5 Unconscious Mistakes That Interviewers Make

In an earlier blog post Steve Lehr presented us with a question “How would you choose a quiz show partner?”


It might seem like a very straight forward question. Personally, I  would answer – intelligence, 100% intelligence. But, when it came down to it I might act very differently, with my unconscious almost sabotaging my decision making.

In his blog post Steve continued…

“A recent study from Eugene Caruso and colleagues in my lab at Harvard posed this exact question. Overwhelmingly, people say that they’d choose their partner based on intelligence, experience, or other relevant criteria. But when forced to actually repeatedly choose between hypothetical partners, people do something quite different. It turns out that participants were willing to trade off 11 IQ points in order to have a thinner partner on a quiz show.”

Another  example of  this type of decision making comes from Alex Todorov, a psychologist at Princeton University, who studied the past two congressional elections. Researchers in his lab had people independently rate how “competent” each candidate’s face looked – they had no knowledge of the candidate’s actual abilities, experiences, or positions. These ratings predicted nearly 70% of election results.

These are very significant results, and shows that we strongly tend to vote for people that LOOK competent – without consideration of whether they actually are competent. After encountering these findings I began reviewing  job interviewing techniques and found a very persistent theme.  From my research I gathered below  5 very common and often unconscious mistakes that interviewers make.

1. Screening-out candidates based on unobjective criteria – Rather than “screening-out” candidates based on our first gut feelings, or unpredictive criteria such as GPA, the address on the resume, or the sound of a name the interviewer should make sure that the job evaluation process is as structured, job-specific and objective as possible. This may allow you to hire great people that might not have even been considered otherwise.

2. Checking Social Media – Social media profiles often contain pictures of your candidates, as well as a plethora of information that is irrelevant to the job. Research like that discussed above has repeatedly shown that images and other irrelevant information can unconsciously undermine our rational decision-making.

3. Too Much Chatting – During the interview it is common for the interviewer to slip into monologues about the opportunity, the company, the culture and other job-attributes. While this can be an important part of “getting acquainted,” it’s important to give the candidate ample opportunities to talk. The more job-relevant information you have about your candidate the more likely you are to base your decision on objective criteria, rather than on incomplete (and possibly biased) impressions. A good rule while interviewing is 80% listening and 20% talking.

4. Asking ad-lib questions – During the structured section of the interview people often go off-script and wonder of into something that more closely resembles a friendly discussion. During at least part of the interview one should only ask the questions that are prepared as well as scripted follow-up questions. The more meaningful and standardized the information collected from candidates, the less room there is to advertently make decisions based on factors that matter less.

5. Being Swayed by Personal Preferences – As humans we tend to like people that share our personal preferences and interests, such as music, sports, TV Shows, lifestyle choices, and other behaviors that aren’t relevant to the job. While interviewing we should all keep in mind that liking the same TV shows is not related to on-the-job performance. Don’t let “being like me” unconsciously sway your judgment.


If you would like to dig in deeper here is some very nice reading:





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