6 interview tips for hiring managers: Do's and don'ts

Looking to hire a new team member? These interviewer do's and don'ts for hiring managers will help you avoid common missteps and get the most from your interview
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Interviewing is a skill that improves with practice and preparation. But too often, IT managers don’t put in the work necessary to identify great candidates and instead make decisions based on imperfect information, using their gut as a fallback.

Let's look at some tips from great interviewers to help you get the most from your interview.

1. Don't make inappropriate small talk

Inappropriate questions don't always seem inappropriate on the surface. Let's break down a few examples. 

  • When did you graduate from college?
  • Where do you go to church?
  • How many kids do you have?

No, no, and no.

On the surface, these questions might seem innocuous – they are the kind of questions you might ask when striking up a conversation at a dinner party. But while such icebreakers are fine in social situations, they are plagued with problems in a job interview. Some are even illegal.

Consider how a candidate might interpret these questions if they are not offered the job:

  • You are ageist.
  • You discriminated against me because I’m an atheist.
  • You didn’t consider anyone with children.

[ Read also: 7 top DevOps engineer interview questions for 2020. ]

Think carefully about your questions prior to the interview and eliminate any that might in any way be considered inappropriate. This includes questions regarding personal relationships, age, religion, gender, and race – generally, avoid any topic not directly related to the candidate’s ability to perform the duties of the position.

2. Do respect the candidate's value

Imagine you are about to meet your next star programmer – someone who will be with your company for the next decade and become a foundation for your department. You’d probably put extra time and effort into preparing for the interview, and you’d certainly turn off your phone to eliminate distractions during the interview. Under no circumstance would you consider making the candidate wait 30 minutes or longer.

Walk into every interview with the expectation that you are about to meet your next great hire.

Walk into every interview with the expectation that you are about to meet your next great hire. Every candidate deserves your respect and your full attention for the short time they are with you. Keep in mind that interviews go both ways: Just as you are evaluating the candidate, she or he is also assessing you and the organization. If you are tardy, distracted, or generally ill-prepared, why would they want to work with you?

3. Don't "stress interview"

To this day, my most memorable interview was a “stress interview.” I walked in confident and generally feeling good about my prospects in the marketplace. The hiring manager started out with some light “getting to know you” questions, but it wasn’t long before he started needling me. Every answer I offered was wrong, and he challenged me at every turn. He was overtly combative, even calling me a liar at one point.

Things escalated to the point where I almost got up, thanked him for his time, and showed myself out. Instead, I dropped any hope of getting the job and decided to simply have a conversation with the guy. Somehow, it worked, and I arose from the smoldering ash. It turned out to be one of the best jobs I’ve ever had – but it almost didn’t happen.

In hindsight, I now realize why he took this approach: Stress was part of the job, and he wanted to see how I would handle myself in front of an irate client. But there are better ways to do this.

Interviewing is inherently stressful: Candidates are meeting a group of strangers who are judging their fitness for the position. Interviewees reside in a constant state of unease, never knowing what question is coming next. The last thing any candidate needs is for an interviewer to amp the stress up to eleven. It could well lose you a great candidate.

4. Don't hold the conversation hostage

If you’re not careful, it’s easy to lose sight of the goal of the interview: You have a fleeting chance to see if the candidate is bright and resourceful and if their personality meshes with the team and your culture. If you are monopolizing the conversation, you aren’t doing any of these things.

As the interviewer, your key role is to ask a question and get out of the way. Focus on really hearing their response so you can ask thoughtful follow-up questions. There should be a natural give and take in the conversation, but the focus should always fall on the candidate. When you lose focus, you waste this valuable opportunity.

5. Do write things down

Always set aside time following each interview to gather your thoughts. Catalog what really stood out to you about the candidate – good and bad. Highlight what unique answers and clever ideas they brought to the table. Do a brain dump of your session and get it all on paper.

I’ve done marathon interviewing sessions where I was desperately trying to piece together conversations from four candidates back. You may think your memory is infallible, but I guarantee it will fail you at the most inopportune times. Once you’ve committed your thoughts to paper, you can clear memory and start fresh with each new candidate. You can size up the competition later.

6. Don't be a boring interviewer

Are you guilty of relying on these over-used, boring questions in job interviews?

  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?

Boring questions illicit boring answers. They suggest that you’ve put little thought into this and the candidate’s answers really don’t matter to you.

The interview is your chance to really talk with your next prospective team member, so use this window wisely. Ask questions that really get at what makes them tick as a technologist. Draw out their passions. A 30-minute conversation is an imperfect vehicle for choosing a pivotal team member, but when you structure it well you can learn enough to help you make an informed decision.

Great interviewers know where the landmines are hidden. Recognizing these helps chart the path to success. Becoming a great interviewer takes effort, but it’s worth the investment.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free Ebook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

Mark Runyon works as a director of consulting for Improving. For the past 20 years, he has designed and implemented innovative technology solutions for companies in the finance, logistics, and pharmaceutical space. He is a frequent speaker at technology conferences and is a contributing writer at InformationWeek.