How to Improve Interviewing Accuracy by 50 to 100 Percent

No matter how good a recruiter you are, your personal success rests on the ability of your hiring manager clients to accurately assess your candidates. How many of us have lost good candidates because somebody on the interviewing team made an incorrect assessment? In this article, I’d like to introduce you to a new way of looking at the interview assessment process. The objective is to profoundly reduce assessment errors by collecting information differently. Using the technique yourself and implementing it with your hiring teams will not only improve overall interviewing accuracy, but also increase your personal productivity by 50 to 100 percent. Stop complaining about having too many assignments to handle. Instead, learn the “collect and then decide” technique and teach it to your clients. Here are six potential benefits you’ll achieve as a result. Not all of these will apply to everyone, so pick those you find most personally relevant:

  • Fifty to one hundred percent more assignments. Pick this one if you want to become Recruiter of the Year.
  • An increase in your billings of 50 to 100 percent. Pick this one if you’re competitive as heck and commission-driven.
  • Time not wasted doing searches over again. Pick this one if you don’t like wasting your time.
  • Reduce hours by one-third while getting the same amount of work done. Pick this one if you want a life.
  • No OFCCP, ADA, or EEO audit problems; or maximizing performance while minimizing turnover. Pick this one if you want to make sure the best person gets the job for the right reasons.
  • Reduce time to fill by 50 percent or more, while increasing candidate quality and reducing cost per hire. Pick this one if you’re a recruiting manager or human resources executive who wants to become a hero.

There are probably some others that should be added to the list, but you get the idea. Too many mistakes are made because most managers don’t know how to conduct an accurate assessment. Worse, when you get a bunch of interviewers together to decide who the best candidate is, the problems are multiplied. Here are just a few things that typically prevent the best person from getting the job:

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  • The views of the manager with the most authority dominate the selection process. This stifles the debate. Not evaluating alternative viewpoints is a surefire way to make bad decisions.
  • A no vote is equal to two or three yes votes. The safer decision is saying no. One strong no, even if it’s based on emotions or bad information, can override the collective decision of two or three others who don’t agree.
  • The yes/no decision is made too soon. Most interviewers make the decision to hire or not within the first five minutes of the interview. They then look for information to confirm this decision. This is called the “decide then collect” assessment technique. In this approach, interviewers use the balance of the interview to collect information that supports their immediate assessment. It has been proven that when viewpoints are strongly held, contrary information is ignored and confirming information is more valued.
  • Most managers don’t know how to conduct a proper interview. Even managers trained in behavioral interviewing don’t use it because it’s too complicated. Instead, they substitute their emotions, gut feelings, and intuition. Making matters worse, they don’t know what they’re looking for with respect to real job needs.
  • Most recruiters aren’t strong enough to overcome these realities. As a result, corporate recruiters give up, complain or go with the flow. Third-party contingency recruiters cherry-pick both jobs and candidates to minimize these problems and maximize commissions. Retained recruiters, on the other hand, are more influential and they tend to confront these problems more head-on.

All of these problems can be minimized by using a “collect then decide,” rather than a “decide then collect” interviewing assessment process. A “collect then decide” approach means that you use the interview to collect as much information as possible before deciding whether the candidate is good or bad. Common sense would suggest that the longer you delay the “hire/not hire” decision, the more accurate the assessment. In fact, it’s best to not even make a final decision alone. Instead, use the one-on-one interview just to collect information. Then share this information with all members of the interviewing team before making the final hiring decision. The team will arrive at a more accurate decision this way, by using appropriate information to make the decision rather than relying on the traditional and flawed “yes/no” voting process. Here are some ideas you can use to implement a “collect then decide” interviewing assessment process:

  1. Get everyone on the hiring team to agree to real job needs ahead of time. You might want to use a performance profile to collect this information. It describes what a top person needs to do to be considered successful on the job. Managers who know real job needs before the interview starts tend to be less judgmental. If you don’t force the use of some standard for measuring job performance, you inadvertently permit the use of emotions, biases and intuition to prevail.
  2. Eliminate the “yes/no” process in its entirety. Aside from all of the errors noted above, this gives weak interviewers an equal vote in the process. We use a formal 10-factor assessment process that requires all interviewers to substantiate their rankings with factual information. Feelings and emotions are not allowed. Here’s a link to the assessment form we use. The form itself describes the ten best predictors of on-the-job success, which includes factors like job-specific technical competency, self-motivation to do the work, and team skills with comparable groups, among others. Just from the samples, you can see that the traits are all assessed in comparison to real job needs. This insures a great fit.
  3. Don’t give any interviewer full voting rights. Instead, assign each interviewer only a few of the ten factors to assess. As part of this, require that they must use specific information (dates, details, examples, names) to justify every ranking, good or bad. Some of the other ten factors include things like job-specific problem-solving, cultural and environmental fit, trend of growth over time, and comparable accomplishments. As you can tell, there are plenty of topics to go around. If each interviewer knows ahead of time that he or she is not responsible for a complete assessment, there is a natural tendency to withhold judgment until their portion of the assessment is complete. So this is an important practice to implement.
  4. Certify each interviewer before trusting their assessments. Here are the three common hiring errors that can be minimized with just a little training: 1) eliminating good candidates for bad reasons; 2) hiring weak candidates using a narrow range of traits; and 3) hiring good people for the wrong jobs. If each member of the interviewing team reads and practices the points in this ERE article I’ve written on the one-question performance-based interview, they’ll be 50 percent certified. If you establish a formal deliberative and information sharing decision-making process, they’ll be fully certified by their third debriefing session. These sessions are great learning events, as you’ll quickly discover once you attend one yourself.
  5. Measure first impressions at the end of the interview. To increase objectivity, have each interviewer compare the candidate’s first impression measured at the end of the interview with the candidate’s initial first impression. Most people when you get to know them aren’t as bad or as good as first imagined. This exercise allows interviewers to overcome the natural tendency to “decide then collect” confirming information. The difference in first impressions measured this way reveals the interviewers’ own biases and prejudices.
  6. Use panel interviews more frequently. A properly organized panel interview is a great way to impose a “collect then decide” process. One person should lead, with the other interviewers just asking fact-finding questions for clarification. This is also a good way to train weaker interviewers.

The selection of new employees should be considered a major decision-making process. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen, most companies don’t treat it formally enough. Weak interviewers get equal voting rights. Emotions and biases dominate the selection process. Few interviewers truly understand real job needs. A no has more value than a yes, and influence is based more on rank than competency. For something this important, this is a sorry state of affairs. Yet the problem is relatively easy to solve The key is to enforce a “collect then decide” assessment process. When each interviewer knows that their role is limited to doing a good job of collecting information rather than having to decide on overall competency, logic rather than ego or emotions prevail.

Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).