Flipping a Coin: Ten Things That Are Wrong with the Traditional Interview

By Posted in - Interviewing on March 28th, 2013 0 Comments

Today I wanted talk about a Top Ten list that Letterman has for some reason chosen to ignore … which is why traditional interviews are poor. However, I intend to do more than simply review my top ten list, I want to also offer you a solution to traditional interviewing.

Here is my list:

#10: If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there

Interviewers often don’t have a clue what they are interviewing for – no roadmap or definition of the competencies required for success.

#9: Interviewers make up their own questions

Even when interviewers identify qualities they want to explore, they are unlikely to take the time to construct questions that are well designed to surface information that will allow them to make an accurate evaluation of where a candidate stands relative to that quality.

#8: Interviewers like to play amateur psychologist

You can often tell when an interviewer likes to play amateur psychologist. I always shudder when I hear interviewers say things like, I can tell in the first minute of meeting someone if they are going to work out … based on what? They have to be inferring required qualities based on appearance, mannerisms or stereotypes.

#7: Interviewers resist structure and like to “wing it” which is usually a mistake

Interviewing is a skill that is learned. There is considerable research on what works and what doesn’t. Ignoring over 85 years of research and proven best practices leads to avoidable mistakes and a lack of consistency in interviewing approach can leave candidates with a negative impression of your hiring process.

#6: Interviewers have no clue on how to evaluate candidate responses or what constitutes a good response

What constitutes a good response? What is the difference between a good response and a great response? What elements in a response should an interviewer attend to in order to make an accurate evaluation? Most interviewers don’t have a clue. The lack of a common evaluation framework or calibration across interviewers often results in different members of the interviewing team coming to very different ratings of candidate performance based on the same information. Some interviewers may be too harsh, others may be too lenient. Accurate response evaluation and calibration must be learned, it does not come naturally.

#5: Attractiveness, interpersonal skills, and verbal fluency overly influence decisions as other individual biases, personal prejudices, and stereotypes

Everybody has their own individual biases, personal prejudices and stereotypes which can lead to rating errors. In interviewing scenarios with poor quality questions and a lack of a consistent disciplined approach, these biases are particularly likely to rear their ugly head. Interviewer training can help to avoid these problems.

#4: Interviewers look for a reason to reject a candidate rather than examine their positive qualities

There are some interviewers who approach an interview as an opportunity to select out candidates rather than select in candidates. They look for that one response or indication that there is a deficiency or weakness in the candidate and then dismiss the candidate based on that one area without considering the full profile of the candidate and their relative strengths. Every candidate is going to have relative strengths and weaknesses. A weakness may not be a major concern if it is in a trainable area and is offset by strengths in other key areas. Rejecting candidates based on a single data point can result in overlooking candidates that could be highly successful in the role and could unnecessarily prolong the time it takes to fill the position.

#3: Death by interview (and other forms of candidate abuse)

In times of high unemployment and large numbers of candidates, some employers feel they can subject candidates to multiple rounds of interviews with a ridiculous number of interviews required. This “death by interview” does not significantly improve the accuracy of hiring decisions but has a decidedly negative impact on the impressions of the candidates toward the employer and their hiring practices.

#2: Interviewers monopolize the airtime and don’t give candidates time to fully respond or ask questions

The number two reason most interviews are poor is the fact that many interviewers love to hear themselves talk and monopolize the air time during the interview. It is certainly hard to evaluate the qualities of the candidate if you do not afford them time to talk.

#1: A lack of structure, content, and process

And the number one reason most interviews are poor is the core problem of a lack of structure, content, and process. As I covered earlier, in a traditional unstructured interview, interviewers are left on their own. They decide where to focus, what to ask, how to evaluate responses and how to combine their ratings with other members of the interview team. Research shows this approach results in very low validity or accuracy. Outside of the value of a personal chemistry check, it is only marginally better than flipping a coin to determine who to hire or not hire.

In contrast, behavioral interviews are structured and offer a complete solution. Interview questions are pre-planned and connected to competencies that have been identified as key drivers of success in the position. Interviewers follow a consistent and disciplined approach to the evaluation of responses as well as how ratings are integrated across members of the interview team.

In non-geek speak the validity of the unstructured interview indicates that 96% of what it takes to effectively perform a job is not being measured by this interview method. On the other hand, behavioral interviewing has a validity that rivals the very best selection tools in use today. Under typical hiring scenarios, if behavioral interviews were used as the sole method for making hiring decisions, you could expect over 90% of your hires would be successful on the job. Isn’t it time to abandon the traditional interview? Quit flipping the coin and place a smart bet!

Patrick Hauenstein, Ph.D.

About Patrick Hauenstein, Ph.D.

Patrick Hauenstein is the President and Chief Science Officer for OMNIview. During his free time Pat likes to cook. He is particularly fond of traditional southern cuisine. Pat is also an animal lover ...
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