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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Eliminator Questions during Job Interview

Two sources made me thinking about recruitment process once again. One was Rowan Manahan with his post about eliminator questions. Another was a series of interviews with potential summer interns I had last days.

Rowan lists several questions which, if answered badly, can ruin your chances for a hire. On his personal list you can find:

• Telling about your career

• Telling something negative about you

• Giving reason why you should be hired

• Questions you ask

I asked myself if I can make a similar list in my case. I followed my last interviews with potential interns and I can’t make similar blacklist as Rowan. I can’t think about any single question which answered poorly can ruin chances of the interviewee. On the other hand, it’s possible to ruin the chances giving really poor answer for any of questions.

There’s another area where I can’t consider myself as a typical interviewer, described by Rowan, as I usually start with a positive (not neutral) attitude to the candidate. When I recall my last recruitment meetings I try to enter the room with a slight will to hire the person. This helps me to create friendly atmosphere and (I hope) moves some pressure out of the candidate.

I think that’s fair. You have never a chance to make the first impression for the second time and interviewees are stressed, they want it or not, when they meet you at the very first meeting. And no, I don’t have a problem with overrating people. With some experience in that field you’ll easily recognize all yellow or red lights which appear – you don’t need eliminator questions here. I rather try to be sensitive on specific phrases which can be heard all over the conversation which can be translated into “Don’t hire me.

I’m curious if you have your eliminator questions and, if yes, what can be found there.

in: recruitment

7 comments… add one

  • Rowan Manahan June 6, 2007, 4:38 pm


    I quite agree with you – a neutral, open mindset when meeting candidates is essential. In common with most hirers, I spend a great deal of time trying to whittle my shortlist down to candidates who are going to not waste my time in the interview room.

    Like most interviewers, I hope against hope that every candidate who walks in the door is going to be the answer to my needs. The problem is, most of them aren’t – hence the ‘eliminators.’

    I tend to use this approach when I am dealing with large numbers of similarly qualified, similarly experienced candidates. Anyone scoring less than 6 out of 10 on three of my eliminator questions is usually a goner. I find it particularly useful as a “red light, orange light” tactic for use with graduates.

  • Pawel Brodzinski June 7, 2007, 3:50 am

    I think the main difference between us here is that you’re a professional recruiter, while I exercise that task less often. I don’t set exact test (as your “eliminators”) and I agree to waste my time sometimes, looking for the gem inside the interviewee (which isn’t there usually).

    My general feeling about the candidate usually fulfills the role of “eliminators.” Although it stars on reasonably high level, quite often after a quarter it’s already fallen flat on its face and I go quickly to the end of the interview.

    The thing which is interesting in what you’ve written is your scoring system. While you take notes you just write down scores next to every pre-prepared question? Or you supplement them with loose notes with your opinions?

  • Anonymous June 7, 2007, 11:13 pm

    Pawell – check it out

  • Piotr Ukowski June 7, 2007, 11:29 pm

    This time I must fully agree with Pawel. When I interview I want to hire, not to eliminate. I had many cases where candidates were really poor as a interviewees. But during the interview I’m looking for this “something”, I know exactly what kind of person will suit my team and what she should know. On the other hand I remember great interviewees who were poor employees…
    Of course there is a couple of wrong answers. “Why do you want to work for us? – I don’t want to work here. I leave Poland in 3 months and I need money for ticket“. :)

  • Rowan Manahan June 8, 2007, 2:50 am


    When I’m hiring ‘hard skill’ people, I’ll generally agree a handful of must-score-highly questions and a handful of eliminators with the other interviewers.

    These must be based on deep knowledge of the key success factors and measurables for the role within the specific organisation.

    I don’t like being a slave to any system, but I have found that the quality of our hiring decisions has significantly increased since we started using these simple measures.

    For ‘soft skill’ jobs, I will typically fill out a summary sheet on the candidate as (s)he is being escorted from the room. I’ll assign marks out of 10 under 10-12 different headings and then put the sheet aside. When all the interviews are over, I can then use a weighting scale for the summary sheets and have a fairly hard ‘score’ for each candidate.

    Again – a bit clinical, but we have found this very effective in finding square pegs for square holes and our success rate (and reputation!) as external interviewers has risen dramatically as a result.

  • Rowan Manahan June 8, 2007, 3:01 am


    I agree also with you – I pray for a good candidate in advance of every interview I conduct. There’s nothing more dispiriting than spending days on end meeting people who don’t quite measure up on the skills needed or who have the skills but won’t ‘fit.’

    My thought process arises out of the belief that the phrase “screening and selection” is a misnomer. If I have 1 job and 100 applicants, my task as a hirer is to separate the wheat from the chaff. I do this with the CVs and I do it again with the various stages of the interview process.

    Is it selection or elimination? Is the glass half-full or half-empty? If 2 or 3 people emerge from the first interview as clear front-runners, am I selecting them or am I eliminating th others? Whatever language one uses to describe the process, the end result is the same. I simply look for the best tools to make the process as effective, inexpensive and humane as I can.

    I don’t put a line through a candidate’s name with any malice – it’s just Darwin’s survival of the fittest. Nature is very cruel a lot of the time and unfortunately, a professional selection process mirrors that …

  • Piotr Ukowski June 8, 2007, 5:19 am

    Well, as Pawel said “I think the main difference between us here is that you’re a professional recruiter, while I exercise that task less often.”. I used to have 100 applicants for 1 job but it was about 5 years ago… Now I’m happy when I have more applicants than jobs ;-).

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