Skip to Content

The Terrible Question Too Many Employers Ask Job Candidates


The Entrepreneur Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in America’s startup scene contribute answers to timely questions about entrepreneurship and careers. Today’s answer to the question “How do you avoid hiring the wrong people?” is written by Susan Drumm, CEO advisor and leadership coach.

Hiring the wrong person could cost you and your company tens of thousands of dollars—maybe even hundreds of thousands, depending on his or her salary. In a 2013 CareerBuilder survey, 27% of U.S. companies said they lost $50,000-plus for each bad hire.

I’ve spent the last two decades helping Fortune 100 companies build teams and hire right. Here are the five steps I coach my clients through:

Get clear on exactly what you need, and interview based on that
Outline what exactly you need in new team members. Which platforms should they be familiar with? Will they be working with customers, with you, or both? What sort of technical know-how is required?

Once you know what you’re looking for and you’ve started the interview process, forego the vague, hypothetical questions. Instead of, “Tell me about yourself,” try, “Tell me how you increased conversion rates for your last employer using social media.” When you know what you’re looking for, you’re more likely to find it.

Start with a pool of at least five candidates—don’t just hire the first person who comes recommended
Don’t try to shortcut the interview process. While interviewing and vetting multiple candidates is time-consuming, it can prevent you from hiring the wrong person. It’s tempting to hire the first person who comes recommended, but you’ll never know the inner workings of another business. One company’s outstanding performer might be your average employee. You might be interviewing someone who needs a hands-on manager, but what you need are self-starting, autonomous employees.

See also: What Everyone in Silicon Valley Gets Wrong About Hiring

Know your blind spots and weaknesses
Truth be told, I’m not great at catching typos and could use a bit of help turning my coaching language into marketing language. Knowing that about myself, I looked for an assistant who excelled in those areas.

How do you find a team member who fills in your blind spots? Rather than asking them point-blank, “Are you good at catching typos?” (because most applicants will say they are), simply ask them what they’re good at. When you lead with open-ended questions, you’re more likely to get honest answers. You can also create a sample exercise that tests them on those skills.

If you’re not sure what your blind spots are, try the Enneagram personality test (or just ask your most brutally honest friend).

If you can’t meet in person, at least do a video call
Body language and facial expressions are incredibly telling. How do the candidates behave when talking about previous jobs? How do they respond when you ask them about some of the less exciting tasks they’ve been asked to do? Do they seem engaged and open or anxious and closed off? These aren’t things you can necessarily tell from a phone interview.

Ask for the references you’d like to speak to—not just the references they provide
We’re all inclined to use references we know will speak highly of us. You’ll get a more complete picture of a potential hire if you ask to speak with a few more people.


Here’s how to do that: “We talked about the project you worked on with X. Would it be possible for me to contact them so I can hear more about that project and your role in it?”

Best-case scenario: The candidate gives you the contact information and you learn more about her as a potential employee. Worst-case scenario: She tells you she’s no longer in contact with that person or they had a falling out, which is also helpful information to have.

When you put in more time and effort at the beginning of your hiring process, you’ll hire smarter, more committed, better employees—and save your company tens of thousands of dollars. It’s absolutely worth the effort.

Susan Drumm is a leadership coach for entrepreneurs and CEO advisor with over 20 years of experience leading teams to exceed their potential. She’s coached C-Suite executives from Conde Nast, L’Oreal, and Viacom.