Ask most experienced hiring managers how they would go about finding the best person for a job and they’ll all likely reply with some variation on a job interview.
That’s because employers, like most people, tend to trust their gut feelings. But when your goal is hiring the person most likely to succeed in a job, intuition is a very weak predictor.
Consider this scenario: a company gets an application from a junior marketer with a good degree and some strong success metrics in their current job. The firm interviews the candidate but they’re a little awkward and lethargic. On this basis, the hiring manager decides the applicant isn’t worth hiring.
That’s a reasonable decision, right? A growing body of research says it’s not. The type of free-form, unstructured interviews that many employers use to ‘get to know’ candidates are, the evidence says, almost completely useless.
Interviews can be counter-productive
Research conducted by a group of business school professors at Yale has shown that ‘the problem with interviews is worse than irrelevance: They can be harmful, undercutting the impact of other, more valuable information about interviewees’.
In one experiment, 76 students were asked to predict the future academic success of two groups of other students. They were instructed to judge one group based only on their past academic performance and the other based on a combination of past performance and a 30-minute interview.
The result? The predictions made without the interview turned out to be far more accurate. The interviews had been counterproductive.
Jason Dana, the lead author of the research, concluded, in a write-up in The New York Times, that people are dangerously overconfident about their own abilities to glean valuable information and build an accurate picture of someone from a face to face interview.
The solution? Stop using unstructured interviews
The key problem with unstructured interviews is that they tend to lead interviewers to rely almost entirely on their initial impressions of a candidate. Unconsciously, you will be inclined to assess an interviewee’s answers — whatever they may be — in a way that fits that first impression.
Dana’s research team confirmed this point by instructing several people in their candidate group to literally give nonsense answers of little to no value. Even after these interviews, the students that conducted the interviews were convinced that they had learned valuable information about the candidates.
This finding — that interviewers are inclined to construct fabricated narratives about candidates, even when presented with entirely made up and incoherent answers — has led some psychologists who study recruitment to advise against conducting unstructured interviews at all.
Instead, rely on a combination of objective measures of a candidate’s likely success — like work samples or cognitive tests — and a structured interview.
The benefits of structure when interviewing
Think, for a moment, about your usual interview process. Do you enter the interview room with a few stock questions in your head that you end up asking somewhat randomly? Do you perhaps rely on the candidate’s answers to guide the conversation, prompting additional questions or discussion points?
It’s exactly this sort of approach to interviewing researchers have shown to be ineffective and counterproductive. The alternative, structured, interviews, works differently.
During a structured interview, you ask the same set of predetermined questions, in the same order to all candidates. Your questions will all be closely correlated to the job description, asking how a candidate would respond in a probable real-life work situation or how they overcome certain common workplace challenges.
The key to structured interviewing is that there’s a range of acceptable answers that you can score a candidate against using a simple poor, average, outstanding scale.
Don’t make a decision without some objective evidence
It can be tempting when you have a position to fill and work to get done to rush into a hiring decision based on an interview alone. That’s a recipe for a poor hiring decision.
Instead, combine a structured interview technique with a careful analysis of available objective evidence. For example, consider exam and degree results, references from former employers, recommendations from bosses and colleagues on LinkedIn, professional certifications, and real-life work examples.
Combine the above with a structured interview, and the evidence says that you’re more than twice as likely to make a successful hire.
This article first appeared on LinkedIn on the 18th of April, 2017
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