Do interviews actually work?

Based on 100 years of analysis of selection methods, interviews have been found to be 33% reliable at predicting performance in work (Schmidt, Oh & Shaffer, 2016). What does this mean for the most widely used selection method? Job performance is a tricky thing to measure; humans are rather complicated and hard to understand. No selection tool has been developed to 100% predict performance at work.

Can you imagine not using an interview as a part of the selection process? Candidates would probably think they have not had an opportunity to impress, and you would be hard pushed to get a hiring manager to hire someone without one. However, if you rely on interviews you are likely missing out on great potential employees.

Some common problems:

Despite issues with reliability, quite often there has been not a lot of thought about what a good hire would look like and therefore interviewers end up using out of date job descriptions and attempt to find a carbon copy of the person who has vacated the role. However, it should be a great opportunity to look at the job, what the future looks like for that role and maybe rethink the role. Unfortunately, due to the effort it might take to re-think the role, the previous job description is often dusted off and reused. People generally do not like change, hence the continuous cycle of replacing like with like and not improving the role or looking for someone with slightly different skills.

Working with outdated interview scripts that have been developed by HR with not a lot of thought to adapting the questions to uncover what you need to find out about the candidate’s ability to perform in the role. You might not even be measuring what you should be measuring against and wasting the opportunity.

I see this quite a lot – People are not great at choosing people that are different from themselves. Our brains developed in a time when sabre tooth tigers and rival tribes were around, so we developed shortcuts to quickly decide if someone is friend or foe, whether we should fight or fly. It is difficult to switch this very primitive part of our brain off and be more objective!

I have seen countless examples of people being promoted into their first managerial position and then the next day being expected to be able to conduct interviews competently. All too often, interviewers never have interview skills training.

  • Do you know what you can and can’t legally ask during an interview in the UK?
  • How do you rate the answers, what does a good answer look like?
  • How can you ensure bias is not creeping into the process?
  • The ability to assess shouldn’t be assumed just because someone thinks they are a ‘great judge of character’.

I hear a lot about ‘like’. Do we have to like our colleagues? Or do they need to be effective? Do they need to be able to perform and contribute to your business goals? If you walk out of an interview and say you liked that person and want to offer them the job there and then – Don’t. This is your emotional brain talking and should not be listened to in a selection process. Can you imagine sitting down over a coffee and having a great chat with them? You are not looking for a friend. You are looking for an employee!

Controversially, I struggle to accept that candidates can be rejected as they are not a ‘cultural fit’. This is because, typically, the culture of the organisation is rarely properly defined or measured. Hiring Managers may use this excuse to discount people because they are a little bit different and don’t fit their personal opinion of what they think the appointed person should be like. Diversity in an organisation is a good thing.

How to make interviews more reliable, valid and fair

  • Define what you need to measure in order to know what excellence looks like
  • Train your interviewers to properly assess the candidate and give them a detailed understanding of unconscious bias and stereotyping
  • Have at least 2 people in the interview panel
  • Use a structured interview
  • Use the same format for all candidates
  • Score all candidates against your defined excellence criteria
  • Wait a couple of days to allow the more rational part of your brain to process the candidates and then review the interview scores with an independent person who can challenge your thinking and help you decide
  • I do believe that Interviews are important to the selection process. However, they need to be done properly, or there is no point in doing them. Interviews should not be the only selection tool, combining the interview with ability tests, personality questionnaires, or a presentation will increase the reliability and lead to more accurate decisions.

Next time you need to hire for a new job, or replace an employee who has left, stop, take some time to think about what you NEED that person to do. My advice is ‘hire slow, fire fast’. Take your time to get to know your candidates and use logical, proven hiring methodologies and rational decision making to make the right choice.

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