Tuesday, June 05, 2012

I hate interviews

I hate interviews.

Let me clarify.  I don't hate doing interviews, I hate how they're used.

Try this exercise.  Spread your arms out as far as they'll go (or envision it).  That's how much of a person's competencies employers think they are measuring using the interview.

Now put your hands about a foot apart from each other.  That's how much of a person's competencies they're really measuring.  And that's if they interview well (which many don't).

So why do employers like interviews so much?  Yes, when done right they've been shown to predict performance pretty well, so it makes sense that over time supervisors would see them as a decent way to hire the right person (although how many of them correlate interview scores with later job performance?).

But I think it's more basic than that.  Interviews are the basket that many employers put all their eggs.  Why?  It's been argued that they're addicted to interviews and stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their flaws.  But really I think there are three main things going on with the average hiring supervisor:

1) competing demands for their time/attention;

2) laziness ("let's just do what we did last time"); and

3) a genuine belief that SEEING someone tells you a lot about them.  I believe this factor is particularly powerful.

Here's another exercise: ask a bunch of hiring supervisors how many of them would hire someone without interviewing them.  I'm guessing no one volunteered.

Why?  Why is it so uncomfortable to imagine hiring someone without having seen them?  What are they hoping to measure in the interview? 

- Job knowledge?  Heck, we could put together a 10-15 item m-c test that would do a better job than a couple "what would you do if..." and "tell me about a time when..." questions.  The slight additional time involved in putting them together would be worth the increased confidence in the breadth/depth of their knowledge.

- Oral communication?  First of all, is that important for the job? Second, is an interview really the highest fidelity situation you can think of?  Are you hiring for...interviewee?  Ask them to put on a training presentation.  Do a role play.  Be creative!

- "Something else"?  Like, I dunno, friendliness?  Social skills?  "Fit"?  Do you really think you're seeing an accurate picture of these qualities during an interview?  Why not use an assessment that's actually designed to measure these things and reference check the heck out of the person?

Aside from the variance you're picking up on job knowledge and communication, really the best you can hope for is that the person messes up.  Pity the poor applicant who hasn't memorized the organization's webpage and job bulletin, smiles continuously, and knows which magic words to utter.  Instead, what if they:

- Show up to the interview late
- Wear something weird/inappropriate
- Complain inordinately about previous coworkers/bosses
- Ask you bizarre questions

I don't have any data to back this up, but I'd guess nine times out of ten when it comes down to the final group of applicants the "there was just something about them" factor trumps.  But can it be quantified?  Defended?

So what can be done?  There are two big leverage points that organizations need to focus on to avoid the automatic recycling of interviews:

1) HR consultants need to be assertive and available.  They should be contacting supervisors when they know about a vacancy, when the advertisement goes out--WHENEVER--just make contact.  Find out how you can help.  As a hiring supervisor myself, I can tell you it makes a HUGE difference when a consultant asks me if there's anything I can do (to which I respond, "God, yes!").

2) Supervisors--and HR--need to be held accountable for their hires and their reputation as a destination employer.  Supervisors, if you have the resources available and you simply fail to take advantage of them, if you never look into why you're having recruiting problems but just keep using the same methods, shame on you.  HR, if you know you should be providing this service and you aren't, or if you know you should be better at it but aren't, shame on you.

So it's a big problem, but it's one that with sufficient attention can be tackled.  If it seems like I'm being overly negative about interviews and their real-world application, all I can say is...you should see how I feel about resume reviews.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, but sometimes in an interview you can pick up other body language cues. I interviewed a woman once whose words were on target, but her body language and tone of voice conveyed a lot of anger and a generally resentful attitude. That's more fundamental than showing up to an interview late, dressing inappropriate or asking bizarre questions.

BryanB said...

Yep, that's a great example of the mistakes that applicants sometimes make, and in those cases the interview does tell you something beyond knowledge. Of course her angry/resentful attitude may have come out in the reference checks too.

Simmy said...

I've commented before, but I just have to say I love your blog. I wish all HR, not to mention business leaders, would read and pay attention to your astute summaries of research literature.