Interviews: Is it Time to Blow Them Up? (Part 2 in a 2-Part Series)

Last week I started this series by asking why organizations continue to use interviews as the primary means of assessment, given that they stink as a predictive indicator of performance and nearly every person involved hates them.

The response to Part 1 was largely supportive, while a few comments supported interviews for their ability to help gauge team fit. To build on Part 1, I would like to continue the train of thought by exploring how interviews impact the candidate and the recruiting department.

Interviews and the Candidate Experience

Interviews might not just result in a weak hire, they might turn off nearly all candidates with the capability and capacity to do the job at the top-performer level.

Such negative experiences can have a disastrous impact on an organization’s ability to hire, as stories spread throughout the labor force, significantly reducing the pool of talent even willing to consider opportunities with the organization.

Some of the possible negative candidate experience drivers include:

  1. Candidates are forced to lie. Candidates coming to an interview who are currently employed (generally the most desirable) are essentially forced to “lie” to their current boss as to why they are away from their current job. Forcing them to lie too often can cause them to prematurely drop out of the hiring process. By holding interviews during work hours and requiring candidates to come back for second and third interviews, hiring managers make the problem even worse.
  2. Scheduling is difficult. When multiple candidates are brought in for interviews, just scheduling the many different interviews can be frustrating for those candidates and managers. The time it takes to schedule these interviews almost always stretches out the hiring process to the point where most top candidates will be lost because of the long time delay before a final hiring decision is made.
  3. Managers do stupid things during interviews. Sometimes interviewing managers can be the cause of high offer rejection rates. By taking phone calls during interviews, canceling and rescheduling interviews, appearing disorganized, or even asking illegal or silly questions, interviewers can easily scare away the top candidates. Remember, great hiring only starts with effective skill assessment; you must also “sell” the candidate. If you disillusion or discourage top candidates, they will simply make up an excuse to drop out of the running or say no to your offer. Incidentally, you can only find out the real reason why they rejected your offer by asking them six months later. When such research is conducted, most organizations find the answer is quite often, “I rejected you because you treated me so poorly during the hiring process.”
  4. Death by repetition. When candidates are subjected to multiple interviews at the same firm, it is common for different interviewers to ask similar questions in back-to-back interviews. This is often because interviews by different managers are not coordinated. It is also partially caused by interview training manuals, which, by suggesting appropriate questions to use in an interview, can inadvertently cause interviewers to re-use the same questions. One firm had the audacity (or intelligence) to ask applicants what they thought about the multiple interview process. The results were startling. The candidates were frustrated and angry about being asked the same question over and over. In addition, by repeating the same questions, the firm loses the opportunity to gather data in a broad variety of areas that might help to improve the value and accuracy of the overall interview process.
  5. Being kept in the dark. Another all-too-common abuse of candidates occurs when managers keep the candidate in the dark about the interview process and what is expected during it. Frequently, they are not told who will be there during the interview and the role of each interviewer. This lack of information leads to confusion and frustration on the part of the “powerless” candidate, and all for no reason. There is no legal regulation that prohibits companies from telling candidates upfront about the process and what is being assessed during it. Failing to educate the candidate may cause them to over-prepare in some unimportant areas and under-prepare in the key ones. Not knowing who will participate in the interview prohibits the candidate from doing research on the background of the interviewers. By telling the candidate more, you can limit their frustration and increase the likelihood that they will provide the information you need to make an accurate hiring decision. Candidates also get frustrated when they are not given feedback about where they stand immediately after the interview process is complete.
  6. One-way conversation. Unfortunately, most managers spend more time talking than listening during interviews. Most interviewers don’t leave equal time for the candidate to ask questions and to present information that they want to present, which can frustrate them. In addition, many interviewers forget that a significant part of the interview should be devoted to “selling” the candidate on the firm and the job.
  7. Losing customers. Because most interview processes are so candidate “unfriendly,” rejected candidates are highly unlikely to speak kindly about your firm to others, thus hurting your employment brand. In addition, if they are or were considering becoming customers, treating them poorly during and after the interview might mean that you lose them permanently as customers.

Recruiting Department Impacts

Poorly designed interviewing processes can also have negative impacts on the firm.

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  • Costs. If you add up the multiple hours that managers and employees must spend in interviews (multiplied greatly when there are team interviews), the costs of a series of interviews can easily grow into five figures. The amount of hours that are required can also lead to “management fatigue,” which can cause managers to delay future hiring and put off the interview process. If an HR person must be present during all interviews, the costs go up even higher.
  • The number of interviews. In many cases, legal fears have forced corporations to increase the number of interviews that a candidate must go through before they can be offered a job. The number of interviews has proliferated like rabbits. Where one or two interviews used to be common, one firm I know now demands five to 10, while another averaged over 17 before realizing the disastrous consequences. This “death by interview” extends the time to hire, which could result in you losing the candidates who are in the highest demand.
  • Business impacts. The extremely low validity and reliability of most interviews means that you frequently end up not only hiring the wrong person but simultaneously, you may be “missing” a top performer. This “mis-hiring” means that your business results will be lower. Additional negative side effects might be that you will have to re-start the hiring process (with its increased cost and time commitment) when you have to fire the “bad hire” who was selected as a result of your poorly designed interview process.

Final Thoughts

Interviews are a lot like Jell-O: they can be molded in almost any way. Unfortunately, their flexibility generally leads to them being filled with flaws and errors.

Because interviewers have the highest “weight” within the selection process, this excess flexibility often means that most people end up hiring the wrong people based on misimpressions gained from interviews.

If you’re still not a believer in the weaknesses of interviews, look at the various studies (generally in psychology) that provide hard statistical data on the accuracy of the many different selection devices. If you do, you may become a cynic when it comes to having faith in interviewing.

Incidentally, if you want to know of a better way to hire, consider how you would hire a chef (or musician or writer). You certainly wouldn’t spend a lot of time talking about knife skills; instead, you would put the candidate in the kitchen and then taste their food. The same would be true for an athlete. You wouldn’t spend a lot of time talking with Shaq; instead, you’d give him a tryout. It turns out that nothing is a better predictor of on-the-job performance than “putting them in the kitchen,” even if it’s only for a brief period.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.

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