Getting a 9x Interview Success Rate with Behavioral Interviewing

By Posted in - Interviewing on March 25th, 2013 3 Comments

The employment interview has been around as long as organizations have existed. Scientific research on these hiring practices has been around for at least 90 years. Oftentimes these reviewers have reviled the interview as subjective, biased and having little predictive value in determining which candidates will end up being successful. Nevertheless, most line managers feel that they are able to make better and more informed decisions based on the interview and consider it a powerful selection tool. What is really the truth concerning interviews?

There is a huge difference in the validity and value of structured behavioral interviews compared to the one that is unstructured. 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. Outside of the value of a personal chemistry check, this approach is only marginally better than flipping a coin to determine whom to hire.

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

Validity of Structured Versus Unstructured Interviews

Various studies have compared the predictive validity of these two approaches. Let’s look at a few of these results:

Janz, T. (1982).  Initial comparisons of patterned behavior-based interviews versus unstructured interviews.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 67 (5), 577-580.

  • Validity of behavior-based interviews = .54
  • Validity of unstructured interviews = .07

Orpen, C. (1985).  Patterned behavior description interviews versus unstructured interviews: A comparative validity study.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 70, 774-776.

  • Validity of behavior-based interviews = .61
  • Validity of unstructured interviews = .08

There have also been numerous meta-analytic studies that looked at trends and findings across hundreds of other studies.  Notably, these numerous meta-analyses have revealed that “structured” interviews can display high levels of validity without the adverse impact typically found with cognitive ability tests.

Arvey, R.D. & Campion, J.E. (1982).  The employment interview: A summary and review of recent research.  Personnel Psychology, 35, 281-322.

  • Average validity of structured interviews = .62

McDaniel, M.A., Whetzel, D.L., Schmidt, F.L., & Mauer, S.D. (1994).  The validity of employment interviews:  A comprehensive review and meta-analysis.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 599-616.

  • Average validity of structured interviews = .44

What do these interview validity comparisons mean?

Under a typical hiring scenario (base rate of .5, selection ratio of .10, and validity of .60), 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. This data indicates that a structured behavior interview is well over 9 TIMES more effective that a traditional unstructured interview.

In non-geek speak, the validity of the unstructured interview indicates that 99% 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. What’s it worth to you to go from a 50/50 chance of a successful hire to a 90% success rate?

Incremental improvements in hiring quality equate to a huge return on investment. Consider these facts:

  • Research suggests that the difference in value between an employee performing at the 83rd percentile in their role compared to an employee at the 50th percentile is 40% of their annual salary
  • Replacement costs for a bad hire can vary from 20% to 200% of annual salary depending on the level of the employee

Putting the right people in the right seats increases productivity and also reduces unwanted turnover which results in savings in replacement and onboarding costs. In today’s work environment, making the right choice in hiring is more important than ever.  Organizations have driven out costs and flattened their organizational structures. This makes the impact and visibility of a bad hire painfully apparent. It is better to place a smart bet and use structured behavioral interviewing than taking your chances on unstructured interviewing.

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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