Job interviews are so incredibly common that it might be next to impossible to get a job without going on one. Everybody uses them. But are they effective? What do they tell us about the people who we are going to be making a sizable investment in?
As a predictor of performance, interviews will give you the right candidate 14-33% of the time. That’s pretty low. This low number is mostly due to mistakes we make as interviewers when we try to assess someone’s potential. We approach the interview in a way that allows personal biases to take over. In that regard, we are not selecting the best person for the job; we are selecting the person we like the best.
Which might be fine (and you may have better odds of judgment if you are the subject matter expert of the job in question). But all too often we end up with false positives (we hire the dud) or false negatives (a top performer slips away). If you want to do better, one way to improve the odds is to use a structured interview technique. Structuring your interviews for consistency and using well thought-out questions will increase your odds of selecting the right person for the job to 35-57%.
Better Interviewing Techniques:
Do extensive pre-work.
Before you invite anybody in for an interview, give thought to what skills and abilities the job entails, the best way you can measure them, and how you will “score” the information you are given. Make a list of competencies necessary for the job, and order them from most important to least important. How will you decide if the candidate is skilled or unskilled? What do you need to know more about that is not readily available to you from their resume? Prepare your questions and make a rating sheet ahead of time.
Be aware of your biases.
We all have biases that cloud our judgment—otherwise, we would all come to the same conclusion, all of the time. For example: we like people who look and act like us a little more; we seek to find commonalities and then make positive assumptions about them; we judge negative information more harshly than we should; and we find good looking people who make eye contact more likable.
To avoid comparing apples to oranges, ask all interviewees the same questions in the same order. Don’t fill the silence when it occurs; limit your prompting or leading and simply pause. Use a rating sheet either at the time of the interview or shortly thereafter. Force yourself to define the why behind the ratings you give.
Focus on behaviors.
‘Tell me about a time when you dealt with a difficult customer.’ ‘What did you do when you were faced with a problem that you couldn’t solve?’ These are behavioral-based questions that ask the candidate to describe what they did in a situation that is similar to what they will encounter on the job. Focusing on behaviors is based on the assumption that past behavior will predict future performance. Now in a fast-changing world and for entry-level employees this may not apply.
In that case, putting a situational spin on the questions might give you just as good—or even better—responses for evaluation. ‘What would you do if a customer called you and said…’ or ‘What actions would you take if you came across a conflict between…’ These work well because you are putting them on the spot—just like they would be if they came across that situation on the job and you can evaluate both their judgment and their decision-making process. You’ll want to be pretty specific in your scenarios with situational interview questions.
Beware of opinions.
Opinions are questions about likes/dislikes, strengths/weaknesses, goal/attitudes, and vague hypotheticals. They are the questions we can practice and perfect. Everyone who walks in the door will have a prepared answer for them.
Of course, you may still ask them. But as far as discerning the potential for a top performer, these types of questions might as well be worthless. Keep them off your rating sheet and make a note when you are hearing an opinion. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice the most skilled interviewees will insert plenty of them in as part of their answers to even the most structured behavioral-based interview questions.