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6 Common Mistakes Interviewers Make and How to Avoid Them

Developing strong interviewer skills is key to converting the most highly qualified candidates into hires. A 2020 CareerPlug study found that 50% of job seekers had declined a job offer due to poor experience during the hiring process.

Many small business owners struggle in this area, especially when they’re not full-time recruiters or seasoned HR professionals. It’s always worth honing your interview skills because the best candidates will always have the freedom to be selective about where they choose to work. 

We’ve put together our advice for avoiding common interviewing mistakes so that you can create a great candidate experience, build a solid employer brand, and make the best hires for your business every time.

6 common interviewing mistakes and how to avoid them

1. Being unprepared

Most applicants prepare thoroughly for an interview. It’s important to show that same level of preparedness. Showing up to an interview unprepared sends the wrong message about how much you value a candidate’s time. It also gives the impression that the business itself is disorganized.

The interview itself is not the time to read a candidate’s CV and resume for the first time. Set aside as little as 5-10 minutes ahead of the interview to review the resume. If there’s something in their application that needs clarification or there’s something you find interesting, make a note and include it in your interview questions.

If you’ve asked the candidate to complete a sample assignment such as a writing exercise, a coding challenge, or a proposal template, remember that the candidate likely spent hours working on the assignment. Return the courtesy by taking the appropriate amount of time to review it so you can deliver meaningful interview feedback

2. Poor questioning technique

One trend the recruiting world has seen over the past few years is brainteaser interview questions – but research shows these questions do not help evaluate a candidate’s potential to perform on the job. These questions could sour an applicant’s experience and have a negative impact on your reputation as an employer.

Keep your questions relevant. For instance, you can ask them behavioral or situational questions, such as “Tell me about a time when you…” Ask questions that reveal their accomplishments, opportunities, and the reason they applied for the role. 

You should also ask technical questions to know if they’re familiar with the tools they will be required to use on the job. For example, are they familiar with the software, such as Google Docs or Docusign alternatives, that you use as a team?

A new hire is an investment for your business’s future, so you’ll want to hire people interested in growing with your company. Try to look beyond the resume and ask questions that reveal their growth potential. Asking questions about the applicant’s career aspirations, areas in which they want to grow, and their longer-term goals will help you see if they align with your business.

Learn more about hiring for growth potential in the video below from CareerPlug’s Senior Director of People, Natalie Morgan.

3. Asking potentially illegal questions

Many interviewers unknowingly ask questions that they aren’t legally allowed to ask, even when they think they’re just making small talk. However, a lot of seemingly innocuous questions can be seen as discriminatory and are thus illegal. Here are a few common questions that could get you in hot water and some alternatives you can use.

Don’t ask: “Where do you live?” 

If you’re hiring for site-based work, you might naturally be concerned about the candidate’s attendance and the amount of time it takes for them to get to the workplace. However, if a rejected candidate lives in an area with a large minority population, that question can be discriminatory.

Ask these instead: “Would you consider relocating for this job?” or “Will getting to and from work be an issue for you?” or “Can you commit to being here at 8 a.m. every day?”

These questions deal solely with the time aspect of the job, which clears you of any liability associated with residence-based employment discrimination.

Don’t ask: “How old are you?”

This question is one of the most commonly asked in job interviews. However, it’s also illegal. Laws such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) specifically prohibit age as a condition for employment. While the ADEA specifically covers candidates and employees aged 40 above, some states have laws that protect younger candidates as well. Asking oblique questions, such as “When did you graduate high school?” is also illegal.

Ask these instead: “This job is physically demanding. Would you have any issues with that?” 

These questions ask about the candidate’s physical condition, which is not prohibited by law, especially when the job requires a lot of physical labor. 

Don’t ask: “Do you plan to have children?”

Asking a candidate whether they intend to have children can be interpreted as discrimination against a person who could get pregnant. This is a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits employers from assuming that female employees have responsibilities at home that keep them from committing to their jobs. 

Ask these instead: “How do you think this job fits into your career goals?” or “Are you fine with working overtime?”

The common thread that runs through both questions is the focus on the job, not the candidate. These questions will make the candidate consider their future plans, even personal ones, in the context of the time demands of the job.

For more information about illegal interview questions, check out this guide from the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission. 

Try to look beyond the resume and ask questions that reveal their growth potential.

4. Being too quick to judge

It’s easy to form preconceived ideas or views about a candidate’s suitability for the position during your interview preparation. Perhaps you are worried about a potential skills gap or career choice after reading their CV.

While these concerns may be warranted, it’s important to remember that we’re all susceptible to unconscious bias in hiring. Hiring managers can avoid falling into the trap of confirmation bias, the halo effect, contrast bias, and more by taking the time to learn how to recognize when they occur. 

By learning how to make objective judgments based on facts rather than emotions, hiring managers can make better hiring decisions and reduce turnover. Read CareerPlug’s guide, 7 Ways to Avoid Hiring Bias, to learn more.

5. Failing to listen and dominating the discussion

There’s a reason it’s called an interview: It’s supposed to be an exchange of ideas. If you embark on a monologue and insist on dominating the discussion, you won’t learn much from the conversation. 

During an interview, let the candidate do most of the talking. You can ask follow-up questions based on what a candidate says or ask them to elaborate on something. Always keep in mind that the purpose of each step in the hiring process is to determine whether or not you want to learn more about the candidate. 

An interview is a data-gathering process, so gather as much data as you can!

Avoid asking close-ended questions with “Yes” or “No” answers. Instead, use open-ended questions that draw on the candidate’s experiences: Why do you want to join the company? How do you think your experience makes you suited for the role? Can you tell me about a situation in which you had to work through conflict? 

Always keep in mind that the purpose of each step in the hiring process is to determine whether or not you want to learn more about the candidate.

6. Appearing uninterested or distracted

One major red flag for an applicant is an interviewer who seems entirely uninterested in what they have to say. Candidates will instinctively feel when you’re less than enthusiastic about them. 

In a 2020 candidate experience survey, a whopping 22% of job seekers declined a job offer because of a negative experience with the people in the interview process, citing rude or distracted interviewers or a hiring process that seemed disorganized. Candidates took these as reflections of the company as a whole.

During the interview, make a deliberate effort to demonstrate your undivided attention. Sit up straight, lean in as they talk, maintain eye contact, smile and nod as they respond, and take notes. Consider turning off your phone or leaving it out of the room altogether. Above all, you need to listen intently and actively. 

For more tips on how to create a great candidate experience, watch the video below from CareerPlug’s Senior Director of People, Natalie Morgan.


  • As an interviewer, it’s important to be prepared, patient, and genuine. 
  • Only ask the questions that will allow you to learn whether or not you’re interested in moving the candidate forward in the hiring process – not quirky questions, irrelevant questions, or illegal questions.
  • Make sure you’ve created a great candidate experience in order to protect your employer brand.

About the Author

Petra Odak is the Chief Marketing Officer at Better Proposals, a simple yet incredibly powerful proposal software tool that helps you send high-converting, web-based business proposals in minutes. She’s a solution-oriented marketing enthusiast with more than 5 years of experience in various fields of marketing and project management.

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