The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Good Cop/Bad Cop Interviews

Want help with your hiring? It's easy. Enter your information below, and we'll quickly reach out to discuss your hiring needs.

ChairIf you work in the world of recruiting, you’re most likely familiar with an interview technique known as “Good Cop/Bad Cop.” The Good Cop explains the benefits of the job and focuses on the more expected, less intimidating questions: Tell me about yourself; what are your strengths? The Bad Cop asks the tough questions: Do you think you’ll be challenged in this role? This job has a lot of travel – how will that work with your home life? 

The goal of Good Cop/Bad Cop, in theory, is to ensure that the candidate fully understands the job, particularly its challenging aspects. When done correctly, Good Cop/Bad Cop interviewing weeds out weak candidates and avoids any confusion around the role. However, if executed poorly, this technique not only scares off top talent, but also damages your brand. 

Here are the most common mistakes in Good Cop/Bad Cop interviewing and how to avoid them:

1. Bad Cop off the Rails

In any Good Cop/Bad Cop interview process, you must ensure that the Bad Cop is clear on the difference between tough, fair questions and offensive comments or queries. I’ve seen too many instances where a strong, viable candidate pulls out of an interview process or declines an offer because they were offended by an interviewer. And the client, oftentimes, is shocked. 

Define up front with your Bad Cop the areas that are fair and appropriate and those that are not. They should be well versed on specific talking points. As the hiring manager, communicate your criteria to interviewers so they know what to focus on. This is the first step of every successful hiring process.

2. Too Many Cops on the Force

In recent years, the cast of characters involved in an interview process has increased significantly. There’s nothing wrong with the team having a brief meet and greet with a potential new hire, but sitting down with multiple people — who will have no direct relationship with the candidate — is a waste of everyone’s time. An overwrought process yields team members who aren’t prepared, don’t have enough skin in the game, and ultimately bring an unprofessional, unprepared tone to the process, and subsequently, your brand.

Keep the interviewing tight, thoughtful, and efficient. No need for the village or more than one Bad Cop. Key players and decision-makers only. When you bring in too many people, it leaves the candidate scratching their head about the role and your company.

3. The Breaking Bad Cop 

This is a disgruntled or egotistical employee who taints your interview process and the candidate’s view of your company. I was recently involved in a Breaking Bad Cop example with a well-known company when a V.P.-level Bad Cop spoke so disparagingly about the company and its leadership that my V.P.-level candidate withdrew on the day the client was prepared to make him an offer. 

When I explained to the client why my candidate withdrew, they were shocked. They had asked the Bad Cop to be transparent, but clearly, this is not what they intended. When the Bad Cop was asked what happened, his response was that if the candidate couldn’t get through him, then he wasn’t right for the job. Needless to say, they lost a fabulous candidate, and the role is still open six months later. The best way to avoid the Breaking Bad Cop scenario is to have a hiring manager present during the interview.

We’re no longer in a recession, and good candidates are no longer a dime a dozen. There is a very good chance that the people who walk through your door have several opportunities in the pipeline. You need to impress them as much as they need to impress you.

Good Cop/Bad Cop interviewing can be effective, but only if it’s done well. If you don’t have a tight process, then this interview technique isn’t for you. Don’t let your great company miss out on hiring great people because your Good Cop/Bad Cop process is more bad than good.

Read more in Interview Techniques

Joyce Bethoney is director of recruiting for Communications Collaborative, a marketing, advertising, and creative staffing firm and a division of Pile and Company. Joyce has been in the business of creative staffing and recruiting since 2003, and a part of the creative industry since the inception of her career in television production. Her expertise across all creative and marketing functions has made her a go-to resource in the New England market for securing hard-to-find talent.