How to Fix the #1 Reason Why Candidate Interviews Don’t Work Out

I’ve consulted with companies for 30 years on their hiring practices, and I’ve encountered one common mistake that causes poor interview outcomes—and it happens before the first candidate has even entered the parking lot. Lack of preparation is usually the big blinking red light when looking back on what went wrong when a candidate didn’t work out.


A good interview starts with preparation, and preparation begins well before the first candidate has arrived.


Poor preparation can derail an interview with even the best candidates, because it can lead directly to negative outcomes. Examples include multiple interviewers asking the same questions or providing conflicting messages; omitting key questions; not representing the company and culture in the best light; and inaccurate assessment of candidates’ skills against job requirements. All of these ultimately obstruct the best hiring decisions for the company.

Here’s how to make sure you’ve done your homework and are properly prepared for each interview, and set up for interviews that support the best hiring decisions.

Step 1: Identify the job requirements and the desired competencies and skills


Lack of preparation often starts with misunderstanding the skills and competencies required to excel in the position being filled. The key leaders involved need to take the time to determine what experience, education, core competencies, and emotional intelligence will lead to success in the role, on the team, and within the company culture.

An exercise that can assist with this process is for the hiring team to identify and agree on the most important competencies for the role; around three to seven is typical. These competencies then become the guide for interviewing candidates for that position. For help with this first step, review my blog on using an Applicant Appraisal Form.


As it happens, now is a good time to review and update many job descriptions to accurately capture the true minimum requirements, especially in reference to education and years of experience. Does a college degree really correlate to success? Is 5-7 years of experience in the role or industry really necessary to perform well?


Meet as a hiring team to all discuss and agree on the most important requirements, competencies, and skills you’ll be looking for.

Step 2: Communicate job requirements clearly to everyone involved


One common problem is not having everyone on the same page as to what you’re looking for in terms of skills, education, experience, and core competencies.

After identifying the core competencies, skills, and requirements, the next step is to communicate these to everyone participating in the process of interviewing and evaluating candidates. Make sure all participants know their role in the process and their interview focus areas.


Step 3: Review candidate resume and assessment results, and prepare questions


Hiring managers sometimes go into an interview without even having looked at the candidate’s resume or behavioral assessment results until five minutes beforehand, if at all. As a consequence, these interviewers aren’t prepared for the critical behavioral questions they should ask or aware of why they need to ask them.


Build interview questions to match the job requirements, skills, and competencies you’ve identified in Step 1, as well as on any results from behavioral and/or skills assessments. This will help you to confirm you are focusing on the critical aspects of the role.


About 90% of the time when a candidate doesn’t work out, I subsequently discover that interviewers never focused on aspects that would have enabled them to determine that the candidate was not a good match.

This essentially boils down to ensuring you have a strategy and game plan for every interview well before the candidate arrives. Would you go on a sales call without knowing anything about your prospective customer?

Step 4: Anticipate and prepare for candidate questions


All involved with interviewing and talking with the candidate need to be prepared for answering the candidate’s likely questions about the position, team, manager, culture, benefits, etc. One best practice to help with this is internal communication and even training on how to answer common questions that candidates ask. Remember that the candidate is also evaluating your company, so consistent answers to these questions will be helpful in giving your candidates a good first impression of your company and its culture.


Additionally, many candidates will want to ask about compensation early in the process and some companies choose to not have that conversation as early on in the process as others. Whatever your company’s philosophy is on this topic, make sure everyone is on the same page about how to deal with these questions.


Step 5: Finalize and communicate the interview schedule and individual focus areas and responsibilities


Clear communication to all involved about the interview schedule, format, and individual responsibilities is essential.

Many companies interview candidates in more of a panel style, for example. If you have multiple people involved with the interview simultaneously, it is critical for each to know everyone’s role with each candidate. This ensures interviewers aren’t asking the same questions, focusing on the same things, or missing key focus areas.


Additionally, with panel-format interviews, a good technique is to have one person ask a question and then listen to the response while the other interviewers take notes. This helps the person that asked the question to maintain good eye contact, listen actively, and act upon opportunities for follow-up questions.

As the interview comes to a close, ensure that you are consistent, clear, and accurate both in communicating to the candidate who will follow up with them and when, and in providing details about next steps. Research has found that interview wrap-up and the subsequent follow-up communication are often sorely lacking—and that this leads to many candidates declining job offers.

Step 6: Ensure proper setting and privacy


This important interview preparation step ensures a positive and respectful atmosphere and helps candidates feel at ease and presents a professional image of your company. Give candidates your undivided attention in a comfortable, professional setting that provides privacy and shows that your company takes interviewing seriously.


Choose and reserve a quiet, well-lit office or conference room that offers a comfortable and professional space with no interruptions. A lobby or busy break room are distracting and unfavorable environments.


Let Us Help You


At ZERORISK HR we help companies hire, develop, and retain their best employees. We have several training options available to help you train your hiring managers on interviewing, in addition to a library full of behavioral interview questions based on competencies. We are also the exclusive provider of the ZERORISK Hiring System. This advanced hiring technology assesses your candidates in a matter of minutes and produces a fully customized behavioral interview guide specific to the competencies for the role. Contact us today to request a demo of the ZERORISK Hiring System and we will show you how it works and let you take a free assessment so you can see for yourself!