18 Employer Interview Tips: How To Interview People for a Job (and Still Stay Human)

Most people who come to this blog are looking for a job and therefore at the mercy of employers and anyone employers choose to do screening and interviews for them. (Including computers programmed to screen in ways that often miss a lot of good candidates.) But some of you may one day at one point in your career also have the honor of being an interviewer or playing a role in the hiring process.

So it might be a good thing to create a list of tips for anyone on the buying side of the interview. I’m going to start the ball rolling, but by no means do I consider my list complete. Please feel free to add your own suggestions and thoughts to our Employer Interview Tips list. The interview you save might be your own!

Interview Tips for Employers & Folks in Charge of Hiring

  1. Please don’t let just anyone screen resumes.
  2. Please don’t let just anyone make screening calls.
  3. If you are strapped for employees and/or cash, please at least have a word with the person doing the screening and make sure they really know what they’re doing and what you want.
  4. If you rely on automated screening of resumes, please make sure the people programming in the key words really understand how to do it well and how important this initial selection via key words is.
  5. When it comes to screening, cast a wide net at the initial pass if at all possible, despite the massive numbers. You may catch a big fish. (I have found and hired good people who would have been totally missed in a rigid screening.)
  6. If you say you’re going to call someone, make sure you do. If you see you’re going to be late or not able to do it at all (perhaps you found THE candidate), please let the interviewee know ASAP.
  7. Please take the time before you start the hiring process to have a general action plan and inform everyone in advance of their roles and potential timing.
  8. Please keep candidates informed. I know how hectic things get, but initial understanding of the anticipated process flow and a simple level of feedback can help keep people from jumping out of their skins – and maybe save you lots of unnecessary e-mails and phone calls.
  9. Let the candidate know how they can best keep informed of what’s happening. If you don’t want phone calls or e-mails, let them know. It drives them crazy to just hear crickets chirping. At least if they understand it’s simply your policy, they won’t take it quite as personally. 😉
  10. When you call folks in for interviews, help them by letting them know if this is going to be a lengthy process – for instance if you know this round alone will take a few weeks for scheduling reasons or whatever.
  11. When you conduct an interview, treat each candidate with respect even if you already know it’s a “no”.  (Offering them water or maybe a cup of coffee / tea when they get there and having a comfortable place for them to wait is a big plus.)
  12. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the candidate’s resume and job description. You’d be surprised how many people “wing it”.
  13. Ask questions that give the candidate a chance to tell you about themselves. Don’t try to trap them or give them a hard time just to see how they do. Come up with good, open ended questions that let them show you who they really are.
  14. Be clear about what you’re looking for and what the job entails. And ask questions that really get at whether they can do the job by probing past experience – both successes and failures. (How they approach the question and how they actually handle failures can be a good indicator of  what they’re like to work with.)
  15. If you check references, please don’t check everyone’s references. People sometimes look for a job for months and months and their references shouldn’t be bothered unless there’s a pretty sure offer coming.
  16. If you really aren’t interested in someone, please don’t wait until the end of the entire process to let them know. I understand this is the policy in many places, but it can be a cruel one. Maybe this policy should be revisited? Or at least, let candidates know up front this is the way you plan to do it.
  17. Please wrap up the process and let people know where they stand as quickly as is humanly possible. It’s good for them and for you. Sometimes the hiring process drags on and on simply because no one person is driving it. Make sure someone good at moving things along has the wheel.
  18. BIG BONUS: If candidates who didn’t get the offer call for feedback after the process is over, see if you can provide at least some constructive feedback. (I know there may be policy reasons you can’t.)  Or suggest other places in the company or elsewhere for her/him to look. Or maybe there’s some p/t free-lance work you can clue her/him into. Even talented, dynamic people start to feel their self-confidence slipping after months of being out of work. A small act of kindness like this can make a huge difference.

There’s more?

I think that’s enough from me. I leave the rest for you who are out there every day going through what often feels like a process created with no rhyme or reason. While I know from my own experience on the employer side there actually are reasons (not so many rhymes) in most cases, my question is whether the reasons can at least be revisited through eyes that have some understanding of what you’re putting people through. (See: Angst.) And I say this having myself been guilty early on (before my eyes were opened) of making some of the very mistakes that drive you buggy.

A while back, a reader named Matthew sent me his great list of of 5 things he wants an employer to know. You can find them here along with some terrific comments:

5 Ways Interviewers Make Job Seekers REALLY Angry

But I think we have MUCH more to tell them. So now…it’s your turn!

A few more posts you might find interesting:

How Do You Interview If Your Interviewer Doesn’t Know as Much as You Do?

