7 Things I Look For When Interviewing Job Applicants

conducting interviews of applicants

Evaluating A Job Candidate’s Interview Performance


Whether you’re on a hiring spree for your startup or trying to fill a key role in your organization, interviewing job applicants reveals a lot about your candidates.  We recently filled a critical role within our company, and while all three final candidates were internal to our business and knew the organization well, all three interviewed very differently. All of them were more than qualified on paper.  But it was the interview sessions themselves that made the difference.

As a hiring manager, there is more to interviewing job candidates than simply making sure they have the basic qualifications you seek. On the contrary, the way that candidates conduct themselves during the actual interview can tell you a great deal about the candidate that his or her resume will not.  Here are 7 tips to help you get the most out of in-person interviews of job candidates.

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1.  Do They Dress for Success?

For candidates, an in-person interview is about making a good impression on a potential employer in order to secure a job within their organization.  For hiring managers, hosting in-person interviews is how we assess a candidate skills and interest in a given position.  Believe it or not, when a candidate walks into the interview room, your first impression will be made by the time they shake your hand.  Did he or she dress like they were taking the interview seriously?

A Real Example:  When interviewing a candidate for an important, customer-facing type of position, a candidate showed up to the interview wearing slacks and a button down shirt.  He was not wearing a tie, nor a suit jacket.  His shirt was unbuttoned such that it looked like he was at a Happy Hour after work more than a job interview. Did he want the job?  Did he just forget he had an interview?  Was this how he would represent our firm in front of a customer?

2. Are They Prepared?

As a hiring manager, it’s OK for you to be selfish about the position you’re trying to fill.  It is not uncommon for your job candidate to interview around at other firms as they look for a new position.  Yet regardless of how many interviews they’ve had in recent weeks, you should still expect the candidate to have a reasonable understanding of the role.  While interviews are certainly intended to help educate a candidate more about the position, he or she should have at least read the job posting and done some homework ahead of time. Further, he or she should be able to ask thoughtful, insightful questions about your job opening.  Conversely, if the applicant doesn’t have any questions for you, or is confused about the position for which they’re interviewing, it should raise a red flag.

3.  Do They Take the Interview Seriously?

When it comes to carving time out of your busy schedule to interview candidates, it is completely reasonable to expect that the candidate takes the job interview seriously.  Unfortunately, over the course of your career, you’ll likely find yourself interviewing candidates who have no real interest in the job, and are interviewing only to keep their interview skills up, and just to see what else is out there.  I expect my employees to take their jobs seriously, and I levy this same expectation on candidates looking to join my teams.  If an applicant for your open position doesn’t seem to take the interview seriously, you should think long and hard about if you want them on your team as an employee.

A Real Example: It was a Friday morning in late spring.  We were interviewing a soon-to-be college graduate for an entry level position.  As he walked into my office, I stood there with my arm extended to shake his hand for a good 5 seconds before he looked up from his cell phone.  Strike one.  After he sat down and I described the position, and asked him if he were interested, he answered unconvincingly “Yeah, I guess so.”  Strike two.  Since he didn’t seem terribly interested in the position, I decided to just chat with him informally to see if he would show some more enthusiasm in a more general conversation.  Given that it was Friday, I asked him what he had in store for the weekend.  His response: “Well I’m playing volleyball tonight with my friends.  Hopefully it will turn into drunk volleyball.”  Strike three.

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4.  Can They Communicate?

If there is a universal skill that you should watch out for when conducting an interview as a hiring manager, it’s communication.  Anxiety and nervousness aside, a job candidate should be able to walk through his or her resume clearly, reasonably answer your questions and ask intelligent questions about the position.  Do they make eye contact?  Are their answers coherent and succinct?  Regardless of the position you are trying to fill, if you find yourself making a lot of effort to extract basic answers to your questions, try to envision how the candidate would do if he or she were to make an important presentation to a customer or an executive.

A Real Example: When interviewing a candidate a couple years ago, it was clear he was extremely nervous. He seemed intelligent, but simply could not get it together despite our efforts to joke around a little during the interview to help him relax and settle down. He struggled to answer the questions we asked and was simply unable to really explain what he did in his current role at another company. And even when he did give coherent explanations, he didn’t really answer the questions effectively. We simply could not see him fitting in our company. After he left, one interviewer said it best: “If he were to go in front our executives in a regular project review, he’d get eaten alive.”

5.  What Did They Do?

Interviewing, for managers and candidates, is not easy.  Hiring managers have a relatively short amount of time to assess and evaluate candidates.  And candidates have only a brief period of time to make the best impression they can.  To get the most out of the time you spend interviewing a candidate, be sure to focus on details.  One trap that both managers and candidates fall into is speaking in generalities.  When you ask questions of a candidate and he or she gives you a broad response, don’t be afraid to ask for more.  For example, if a candidate says something like “Well, we looked at three different options, and we ultimately came to the conclusion that the first options was the best,” you should ask for more detail about their personal stake in the matter.  Here are five example questions you can ask to help you dig a little deeper.

  • Specifically, what did you do?
  • What was your role in that situation?
  • Which part of that situation were you personally involved in?
  • What did you contribute to that outcome?
  • What was your approach to solving that issue?

6.  Are They Capable of More Than One Position?

Not everyone you interview has the make-up of a future CEO.  And not everyone dreams of even being in management.  But a good thing to watch out for when interviewing someone are themes and examples that suggest the employee is capable of moving up, or could grow into a new position within your firm.  Organizations and teams are like living organisms.  They grow, change and evolve over time.  Is the candidate open to doing something different in the future? Or are they going to be stuck in one spot? Do they have a history of looking for more responsibility or additional ways they can contribute? I typically look for candidates who have diverse interests, and those whom I feel have the ability to adapt easily to change. I’d rather see employees move on within the company rather than go elsewhere.

7.  Will They Stay?

Finally, regardless of how well he or she interviews, how good the candidate’s resume is, or how much experience they have to offer your organization, you need to consider the long-term situation.  The entire recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training process is costly for any business, both in terms of time and money.  You don’t want to hire people that aren’t interested in the position and are only going to stick around a little while.  Watch out for candidates who have a history of changing companies every couple of years, or candidates who may be qualified, but do not seem to display a very strong interest in the position.  Over the course of the interview, it’s important to asses if the candidate wants this job, or just a job. Make sure the people you hire express genuine interest in the job and the company, and who want to be in your organization.

A Real Example: When filling a role a few years ago, one candidate stated that he and his wife were expecting their first child and were looking to move to our area to be closer to his family. He interviewed very well and would have been a great addition to our team. However his resume and experience were well beyond the needs and expectations of our position, and our role would have almost been like a demotion for him. No one on the interview panel felt that if hired, he would stay very long. We all felt that he would take the relocation package to get to the area, and find other employment locally within a year or two that was more in-line with his skills and background.


Interviewing is a tough thing to do.  You have to make a big decision on relatively little information and time.  But by knowing what to watch out for, you will find the right candidates for your position.


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