Most Interviewers Are Bad — and That’s Why You Keep Making Bad Hiring Decisions

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Talent makes or breaks an organization. You’ve heard that before — but that doesn’t help anybody if a bad hire has already been made. Bad hires mean nothing but trouble.

Of course, bad hires lead to wasted money. In terms of manpower, onboarding, and training costs, you’ve probably spent thousands of dollars to fill this role, and now it turns out the person sitting in the seat isn’t the right fit. This is to say nothing of the productivity lost during the hiring process, as the bad hire sits in the role, and as your team sets out to find a replacement.

But you already know all of that, too. Who hasn’t signed off on a hire who blew up in their face? It could happen to anyone, and it does. That doesn’t mean a bad hire is nothing to worry about. It is, very much so.

If bad hires are so bad, if they happen with such regularity, that leads us to an important question: Is there anything we can do about them?

To answer that question, we have to first understand what causes bad hires.

How Do Bad Hires Get Made?

Bad hires come from a number of causes — for example, poorly defined hiring goals. Some businesses go into the hiring process with more of an interest in filling a position than in getting the right person for that position. These companies don’t come up with a clear vision of what they want — and then they’re surprised when they don’t get what they want!

Bad hires can also happen when time to hire is majorly delayed. This problem often arises when the hiring decision is split up among too many people. Large decision-making committees often hesitate to make a mire, leading to endless rounds of interview after interview before a decision is finally made. This is what they call “death by interview” : Top-notch candidates usually won’t bother waiting around for an unnecessarily long interview process to finish up. By the time the committee makes a decision, only the bottom-of-the-barrel candidates are left.

For the purposes of this article, however, I want to focus on the No. 1 cause of bad hires — the factor that, more than anything else, leads to costly mistakes that hurt the bottom line and eat away at the company’s culture over time: Poor interview skills.

Most Interviewers Are Bad

Many hiring decision-makers treat interviewing like they’re just going through the motions. That’s fine — as long as the interview goes perfectly.

You and I both know that interviews just don’t go perfectly. There’s always at least one point of confusion, one hiccup, one thing that needs clarification. When that happens, you need an interviewer with real skills.

Any interviewer can read a set of scripted questions and recommend the candidate they believe gave the best answers. A great interviewer is one who knows why those questions are being asked, what they tell us about a candidate’s suitability for the position, and how to ask follow-up questions in case there’s an issue.

In many organizations, interviewers simply do not have the critical thinking skills required to conduct an interview that actually determines who the best candidate is. Whether because of a lack of training, a lack of information, or a lack of interviewing ability, most interviewers are unable to match up the best candidates with the roles. The mark of a good interviewer is that they understand what the role requires and how to ask the right questions to uncover whether the candidate has what it takes.

Turning Around the Interview Process

The first step in turning around the interview process is understanding exactly what is needed from the ideal candidate in the role. This includes things like hard and soft skills, but also more nebulous notions like cultural fit. No matter how hazy certain factors of the hiring decision may be, interviewers need to be able to articulate exactly what the right candidate will look like.

The next step is defining the requirements for an acceptable candidate. Note: “acceptable,” not “ideal.” Understanding acceptability can seriously mitigate the death by interview problem, because these guidelines stop you from scheduling interview after interview in hopes that a nonexistent perfect candidate will walk through the door. Commit to making a hiring decision as soon as you find a candidate who meets your acceptable requirements.

Interviewers also need to be trained in the specific critical-thinking and interviewing skills that will allow them to conduct successful interviews. No matter how carefully planned your hiring strategy is, you won’t get the hires you need unless your interviewers are up to the challenge.

One of the things your interviewers need to learn is this key fact: It is not enough for your hiring team to conduct a series of interviews and hire the person they liked most out of the bunch. The most likable person may not be the most qualified — or even qualified at all. Training can help your interviewers mentally separate how much they like a candidate from how well they believe the candidate would do in the role.

Behavioral interview questions are a great way to really assess a candidate’s skills, both hard and soft, and any good interviewer training will educate participants on this method of questioning. Many interview questions focus on a candidate’s long-term plans and self-assessment. Those things are important, but they’re not enough to evaluate a candidate’s suitability. The best indicator of how well a candidate will contribute to your success is how well they’ve contributed to the success of past employers. With behavioral questions, you change the focus from what candidates think of themselves to the results candidates have actually produced.

Last of all, if you find your hiring process needs a massive overhaul in order to correct the bad-hiring problem, it may be time to call in an outsider, like an executive search recruiter. An outside recruiting expert can often help you define your hiring needs and provide skilled interviewers who will be able to find the best candidates for the job.

Bad hires and high turnover come from problems in the hiring process itself. Bad hires are a symptom of a bad hiring process. Without treating the disease, the symptom won’t go away.

Jeffrey Audette is president of VMG Recruiting. Contact Jeff at

By Jeffrey Audette