What the Heck Goes On Behind the Scenes After a Job Interview?

Who the Heck is Screening Your Resume?


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Ronnie Ann – I stumbled upon your blog several months back and I’m so glad I did!! You always put a positive spin on what is, in my opinion, a crisis situation.

    I think you may have already said this – but I guess in all aspects of life I try to stick to The Golden Rule – “Treat others the way you wish to be treated.” It seems that compassion and humanity have been somehow lost these days. Treat the person you an interviewing with dignity and respect, the way you would like to be treated or how you would like a family member or friend to be treated.

    We are honest, hard-working people who are looking for a good opportunity. We are looking to be valued, respected, paid fairly and have some work-life balance.

  2. As usual, an excellent column. It can be so hard from the Candidate’s perspective to protect yourself from the sometimes thoughtless hiring process of some firms. I have had feedback from references that they were kept on the phone for lengthy periods and asked questions like “Why do you think Sophie is making a career change and willing to take a reduced salary?”. My reference asked me “isn’t she a recruiter? why wouldn’t she understand a career change? and last but not least, I referred her back to you for clarificaton on your personal reasons for a career change. I can only speak to your high value and fantastic work ethic”. Like you noted in the article, if a job search takes more than a few months – your references have to be guarded until only serious employers need that information. Otherwise, great references can run out of patience too which is very hard on a candidate.

    I think in this economy – a candidate has a lot of pressure on him/her. It says a lot about a firm to make the process as human and swift as possible – in order to a) secure the candidate they want or b) let the rest of the candidate pool know so that they can continue on in their search!

    Thanks for this article – I hope employers take note of it!


  3. I agree with Donna, job applicants want to be treated with respect. Sadly the notion that they should be is a foreign concept at many companies.

    Your point #18 hits the nail on the head. There is a psychological impact to treating prospects with disrespect, and bit-by-bit it is contributing to the mountain of angst that millions of job seekers are feeling.

  4. Hi Donna! Thanks for your kind words and terrific comment. Like this a lot “We are honest, hard-working people who are looking for a good opportunity. We are looking to be valued, respected, paid fairly and have some work-life balance.” And of course, do unto others never goes out of style.

    Hi Sophie! Thanks! Love the way your reference handled that. I have to admit, when I’ve done reference checking, I’ve dug into what might seem obvious just to see if anything else pops up since, as you would guess, people usually only give their good references. 😉 . Sometimes you can tell by the response there is may be something worth finding out more about. But I do try to do it as courteously as possible. Thanks for the great comment and excellent summary.

    Hi DC Jobs! Yes! Well said. Love the phrase “mountain of angst”. Amen to that. Always appreciate your visits and comments.

  5. number 8 hit hardest for me. Really, over 6 months into my search I get it now, that this whole thing just takes an absurd amount of time. But I still want to be kept informed, a simple outline of the process or at least some vague idea as to when I will be alerted of my status is all it takes to keep me relatively sane. If I know that it could take 2 or 3 weeks after an interview for a decision to made then that means that I can relax about it for a while and not wonder or obsess about the possibility of a phone call or reject immediately after. I truly feel how a company handles it’s applicants says a lot about them. I really don’t care how busy everyone there is, they’re hiring and looking for my skills and talent, why treat me like I don’t exist or like I’m a pest because I have the audacity to want to know if I’m wasting my time and energy on them? The company that I just had another interview with for a different position than I originally interviewed for is almost top notch in this respect. I say almost because for one thing my online application status has changed several times with no explanation whatsoever after my initial interview. Yesterday morning it was changed to “not selected” which to me meant a decision was made, either I didn’t get it and their still looking or I didn’t get it and someone else did. But that afternoon I had my 2nd interview and was told by the manager that no decision has been made for that position yet. I told him about my situation and he said he’d talk to HR about it, he was very sincere. I just said a little information is all it takes to make things easier for the applicant. I doubt I’m the top candidate for it, but it’s kind of ok because I believe I am the top for the other position that I want more. Plus I was told by the manager that I’m most interesting to him so I didn’t just make it up, and also I was recommended by my interviewers for it…but my other problem was that there is no indication whatsoever about the length of time from start to finish. However, the fact is,once I started making my way into the process I found that this company moves fast, which is great and refreshing. I told my potential supervisor as much. In less than a month, HR reviewed my resume, sent me a questionnaire to fill out, reviewed it, called for a little phone interview, and then had a face to face. But after the interview, again, there’s no clue as to how long it’ll be before a decision gets made. Say it’ll be a few weeks, say there’s another round of interviews…something…again a tiny bit of info goes a long way. And in my case the position was being re-evaluated, I can’t see how HR taking 10 seconds to send us 3 candidates a quick message with that info is that much of an inconvenience. So far I’ve had 2 great interviews totaling 3 hours 15 minutes with 8 different staff members but I still have no idea how long it’ll be before I’m notified either way. My potential supervisor just said I’d hear from HR, we had a great conversation and I was so tempted to ask how long…but felt it wouldn’t look good so I didn’t. But I shouldn’t have to be kept in the dark either. So the waiting game continues on just as before. I think also that for those candidates who make it far into the process especially after a second interview and positive feedback that they’re entitled to a little hint, I mean if you’re interested in me don’t you want to give me a reason not to run to someone else who may offer me a job before you do? What I’d want employers to keep in mind at all times is that I am not just appearing on their doorsteps out of nowhere to bother them with my resume, they are the ones looking for me and my talent. I should be respected for having the skills that they want and need.

