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Basic Interviewing Guidelines

Like all good meetings, an interview must have an agenda and an objective.

Interview Objective

Interviews are broken up in to different sessions. Determine the objective of each session ensures that all needed aspects of the position will be evaluated.


If the session is responsible for evaluating a candidate’s ability to present, then the session’s objective is to evaluate the presentation ability and ONLY the presentation ability. Wandering and evaluating the candidate’s technical ability is not the objective of this session.


For every session, the success criteria must be known in advance. The success criteria will be different based on these factors:

  • Stage of the interview: preliminary or final
  • Needed skill level
  • Position Criticalness
  • Department / Company stage

Information gathering

The interviewer must always be looking for facts – not impressions. The interview should not end until the interviewer has gathered the needed facts in order to render an informed judgement.

Prevent goalpost moving by establishing the success criteria BEFORE the interview.

Confirmation Bias Warnings

Bozo Bit
Watch out for premature ‘bozo bit’ flipping! A candidate might:

  • Have a big zit – be unattractive
  • A voice that bothers you
  • Trigger something from your past
  • Be different – gender, age, national background, sexual orientation, hobbies
  • Have a rough start to the interview

Do not waste a candidates time by flipping the bozo bit. Force that bozo bit off. If everything a candidate does is “wrong” then the bozo bit got flipped.

Negative confirmation bias shows up in when interviewers start drilling into perceived negatives. Nothing the candidate can say/do is “right”. Candidates underperform if they feel the interviewer has flipped the bozo bit.

Counter techniques

  • Refrain from saying anything negative
  • Encourage the candidate
  • Look for the candidate reacting positively with better results to encouragement from the interviewer
  • Ensure that you can document positive aspects about the candidate

Einstein Bit
Watch out for premature ‘Einstein bit’ flipping! A candidate might:

  • Be attractive
  • have a similar background
  • went to the same school
  • work at great companies
  • Have gone to an excellent school
  • Have a great start to the interview

Do not waste OUR time by flipping the Einstein bit. Force that Einstein bit off. If everything is perfect that is great, the facts will speak from themselves.

Positive confirmation bias shows up when up interviewers excuse failings that would normally result in the candidate being rejected.

Counter techniques

  • Stop talking and let the candidate perform
  • Look for the limits of the candidate’s knowledge and creativity.
  • The candidate might be doing well because they have seen the problem numerous times – alter the problem to see if the candidate can adapt

Preliminary Interviews

Preliminary interviews are filtering interviews to bring the number of candidates to a manageable number. The success criteria is biased in favor of the candidate to avoid premature filtering. When in doubt: advance the candidate

Preliminary interviews grades are Fasttrack/Pass/Fail/Hard Fail.

A candidate completely blew away the interviewer. Examples:

  • A technical phone screen was completed in half the time most candidates take,
  • candidate exhibits exceptional positive attributes: insight, intelligence

A candidate meet the minimum success criteria. No judgement is made on how high above the bar the candidate was.


  • Candidate struggled with the questions
  • Was unable to go for a long period without asking for help

Hard Fail
Candidate is completely unsuited to the position. Examples include:

  • Candidate failed at the most basic filtering criteria,
  • Documentable behaviors that violate company values (not behaviors that ‘annoy’ the interviewer)
  • Candidate repeatedly resisted guidance or correction to the point of being stubborned
  • Candidate failed to follow directions
  • Candidate argued (not just disagreed)

Onsite interview

In a preliminary interview, the bias is in favor of advancing the candidate. It is possible, for many candidates to be interviewed at little cost. However, the dynamic changes in the onsite. Only one or two candidates can be hired. Wonderfully qualified candidates will have to be rejected – maybe even a favorite candidate.

Unconscious bias is a real problem in the onsite. During a phone call, various aspects of the candidate can be hidden from the interviewer. In an onsite, appearance, distracting mannerisms, body odor, and other aspects of the candidate’s person are all present and impossible to ignore.

Interviewers must be even more vigilant to consciously try to counteract their own bias. Positive bias can result in an underskilled candidate being hired. Negative bias can be illegal.

To limit sources of bias, questions to be avoided – no matter the interviewer’s intent:

  • After-hours activities: May reveal religious affiliation or sexual orientation
  • Marital or family status: “Do you have kids?”
  • National origin: Where were you born? No, this is not a legal substitute for can you work in the US. Their unusual name.
  • Age: When did you graduate? Can they work long hours?
  • Hair / Appearance
  • Ability to party afterhours

Only questions directly related to the duties of the job are acceptable. Can the question be justified as relevant to a judge?

Interviewers must avoid providing unasked for / unneeded help/hints. In particular, provide assistance:

  • when requested and the interviewer believes the candidate is exhibiting a blindspot that is preventing forward movement on the problem presented.
  • The candidate is on the wrong track.
  • AFTER hints have been suggested

Let the candidate stand on their own two feet and rise to the challenges presented.

In other respects, the onsite is a lot more detailed than the preliminary but still has the same: Focus, Criteria, Information Gathering needs.

Avoid having a great candidate rejected because the interviewer did not collect the needed information.

Posted in interviewing, management.

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