A couple of years ago, I walked into a day of interviews at an Ohio-based Fortune 500 company. It was the second round — I liked everyone I met in the first round except the Chief Financial Officer — he was late, and he was dismissive. Everyone else was lovely, so I figured it was just a bad day.
After another morning of interviews for the second round, I walked into a meeting with a relatively inexperienced member of the finance team, who the recruiter said was considered "high potential" within the company. I was excited to speak with her because I love talking to those in the trenches. Here is how I was greeted: "The CFO doesn’t think you have any finance skills, so I’m going to assess that today." Her 'gotcha' question? The definition of return on invested capital. I decided at that moment I didn’t want the job. I didn’t answer her question and I just smiled. Was it the right thing to do? No, but it felt damn right at the moment. And if that was "high potential" — I'll stick with the people who have no finance skills, thanks.
The fact is, the interview process — and hiring managers themselves — can scare away good candidates. A candidate may not be right for the role, but a negative interview process can have lasting impacts on brands and companies. Here are 10 mistakes bad hiring managers make, according to the experts:
1. Lack of preparation
Bruce Hurwitz, Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd., said:
"Candidates arrive for an interview and the first question the hiring manager asks is, 'Do you have a copy of your resume? I can't find my copy.' That pretty much ends it right there because it sends the message, 'If you work here be advised, I'm disorganized. This is how we do things here!'"
2. Being "judgy"
Gretchen Skalka, Senior Manager of Content and Creative Services at TBC Corporation, said:
"I've had managers tell me they knew the interview was over before it began based on what the candidate wore or looked, if they were nervous (which many are) or if they were too confident. This is rooted in a fundamental disrespect either for the candidate, the company or the job itself (or sometimes all three)."
3. Zero strategic insight
Pam Bilash, SVP of Human Resources at DHI Group, Inc., said:
"If a hiring manager doesn’t have deep knowledge of the company and its goals, that’s a problem and should be a red flag to any candidate. Some managers only know what they and their department does, which means the career growth and overall direction of the company isn’t clear or relevant to your job. That siloed approach won’t work for any professional in the long-term."
4. Playing games
Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant at Anglo Liners, said:
"Trying to trick the candidate by asking negative questions, to see how they respond will really dissuade a candidate from wanting to interview again at a company. As much as a hiring manager should try to find out all they can about the potential employee sitting before them in an interview, asking loaded questions is a big mistake to make during the recruitment process. The most important part of an interview is making a candidate feel at ease, relaxed and as a result, fulfilled with the company culture by the end of the interview."
5. Lack of authenticity
Chuck Solomon, Co-Founder of LineHire, said:
"The biggest mistake made by some hiring managers is not being authentic in the interviewing process. That is they should be authentic and accurate in describing both the pluses and minuses of working at their company and working within their particular team. All too often I have heard from candidates after starting a new role, that the 'rosy' picture a hiring manager had painted during interviews turned out to be rather 'gray'. "
6. Too much talking
Scott Wintrip, Founder of Wintrip Consulting Group, said:
"When hiring managers dominate the conversation during an interview, they’re sending a powerful negative message—my thoughts and ideas are more important than yours. Savvy candidates want to work for bosses who hear what they have to say and value their opinions. That begins in the interview. How you conduct a dialogue will either attract or repel top talent."
7. Compensation interrogation
Dr. Kim Turnage. Senior Leadership Consultant at Talent Plus, said:
"Candidates are becoming more and more wary of revealing their current salary in an interview process. Stories abound about how to turn the conversation in a different direction when those questions arise. Hiring managers should think carefully about how to handle that kind of conversation (in some states they cannot even ask) and how to keep high quality candidates interested in the job even if salary becomes a sticking point. What other benefits can they offer from a total compensation perspective? What intangible benefits exist based on the fit between the candidate’s goals and the company’s culture?"
Angela Copeland, Career Coach at CopelandCoaching, said:
"When the hiring manager shows signs of being unreliable or inconsistent, the job seeker notices -- and it does factor into their decision whether or not to accept a job offer. The hiring manager should treat the candidate the way they would also want to be treated. Be on time. Be prepared. Provide feedback to the candidate in the timeline promised. Treat the candidate with respect."
9. Long and unclear process
Dana Case, Director of Operations at MyCorporation.com, said:
"When candidates are not aware of where they stand in the process, there is a high chance that they will move on to other opportunities. I have found it most efficient to set the expectation of the process when you meet with them and an occasional phone call or email helps keep them up to date! We recently admired a highly potential candidate and made the mistake of waiting to connect until after the weekend. Unfortunately, by the time we reached out on Monday morning, she had already accepted a different position that she was offered elsewhere."
10. Lack of Communication
Lori Scherwin, Founder of Strategize That, said:
"A huge and all too common complaint by prospective employees who are interviewing is the lack of follow-up, and or the length of time in between communications. Sometimes hiring managers are held back from being in touch because of HR processes - but either way, a communication plan should be in place."
In my situation, I realized after the fact that the question had more to do with the CFO’s anxieties than my experience and skills. He’s a non-traditional CFO coming from an operations career. I'm non-traditional too – learning that I loved finance through work at a hedge fund and a smaller company. He wanted to check all the boxes; I preferred to have an interesting life. Next time, I handle it more gracefully, and ask how does a definition learned in college properly assess my financial skills? But, I still wouldn't work at or with that company.
That's the first rule of interviewing to remember. The process, questions, and communications will tell you more about them than you. Make sure you are paying attention.