  6. Wonderful list! Very bookmark-worthy. 🙂

    No. 16 sort of reminds me of an experience I had several years ago.

    I actually took the day off work to go on an interview. At the end, the interviewer flat out told me that he already had chosen someone for the position. (So why waste my flippin’ time?!) *aargh*

    If employers already have someone in line for the position, why not mention it the job description? (My company occasionally does this on its HR website.) It just seems disingenuous to string someone along.

  7. So what did you say to him after he told you that Perri? I’m just curious in case that ever happens to me. Well, maybe I already have it figured out. Since he clearly had plans to hire someone else before you got there I would have asked if he had also planned to reimburse me the earnings I lost from taking the day off and the money spent on travel. I wouldn’t be rude about it, I’d ask it like it was a totally legitimate question, although I’d probably allow a little sarcasm to seep through to let him know I wasn’t amused. I know we all try really hard not to burn bridges, but as far as I’m concerned, when someone burns it half way first, the other half is useless anyway.

  8. Thanks perri and Mallory!

    Perri..I wrote today’s post inspired by your great comment. Thanks again!

    3 Questions You Don’t Know the Answer to AFTER a Job Interview

    Mallory: I know what you mean when you write “when someone burns it half way first, the other half is useless anyway” but I have experiences from my own life where that just isn’t true. Time and turns in the road lead to new unknowable possibilities. I like to keep openings where possible…but that’s not to say your POV isn’t equally valid. 😉

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  9. Sure, perhaps my naivete shined through there, and to be a job seeker in this climate takes extra resolve to just kind of “take it” simply because a lot of us can’t afford to waste any opportunity that comes along. I can’t really, but when when I come across people’s negative encounters with interviewers I try to imagine what I would do if I took the day off of work, traveled, and at the end the guy tells me they already chose someone. Maybe if I really cared about the company I’d muster something like “well, I appreciate the opportunity anyway,” but I’d be really upset and feel that that’s just not something a professional is supposed to do. Maybe some would appreciate the honesty, but I don’t think I would in that situation. But if it was an all around bad time from start to finish, I’d probably just let the interviewer have it anyway. And by “have it” I simply mean with a comment or 2 letting them know like an adult what I really think about their interview style because I think there has to be some line that’s drawn somewhere between keeping your options open with a viable company and taking someone’s b.s. because you feel like you’re at their mercy. But if you’ve managed to turn those opportunities into something that has benefited you then, well, that’s awesome and definitely gives more weight to the “you just never know” adage.

  10. Absolutely understood, Mallory. But people come and go at companies (the person who treats us badly could even be someone who is being fired) – and we never know what’s the real story behind the scenes that might re-color a situation for us if we only knew it. Why make it into anything bigger than a stupid, thoughtless incident (and GREAT story down the road) which we’ll never for sure be able to fully analyze?

    What I’ve learned over my many years is sometimes even the most obvious thing has a back story. So why let emotions get the best of us – especially if how we act in the moment of anger or frustration can ripple on for a long long time? Also, we never know who else in the company gets wind of our actions and where THAT person may wind up. Fate is funny like that. For me, best to take the high road where the bridge is still swinging. 😉

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  11. Mallory, I didn’t say anything. I don’t even recall a moment of treppenwitz. You know, that flash of genius you get for a clever comeback after the opportunity has passed?

    I just remember feeling defeated.

    Where was the wisdom of Ronnie Ann when I needed it? 🙂

  12. Perri! Love “treppenwitz” almost as much as I love “schadenfreude” (feeling pleasure or even downright joy at someone else’s misfortune). But I’ll bet you know that one too perri.

    As or Ronnie Ann’s wisdom??? Heck..it’s why I write. I almost never have that great comeback in the moment…and when I do, I often wish I hadn’t!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

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