The Biggest Mistake We Make When Interviewing Job Applicants

Written By: Joseph P Buckley
Nov 22, 2021

In today's environment we are all experiencing some difficulty in finding people to staff the open employment positions in our organization. In fact, just recently the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled "Help Really Wanted: No Degree, Work Experience or Background Checks." In the article they stated that "Employers are easing job requirements and speeding up hiring procedures to survive a U.S. labor market with more openings than applicants."

So there is a very real challenge to maintain a balance between getting an employee now – versus taking our time, following our procedures and guidelines, and carefully evaluating the risk potential and suitability of each candidate. The problem, of course, is that whenever we "cut corners" on our selection process we almost always pay for that mistake.

With that in mind we would like to share with you the biggest mistake that most of us commit when we are interviewing job applicants. Consider the following example of two interviewers interviewing the same applicant about their employment history:


Interviewer: "I see from your application that for the last several years you worked for the ABC Company. Is that correct?"

Applicant (Jim Smith): "Yes, that's right."

Interviewer: "I see that you left that job because they wanted you to relocate. Can you tell me a little bit about that?"

Applicant: "Well, they had asked several employees to relocate to a new store that they opened up about 75 miles away on the north side of town."

Interviewer: "And that was too much of a commute for you to make every day?"

Applicant: "Yes, that's right."


Interviewer: "Jim, as I mentioned earlier, I'd like to discuss your employment history with you. Obviously, we have both your resume and application, but I always like to discuss a person's work history with them because people can always say more during an interview than they can on an application. Okay?"

Applicant (Jim Smith): "Sure, that would be fine."

Interviewer: "Are you working anywhere at the present time?"

Applicant: "No."

Interviewer: "What was your most recent job?"

Applicant: "I worked for the ABC Company as an assistant manager at their Main Street location."

Interviewer: "Why did you leave that job?"

Applicant: "Well, I got into an argument with my boss and one thing led to another and it was basically a mutual thing but he asked me to leave."

Interviewer: "Did he say why he wanted you to leave?"

Applicant: "Not really. I mean he said that some of the employees wanted to work at another store location because of the way that I treated them, but, I don't know. I just know he said he had too many complaints about me from some of the staff."

Interviewer: "Did he say what kind of complaints he was receiving?"

Applicant: "Not exactly. Well, I guess some of them were about the fact that I yelled at them in front of customers about their screw-ups. But my job was to make sure everyone did what I wanted them to do, and if they couldn't do it then I let them know about it in no uncertain terms."

The above illustrates one of the most important strategies to employ in the interview of a potential new employee:

  • Do not feed back to the applicant the information that they provided on their application

Research by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) has found that over 50% of job applications have been falsified - the most common misrepresentations include fraudulent degrees, altered employment dates, inflated salary claims, inaccurate job descriptions, falsified references, and reasons for leaving jobs. Having said that, if we interview a job applicant on the assumption that the information in their application is true and accurate (as Interviewer One did) we are simply feeding back to them the misinformation that they provided. Instead, we should interview the applicant as though we know nothing about them and let them provide the information.

Obviously we will have their resume and job application at the time of the interview, but we can easily address that issue by making the following statement:

“Jim as I mentioned earlier, I’d like to discuss your employment history. Obviously, we have your resume and application, but I always like to discuss a person’s employment history with them because people can always say more during an interview than they can on an application. Okay?”

Our first questions regarding an applicant's work history should always be:

Are you presently employed?
[If “no” How long have you been unemployed? If “yes” Why are you looking for another job now?]

Who was your last employer?

How long did you work for that employer?

What were your duties or responsibilities with that employer?

Why did you leave that job?

We should ask the above four questions for each of the applicant’s employers in the last ______ years (the time period that your organization's protocol has established as appropriate).

Conducting the pre-employment interview this way, "starting from scratch," will take longer, but we can guarantee you that you will learn more about the applicant's employment history than if you just feed back to them the information that they provided on their application.

* To learn more about pre-employment interviewing strategies, consider these two programs that we offer:

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