The Interview is a Poor Assessment Tool

Recruiters and hiring managers love interviews.  I have never been sure why that’s the case, but it seems to satisfy a human need for social connection and relationship. There is nothing wrong with either of those, but are they legitimate ways to assess whether or not a candidate has the skills and abilities the organization needs?

The EEOC considers the interview to be a selection test and requires that it be validated before use.  Yet, I would guesstimate that few interviews are validated and the ones that may not be delivered consistently or by a competent, trained interviewer.

Research shows that the typical unstructured interview is unreliable. It does not consistently ensure that the most qualified person gets a job or that the person will perform any better than another candidate chosen with less care. From my experience as a recruiter and a candidate rambling, unstructured interviews are common.  The interviewers range over a wide variety of topics, dipping into a resume here and there to ask a question or to ask the candidate to validate something they already expected and wanted to hear. In most cases, a clever candidate can manipulate the interview subtly to make sure their strengths are showcased.

Therefore, when we compare candidates, we are comparing apples to oranges. The hairs we split and the time we spend agonizing over a small detail or a particular answer to an interview question are wasted. Asking every candidate different questions increases the unreliability of the interview and makes comparing candidates impossible. In all the studies that I have looked at, the validity of choosing candidates by primarily using an unstructured interview is about the same as simply picking someone at random.

A better way to interview is to use a structured interview given by a trained interviewer. This can increase reliability by a significant amount but are not as accurate or bias-free as other methods.

Carefully constructed interviews, where the questions are directly related to measurable skills, competencies, or past experiences, take a lot of time to prepare and, to be most effective, have to be delivered in a similar way (ideally the same way) to each candidate for the job.  This alone would eliminate most of the interviews I have had. 

 No wonder candidates often fear the interview process for its arbitrary and inconsistent methods.

 Bias- Unconscious and Conscious

Assessing candidates is highly subjective and based on assumptions, prejudices, or unconscious biases the recruiter or hiring manager has. Assessment is also influenced by the interviewer’s mood and the chemistry between them and the candidate.  Even factors such as physical appearance, tone of voice, or time of day can impact the interview.

I often ask recruiters to think about what would happen if they selected two candidates for a job who had the same qualifications and who had known the questions that were going to be asked and prepared the same answers. If another recruiter interviewed them, would they both receive the same score on the interview, as they should?

Other Ways

I know many of you use other tools in your evaluation, but I also know you always conduct interviews – often many of them. These are often done because they are expected or because hiring managers want them. If the interviews are used to establish a human connection, market the organization or position to the candidate, and are not the primary source of gathering information to make a hiring decision, I have fewer issues. But, no matter whether the interviews are structured or panel interviews or done for any other reasons, or whether in-person or virtual, there are better and more objective ways to assess candidates.

Targeted Marketing

Maybe one of the most effective ways is to reduce the number of applicants by targeting your marketing, not posting on job boards, and leveraging chatbots on your career site. By promoting the positions only to potentially qualified people and prefiltering better serves both the candidates and you,

Screening Tools

These tools include a multitude of screening and testing tools: validated realistic job previews, simulations, aptitude and skill tests, as well as simple things like asking candidates to actually do something relevant to the job: edit an article, write an advertisement, critique a circuit diagram, locate an error, etc.

Internships

Internships are another great way to assess a candidate’s fit into an organization and their motivation, interest, and ability – both professionally and to work within a team. While they can be difficult to set up and take time, an organization has an almost steady stream of good candidates under assessment once they are underway.

Feedback

Another excellent way to get feedback on past performance and character is to conduct a reference check using a tool that collects anonymous and wide-ranging feedback from many people who have worked with the candidate.

Further Proof

As you can see from the chart below, interviews clearly are not the best way to assess candidates, especially if they are the primary assessment method. Research has consistently shown that cognitive ability tests, especially when combined with skills validation, are the best predictors of success.

The validity of Various Selection Methods
Source: The validity of employment interviews: A comprehensive review and meta-analysis. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, 599-616 (researchgate.net)

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The Validity of Employment Interviews

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