Interviews are inherently flawed as they are poor predictors of on the job performance and yet we rely heavily on them when choosing employees. Why? It’s probably because we are human and like to eyeball someone before hiring them. But remember, an interview is just one way to gather information on a candidate.
Several years ago, I interviewed someone for my own team. Joy interviewed well enough answering all the questions, but there was something missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. She just seemed to lack energy. I decided to check her references to gain more information. Her referees raved about her so I hired her and she ended up being a star. Ironically, energy was something she didn’t lack. She outdid us all, demonstrating that even a best practice, structured interview sometimes isn’t enough to gain the information you need to reach a decision.
Candidates should be looked at holistically, from information gathered at each and every touchpoint during the process. Putting such strong weighting on the interview gives it more credit than is due. Being aware of this is half the battle but you can strengthen an interview’s ability to predict performance by structuring the interview and focusing on behaviour. The candidate’s knowledge will become clear at the same time.
The reason Behavioural interviewing is considered best practice is it seeks proof by assuming that past behavior predicts future behaviour. All questions use past tense, “What have you done?” as opposed to the future “What would you do?”. New graduates and other entry-level candidates with little experience often don’t do as well but there are other options for them, such as role-plays.
A member of my team put forward an eager young candidate who during his interview scared the hirer with his excitability not recognizing it as enthusiasm. Without a behavioural interview the candidate’s potential was not apparent. The interviewer declined the candidate and we had to go into bat for him; after being hired he was promoted twice within the year.
Conversely, you can get candidates that wow you at interview but just don’t deliver. Salespeople sometimes fall into this category. They present and communicate well, say all the right things, know how to sell themselves but sadly, this sometimes doesn’t translate into sales for your company. And since there is a skill shortage of good salespeople, it’s tempting to take them at face value.
So, even though a structured behavioural interview process still only provides about 60% probability of success in the role, the reality is the outcome would be much more hit and miss without it. If we’re going to interview we might as well tighten up our process, develop out interview technique and review the candidate hostically.
Interviewers often use gut feel but when asked if they are particularly intuitive or use this in any other area of their life, they admit they don’t or aren’t that good at it. So why use it at an interview? It is much more likely to be bias. I have interviewed with hiring managers who fixate on first impressions and their questions alter accordingly. Stubbornly, I won’t let them complete the interview until I’ve asked some behavioural questions. It’s quite interesting watching their opinion of someone they thought was a shoe-in change to caution. Or, alternatively, someone they’d discounted and they’re just doing through the motions to realize they actually have real potential in front of them.
Measure the candidate’s behaviour in relation to the role, not their interview ability. It is your skill as an interviewer that will determine how well the candidate performs and your role and responsibility to get the right information to reach a decision. This isn’t always easy; there are a few cultures that don’t interview well due to their attempts to tell you what they think you want to hear, despite your attempts to get them on track.
The trouble is, interviewing is a skill, not knowledge. Practice is really the only way to hone your technique, and it’s only experience that lets you know when to disregard the results of an interview. Unfortunately, some of the worst interviews I’ve seen have been interviewing for years and have entrenched bad habits.
Recruitment is all about risk management. Strengthening your interview technique helps lessen the risk. Ensure your managers can assess behaviours and congruency to the job on offer.
AUTHOR BIO – TANIA HOWARD
Tania Howard is the director of Talent Seed, a recruitment advisory company that trains and advises organizations towards best practice recruitment. She has recruited or led recruitment teams in nine countries. At previous roles she reduced frontline recruitment expenditure by a third and earlier as International Recruitment Manager set up a team and processes to hire 800 people within 4 months. She specializes in reducing bad hires and legal risk when recruiting, and assisting businesses to compete for talent.
Tania can be contacted via www.talentseed.co.nz.