10 Interview Errors that Can Scare off Top Talent (Part 1)

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Scared manIt’s easy to think that as an employer interviewing a bank of candidates, you hold all the aces; in reality, that is unlikely to be the case. Because while you will always be able to hire ‘a warm body’ as the expression goes, the best candidates will have a career plan and other options and will be weighing your business up to see if it is the best option for them at the current time. They’ll be interviewing you too.

So your interviewers will need to be on their best behavior during interviews to avoid deterring star candidates, and below I have outlined  five interview errors to avoid that can scare off top talent.

1. Portraying a one-way interview process

Unless you have an employer brand to die for (like Google), you should assume that top talent is assessing you for fit, just as much as you are assessing them. And since the candidate is assessing your business, your interview process should be promotional but honest, informative, accommodating and flexible within reason and very responsive to questioning.

2. Not being prepared

An easy way to turn off candidates is not being ready at the start of the interview. If you show up late and spend the opening part of the interview checking over the resume, you send the impression that you’re not organized or that you’re not taking the candidate seriously. The effect is worsened if the interviewee is the hiring manager. This is an easy way to scare off top talent.

3. Asking irrelevant brainteaser questions

“How many ping pong balls can you fit in a 747 airplane?” Google has recently denounced and stopped using its brainteaser questions after its own internal studies showed they were a complete waste of time, they don’t predict anything and just serve to make the interviewer feel smart. In my experience, candidates generally thought badly of these kind of interview questions and of employers who ask them. So, asking irrelevant brainteaser questions could make you appear arrogant and out of step with modern thinking, both turnoffs.

4. Long and complex interview process

Time will be at a premium for top talent that is currently employed, and unemployed top talent will be looking to find suitable employment as soon as possible due to financial pressures. Either way, an overly long and complex interview process (requiring three or more visits to the office) that seems to drag on and on, and with no obvious end in sight, is an obvious turn off to candidates.

Candidates should be told from the outset: the number of interviews required (which should be kept to a minimum); over what time period; when you expect to make a selection decision; and when you would ideally like the candidate to start. Woolliness in this area can be a serious turn-off as it creates uncertainty in the candidate’s mind about the commitment and conviction around this position.

5. Asking if a candidate is a self starter able to work with limited guidance. This can be a seemingly great question to ask from the point of view of an employer, particularly one where there is limited management structure in place. The problem is that smart candidates may see this an alarm bell: The management structure is not fit for purpose; the company is looking for self managing people to plug a gap, which the company should really be addressing itself. Translation? They are being taken advantage of.

Top talent wants to be challenged, but they want support not exploitation. Be careful with this question, particularly in small companies.

Stayed tuned for the final five interview errors in part 2 of this article.

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Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.