ve done your research, you can prepare your questions.

Most companies have a fixed set of questions they ask every candidate, and specific questions for each role as well. Asking everyone the same things allow you to compare candidates more objectively. Of course, it’s important to make it a conversation and there should also be questions specific to each candidate, and don’t forget to leave room for questions that come up naturally during the interview as well.

It’s easy to get lost in conversation during an interview. Preparing questions in advance ensures you’ll cover all your bases. It’s also a good idea to establish a structure for your interview. A good structure for an interview is:

  • Introducing yourself and asking questions that allow the candidate to introduce themselves
  • Explaining the interview process
  • Describing the company and the job
  • Asking your questions to the candidate
  • Answering the candidate’s questions
  • Explaining the next steps (we’ll get to that later)



2. Listen for motivation instead of focusing on credentials

This is something we at Exellys keep repeating: hire for attitude, train for skill. Maybe a candidate lacks one or two skills that you’d like to see in an ideal employee, but that shouldn’t be a deal breaker. If there’s a good fit with the company culture, don’t be afraid to take a chance. You can always teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. Oftentimes, a candidate’s enthusiasm and motivation will tell you more about their value for your company, than a few credentials on their CV.

3. Emphasize development opportunities

Talent (and especially young talent) cares about more than salary and job descriptions. They have their own career goals that they want to attain. What they want to know, is which opportunities for growth your company offers. How can they develop their skills? What learning opportunities do you offer? Which roles might be within reach for them in the not-too-distant future? Besides learning and development, emphasising other coveted job aspects such as flexibility, autonomy, work-life balance, well-being and social events can put you over the top with a candidate that’s on the fence.

4. Be clear about the next steps

When the candidate leaves the interview, they should know what to expect. Let them know what the next steps in the process are, and when they should expect to hear back. Don’t make them wait too long. A survey conducted by Indeed shows that 52% of job seekers are extremely likely to move forward in an interview process if they hear back from an employer within 48 hours. If there’s a possibility of a second interview, let them know when that may happen approximately so they can adjust their schedule if necessary. And even if you decide not to continue with a candidate, have the courtesy to let them know in a timely fashion. If you ‘ghost’ your candidate, they might tell their peers about your poor manners and it could hurt your image as a company. Especially now that platforms such as Glassdoor are only gaining popularity.

Finally, thank the candidate for his or her time and show appreciation for their interest in the position. Don’t forget to wish them a nice day and leave them feeling good about the job!

About Exellys

Exellys is a Tech Talent Incubator. We bring tech talent into the daily operations of the organisation of our customers and grow them for the innovations of tomorrow.

From the 1.500 tech talents we speak to annually, we select the top 7%. We intensively train and coach them on the right skills and competences. Our (scientifically based) training programs (Start Smart, Grow Smart & Lead Smart) accelerate the growth of our talents, and therefore also the growth of our customers.

We “unburden” our clients when looking for and retaining tech talent. We are committed to getting the best out of talent, while our customers can continue to focus on their core business.

We do this for organisations who want to strengthen their team permanently, as well as those who are looking for a flexible, project-driven solution. Get in touch with us today and find out how we can help.