Pervasive Interview Tactics Employers Need to Stop Using

Interview_Tactics_That_Dont_WorkBad hires are extremely costly, so to get hiring decisions right the first time around, investing in setting up sound interviewing practices is critical. After all, a poor hiring decision can cost 2.5x the employee’s salary, and even one misfit can wreck a company’s culture, a phenomenon startups are especially wary of.

There’s no way to perfect your process. You’ll always have the occasional hire who doesn’t work out, and there’s no silver bullet to interviewing that works for all companies across the board. But in general, to hire the best candidates, here are four interview tactics that hurt more than they help:

1. Generic questions

Everyone expects to be asked predictable questions like  “What’s your greatest strength?” The rehearsed responses reveal little about the candidate or their capabilities. Professor Lauren Rivera of Kellog, says these types of questions only test “familiarity with the type of stories you’re supposed to tell an employer.” With generic questions, companies judge and hire based on ability to interview, tell a great story, and sell themselves.

Rather than weeding out unqualified candidates, generic questions like “What three adjectives would you use to describe yourself?” may actually weed out those who can do the job, but don’t have a great rehearsed answer to your question.

2. Brainteasers

Google was infamous for asking, “How many golf balls would fit inside a 747,” and “Estimate how many gas stations there are in Manhattan,” to see how well candidates could think on their feet.

Employers have since found that performance on these types of questions has little to no correlation with an employee’s success. Google’s Laszlo Bock, SVP of People Operations, has said, “Brainteasers are a complete waste of time. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

3. Whiteboard coding challenges

Whiteboard coding challenges are a common tactic used to screen engineers, but they rarely demonstrate whether a candidate has the skills to perform the actual job. Engineers are accustomed to working on computers and other tools, which makes it difficult to prove their coding abilities on a whiteboard.

Furthermore, whiteboarding challenges risk a bad candidate experience. One peeved engineer tired of being asked to whiteboard during interviews writes, “If you can’t at least give me a text editor and the toolchain for the language(s) you’re interested in me using, you’re wasting both our time.

Coding challenges are also prone to false positives and focus on the wrong skills. One web development company found that “employees who had done very well in the code examples were not always able to transfer theoretical knowledge into practical solutions. Having candidates write sorting algos on the whiteboard is a method that rewards people with great and precise short-term memory who come prepared for exactly these kinds of questions.”

4. Too many interviews

In an effort to reduce hiring mistakes and help decision makers feel more sure, companies often draw out the interview process and have the candidate meet with many, many team members. It was assumed more interviewers would lead to confidence, but Google found that more than 4 interviews had diminishing returns, while other experts suggest no more than 3. They say that a candidate can be properly screened by the hiring manager, an employee they’d be working with closely, and an executive – making any interviews beyond that just excessive.

Top quality candidates have many choices about where to work, and may drop out of a lengthy process if they’re asked to come on-site over and over again and are made to feel it’s a waste of time. Employees bogged down with excessive interviews will also result in reduced productivity.


An interview process is an opportunity for your company and candidates to get to know one another, so make sure your interview tactics accomplish that. Generic questions, brainteasers, whiteboard challenges, and unnecessary interviews do little to prove your candidates’ skills and qualifications.

Instead, focus on behavioral interview tactics and role-related questions that will give you true insights into how well your candidate fits your opportunity. Questions like, “Tell me about a time you had to deal with an irate customer,” can give you valuable insights on a candidate in a customer-facing role. Past experiences can be a good indication of future performance and will speak volumes about who your candidates really are.

Learn more interview best practices in our eBook:Top Interview Tips: The Employer’s Essential Handbook.