Next Time You Hire, Skip The Interview

What if the widespread belief in the value of a job interview is all wrong?  What if a job interview is actually an impediment to hiring the right people?
That’s the shocking premise of research recently outlined in The New York Times.  It’s controversial stuff, but definitely worth understanding.  Basically, the author makes two important points that are valuable for anyone who thinks that interviews should be used to determine future performance.


Point One.

Interviews may be irrelevant in determining fitness for a role.

This conclusion is backed up by a study in which a medical school decided to admit 50 more students into a class than it had originally planned.  These students, who had initially been denied admission, had met all the other selection requirement, but had failed the interview process.

Later when measured for academic and clinical performance after joining the student body, researchers could find no significant difference between these students and the others who had passed the interview process.  In other words, the interview had added nothing to the process.


Point Two.

Interviews can actually hurt the hiring outcome.

Jason Dana, the writer of the article and a professor at the Yale School of Management, went even farther.  What if interviews were not only irrelevant as an indicator, but even hurtful?  Could interviews mislead, and by misleading drive poor hiring choices?

So he and his team conducted an experiment —a somewhat sneaky one as it turned out.

Students were asked to interview other students in order to predict these other students’ future grades.  It is well-established that the best predictor of future grades is past performance.  In other words, for the most part a “B” student will stay a “B” student no matter what they may tell you about how this time they’re going to really take their studies seriously.  The same dynamic that applies to our assessment of potential employees, applies here: someone’s performance track record matters more than how they may try to talk it up in social situation (and all interviews are social situations).

The same student interviewers were also asked to predict the future grades of students who they hadn’t interviewed based only on looking at the records, but not having any personal contact with them.

The results were eyeopening.  The students consistently predicted the future grades of students they hadn’t interviewed.

But when it came to those they had interviewed?  They got it all wrong.  In other words, the interviews had clouded their judgement and prevented them from seeing the situation clearly. The students had effectively been talked out of making the right assessment, even though all the information they needed was right at their finger tips in the grade records.

Then Dana and his team made the experiment even more interesting.  Half of the group of interviewees were directed to answer randomly.  Strikingly, not a single interviewer reported that something was amiss.  They were getting weirdly inconsistent answers from those they were interviewing and they didn’t seem to notice.


Are All Job Interviews Pointless?

While these results are striking, let’s put them into perspective.  Some of you, especially those with extensive interviewing experience, will no doubt be raising some important objections.  And you’re right.

First, the interviewers were students, and presumably lacked long-term interviewing experience. Not only that, these interviews were not taking place in the context of a workplace or a real-world work environment.

Second, the goal of the interviews was predictive of a very specific thing: future grades.  This matters because the goal of a job interview is usually much more complex.  When you’re assessing a future employee, you have often already concluded that their basic job competency is there and are now trying to weigh other features like cultural fit.

The same is true for the medical school example —the fit being determined there was an academic one, not workplace.  Even if the med students had to fit into a culture, the offerings at a school are often much wider than in a job where the employee will likely be working in a specific corner of an organization, often with a very small and focused team.

And let’s not forget the other side of the interview equation —the value a candidate receives.  Interviews can serve the important purpose of giving the candidate insight into your organization before they make the choice.  This insight can save you time, money and hassle.  After all, if a candidate sees something they don’t like, it’s better that they screen themselves out before taking the job.


Are Machines Becoming Better Judges of People Than Us?

So where does all of this leave us.  Even for those of you who are seasoned interviewers, I hope it leaves you a little skeptical of the process.  Many of us take pride in our gut instincts, our ability to “read” people and our emotional intelligence.  All of these things are important, but there is no harm in injecting some healthy doubt into interviewing, especially if it makes us win in the end.

And Dana’s research aside, there’s plenty of evidence that we should make us skeptical of our ability to accurately judge people, whether across from us at an interview or on the other end of a phone.
Take Pindrop, for example.  This artificial intelligence is revolutionizing fraud detection in call centers around the world.  The technology is constantly learning, both analysing the content of phone calls and also the technical information about the call.  The result?  Pindrop can correctly identify a fraudulent call 90% of the time —far more effective than a human being.

Obviously, a job interview is a much more nuanced process.

You and your team, not machines, are going to end up working with the candidate, especially in a small organization.  But the point is this: Don’t eliminate the job interview, but question it and by questioning it, improve its effectiveness.


Three Things You Can Do To Make Your Next Job Interview More Effective.


So next time you interview, try this.

  1. Don’t Just Tick The Boxes. Too many interviewers have a list of standards questions that they “need to get through”.  This approach is counter-productive because it will take you out of the moment.  Instead of looking for important social cues that will help you assess those things that a human interview can do well (team fit, personality clash, etc.), you’ll be focused on filling in a form.  Sure, this might be a required part of your process, but even if it is, you can still force yourself to be conscious of the person sitting in front of you.  Add your own questions.  If the person says something that piques your curiosity, follow that curiosity.  You may very well discover something critical.
  2. Be Brave With The Facts. Ironically, as tough as some people think the interview is, often those doing the interviewing can be too soft on the candidate, especially if they like them from the start (studies have shown that many hiring decisions are made in the first ten seconds of a meeting).  Don’t be afraid to dig down into weak spots in someone’s resume be that an educational failing, a career or knowledge gap.  Putting the focus on a record will not only give you a good sense of how a person deals with uncomfortable questions, but also keep the importance of someone’s actual track record at the center of the hiring decision.
  3. Challenge Someone Who Speaks In Cliches. One thing that humans are good at, and machines (so far) are not, is catching nuances.  Be on the lookout for language that is unoriginal.  Take issue with cliches.  If someone spouts out how “passionate”, “driven”, and “motivated” they are —how they always give 110% to everything they do— it should raise an eyebrow and prompt you to challenge them.  Ask the candidate what giving 110% actually looks like, and what being “passionate” in your job actually means.  Get them to show you if they can think beyond cliches —and if they can’t, you may just have your answer.


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