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

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 begins 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.

Why should anyone pay attention to these blogs? Topgrading, Inc. has trained tens of thousands of hiring managers in Topgrading Workshops and we’ve conducted in-depth interviews of tens of thousands of candidates for upper level jobs. I’ve written 5 books on interviewing, all best sellers. Finally, our Topgrading hiring method, including the essential Topgrading Interview, has produced the most dramatic improvements in hiring ever documented.

Myth #1: Conduct hiring interviews sitting next to the candidate, NOT behind a desk or table

The authors and trainers behind this myth say things like, “Physical barriers create psychological barriers, and detract from the rapport you need for the interview.” Or, “Don’t interview behind a table or desk or you’ll miss important body language.” Huh? Body language below the waist? Books show the interviewer pulling a chair up in front of the desk, so the interviewee and interviewer are a foot apart, or show two chairs facing each other in the middle of a room, with a table off to the side for water.

Hogwash! Those authors probably never asked candidates or interviewers what they prefer. We have. In our Topgrading Workshops half the time is devoted to interviewing and when we ask the interviewers and interviewees what they prefer, both say they prefer a little privacy so they can scratch an itch, reposition their sitting, or cross their legs without the other person staring. Most interviewers and interviewees like to be at a table or desk, across from each other or kitty corner:

Recommendations:

  • As the interviewer, arrange seating so YOU are most comfortable. If you are comfortable interviewing behind a desk or kitty corner, probably your interviewee will be comfortable too. Some famous CEOs have a huge desk and an elevated chair, and they like looking down on interviewees below, intending to intimidate them. Assuming you’re not that insecure, if you want to sit at your chair behind your desk and have the interviewee across from you, do it.
  • The ideal distance between the chairs is about 3 feet.
  • Most interviewers prefer a table in a conference room, sitting across from the interviewee if the table is not too big, but if it is, sit kitty corner. When visiting clients, I usually interview candidates in a board room, kitty corner at one end. In my office at home there is a comfy area with a couch, coffee table, and 3 chairs. I sit in a chair, and motion to the interviewee to sit on the couch.

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

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