Interviewing Myth #3: Always Remain “Neutral” in Interviews

Do you want to hire better? If you’re a CEO, a manager at any level, or a Human Resources professional, of course, you do. This blog is part of a series dispelling 10 myths about interviewing candidates for hire – “myths” because they are common recommendations for the “best” ways to interview… but from our experience, they are wrong.

Interviewing Myth #3: Always Remain Neutral in Interviews

Remaining neutral is generally best but there are important exceptions to keep in mind.

Interviewing authors and trainers say, “If you show approval of anything the candidate says, that positive reinforcement will guarantee that the interviewee will give you more of it.” They’re right. For example, suppose you ask, “What were your accomplishments in that job?” and the candidate responds, “When the hurricane hit, I kept working, delivering milk to mothers.” The “experts” and I say you should NOT respond with, “Good for you! That took guts and real dedication and courage!” because the candidate will figure you love heroism and insert more heroism in responses to your questions. We think it’s best in this circumstance to just say, “Good for you.”

And if you criticize a candidate (“Pat, you missed the deadline because of partying too much – that was terribly immature! I wouldn’t put up with THAT!”), your candidate will not admit more failures or mistakes that show even a tiny bit of immaturity. In this situation, I think it’s best to respond with no response. Just move on to the next question.

So, I agree, generally remain neutral in expressiveness, and not show what you like or dislike for fear that your interview will accommodate your biases by showing more of what you seem to like. Makes sense. But not when being “neutral” destroys rapport.

Smiling interviewer


Exceptions to the Rule:


Empathize if something terrible happened to the candidate.

Candidate: “My 10-year old daughter was in a car accident last year and was on crutches for 4 months.”

Your neutral response: “Uh-huh. What else were highs or lows in that job?”

You come across as cold, heartless, uncaring. In this case, don’t be neutral, empathize: “How awful, that must have been devasting!”


When candidates state accomplishments which are clearly outstanding, praise them!

If you hear, “I got the President’s Award that year; there was a flu epidemic and I did the work of 3 people to get the product release out on time, on budget, and exceeding new customer sales,” say, “Good for you!” or say, “You’re really proud of that!”

To not bias responses with praise, or if the candidate is bragging about something that you don’t think is great, say, “Pat, you were really proud of getting to work on time 10 days in a row!”


Be yourself; show your natural expressiveness and sense of humor.

Empathize if there was a loss, laugh with your candidates when they relate something funny, and don’t forget to ask every hour or so, “How about a short break?” Don’t come across as an accountant filling in numbers. Don’t frown: we find that when being trained to do or not do a lot of things, sharp managers are so conscientious, they are thinking so HARD, that they sometimes frown.


Call your interviewee by name every 45 minutes or so. In “real life,” we all communicate with people using their name – we all like it. I’ve noticed that if an hour passes and the interviewer does not use the candidate’s name at least once, that interview seems cold and antiseptic – not good if you want to hire this candidate.


I hope these tips help you avoid costly mis-hires!

Interviewing Myth #1: Don’t Interview Behind Your Desk

Interviewing Myth #2: Take Very Few Notes

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