You’re interviewing candidates all wrong. Here’s how to do it right

The fight for talent is fiercer than it has ever been and hiring managers who stick to outmoded recruitment processes will lose out. Here are four ways to upgrade your interviewing skills

230912 Lyz Ryan Oped Illo

I love HR and leadership – at least, I love them when they’re done well. It’s tragic and infuriating when they’re done badly.

Over my 20-plus years as an HR leader, and even more years as an HR and leadership speaker and consultant, I have learned what works and what doesn’t. What I’m going to tell you now will not surprise you. Nevertheless, it bears repeating.

When you treat people like professionals and value creators, it’s easy to attract and hang onto talent.

When you treat people like cogs in your machine, the best people will leave in a hurry – or you won’t meet them at all, because your recruiting process will drive them away.

Why you have to humanise your recruitment process

The great thing about humanising your recruiting process is that it’s free and it gives you an edge over other employers. So, why don’t more organisations do it?

It comes down to mindset. Too many CEOs and their lieutenants still subscribe to the idea that a candidate should bow and scrape to get a job with their organisations. Somehow they’ve confused talent and brains for subservience. That’s why they still ask ancient, insulting interview questions like “why do you want this job?”

You learn much more about a person through the questions they ask you than through their answers to done-to-death questions

What makes you think the candidate wants the job? They came to the interview to learn more – the same reason you invited them. They don’t know whether they want the job yet. This is your chance to sell them on the role, your company and yourself as their manager!

It can be hard to change an embedded mindset, particularly one you grew up with and may not be conscious of. The idea that employers are mighty and job candidates are interchangeable peons is a part of a long-standing and unexamined mindset. 

If you want to attract great candidates and get them on your team, you’ve got to leave that mindset behind.

What truly valuing talent looks like in practice

I was lucky as a young HR person because my CEO believed that talent was central to our success. That meant the company would do whatever it needed to, to get the right people on board, even flying to where they lived to conduct an interview and be opening and transparent about strategy and plans.

That outlook made my job much easier. I flew cross-country to meet candidates in their home airports between their kid’s Little League game and their afternoon errands. If I got the candidate interested in our firm, the trip was a triumph.

I met candidates for eggs and coffee at midnight. That’s how you let candidates know the poster on the wall that says ‘We value talent” is for real. 

I had dinners and lunches with candidates, spouses and partners, and kids and nursing babies. If our firm doesn’t value a candidate’s time and attention, why should they give us a second look?

Four ways to upgrade your interviewing process

Throw away the script

If you need a script to interview candidates, you probably shouldn’t be interviewing anyone. An interview is a back-and-forth conversation between two people with equal power in the hiring equation.

You don’t need a script. Lay out the history of the role – is it new? Was there someone in the job who left or got promoted? What will the person in this job be doing and why does it matter? 

Here’s a simple truth every recruiter knows: you learn much more about a person through the questions they ask you than through their answers to done-to-death questions from an interview script.


At the end of the interview, tell the candidate what the rest of the process looks like. “I’ll be done with this round of interviews on Friday; early next week I’ll be in touch. The next step would be to meet my director, Jerri.” 

If there are steps after that, lay them out. Make it your highest priority to get back to candidates after interviews, even if just to say “sorry for the delay; I’ll have an update tomorrow.”

Your timeline is not the only timeline that matters. 

Don’t ask any question you wouldn’t want to be asked yourself

Don’t ask candidates where they see themselves in five years because, really, who cares? Did any of us see ourselves three years into a pandemic, five years ago? Don’t ask them what their last boss would say about them (especially given that bad bosses are the number one reason people quit their jobs). Talk about their background, your background, the company and the role. That’s plenty.

Don’t ask insulting questions like, “What’s your greatest weakness?” or “Why should we hire you?” These dreadful, outdated questions have no place in a modern business conversation. 

Sell by listening

Because interviewing is stressful, many interviewers talk too much during interviews. Your principal job is to listen. Let the candidate ask you questions about the role, the challenges, the technology and the team. 

You’ll sell more effectively by listening to candidates than by blathering on about what a great company it is to work for. A great culture, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder!

Being ‘human’ is the key to great interviews

Assume that just as you have other candidates to meet, each candidate has other companies to talk to. The names of those other employers are none of your business, so don’t ask. 

Talk about the work and your challenges through 2023 and into next year. Talk about what’s meaty and impactful about the job and why a smart person with other options would want the assignment. 

If you interview candidates primarily to screen people out of the pipeline, you’re doing it wrong. 

No one praises the procurement department for considering 100 vendors before choosing the right one. They get praised for finding the most suitable vendor and getting them on board. 

Recruiting is about inviting people into the fold, not looking for reasons to reject them. Your job as a recruiter or interviewer is to get candidates interested and keep them that way.

It isn’t hard to do and the benefits are huge. You just have to shift your mindset back to “human.”  

Liz Ryan is the CEO and Founder of Human Workplace, a coaching and consulting firm whose mission is to reinvent work for people, and the world’s most widely-read career and workplace culture authority.