December 10th, 2022

TJ Kastning

“Expectations are dangerous when they are both too high and unformed.”

— Lionel Shriver

No one hires someone they expect to fail, so why do they?


Success is properly set expectations. Ergo, be specific about sharing and understanding expectations in an interview to give everyone the best chance at success in the role. In other words, success is a hire that meets everyone’s expectations.

Both interviewing parties can apply these expectation categories. Complacency from either side can destine the process to failure because each has the responsibility to set expectations appropriately.

We recommend starting interviewing conversations off by recognizing how important properly set expectations are for both sides and making a mutual commitment to setting and understanding the other’s expectations so a long-term relationship is possible. Understanding and setting expectations should be naturally, and skillfully, woven into the interview.

The interview should seek to inform the candidate as much as they are questioning them, and same with the interviewee.


These categories should be covered with questions and specific explanations to provide more contextual understanding.

This list is not a template, it is a mental guide to recognizing which expectations are most important for you to set and understand as you interview.

  1. Candidate short term and long term goals; personal and professional.
  2. Why is the role open and what does that say about the position’s demands
  3. Problems that may be encountered in the role
  4. What the training and onboarding process looks like
  5. Challenges the company has and how it is trying to address them
  6. Growth goals (career, revenue, projects, etc)
  7. Role and function definitions (a common source of misunderstanding is how fundamentally and subtlety different definitions can be). The expectation is HOW and WHY the role is performed. Assuming you share the same definitions is dangerous.
  8. Cultural Expectations
    1. How is conflict handled? (debate, with clients, and interpersonal)
    2. Examples of strong and weak performance and how they are handled (each company/leader is different)
    3. Expressed and aspirational cultural values
  9. How does the company and team reconcile personal life and work responsibilities without placing these responsibilities at odds? If they are irreversibly at odds, how should those priorities be negotiated to find a sustainable solution?
  10. Company mission to perpetuate (the company ‘why’)
  11. Hiring Speed: What expectations should the candidate have for the interview process and length and what expectations should they have? Is there agreement and buy-in?
  12. Career Growth; what trajectory does the candidate see themselves on? How do they define ‘growth’?
  13. Compensation
    1. What kind of compensation is important to the candidate?
    2. How entrepreneurial are they? Do they prefer more salary or more aggressive bonus?
    3. Are there any benefits that are not important to them so you can compensate with more salary?


It’s important to cover topics naturally. If each question easily shows too much of what you want to hear, that’s what you are going to hear. It’s important to ask these questions as behavioral or situational questions so you understand how the other party thinks through the subject.

Ask lots of follow-up questions.

Why do you think that is?

What made you choose that?

What led to that?

What would you do differently?

What did you learn from such an experience?


While having a robust interview conversation that sets and understands expectations is important, so is evaluating how similarly committed to the right expectations the other side is. Even if you do a great job asking the right questions, It can go to waste if the other side fails to match with similar introspective transparency.


This article does not oversimplify expectation setting or interviewing. Relationships are complicated and cannot be fully systematized, which is often what we try to make hiring into, systematized relationships. We cannot get it right 100% of the time, either. Much about relationships is easier said than done.

“Don’t blame people for disappointing you; blame yourself for expecting too much from them.”

— Anonymous