The Hiring Interview is Ineffective: Here’s How to Make it Work

2 minute read

How many positions has your company hired for without giving a job interview? Chances are, unless the candidate is an internal hire, that number is close to zero. Though interviews are ubiquitous to the hiring process, extensive research has found that interviews are terrible at providing accurate information about a candidate, opening the path for biases and bad hiring decisions.

Job interviews typically have some unstructured conversation in which an interviewer tries to “get to know” a candidate by asking open-ended questions such as “why are you applying to this position?” These types of interactions open the interviewer up to biases, as things like physical attractiveness or even the strength of a candidate’s handshake can inaccurately increase ratings of interview performance.

Moreover, although we form first impressions quickly, they may not always be accurate. The interview process can tend to favor manipulative candidates, or ones who know how to make a positive impression even in a brief interview. But those aren’t always the best job performers.” In one study, researchers found that making hiring decisions off an unstructured interview was about as accurate as flipping a coin to decide if you should pick that candidate – around 56%.

Unfortunately, interviewers are also bad at detecting when someone is being dishonest or manipulative. As one study demonstrated, regardless of the interviewer’s experience level, they were not only unsuccessful at detecting if candidates were being deceitful in interviews, but if the interviewers adjusted their interview ratings afterwards based on their intuition of the candidate’s truthfulness, the ratings came out even more inaccurate. To make matters worse, research by a University of Calgary professor finds that the candidates who are more likely to exaggerate or lie in their interviews and get away with it have been found to possess “dark side” personality traits (i.e.,“Honesty-Humility”), which are related to negative work outcomes such as unethical decision making.

So, what can you do to prevent these biases and more accurately assess candidates?
Adding structure to the interview can help increase the chances of distilling useful and accurate information. An article by Fast Company describes some steps that employers can take to increase structure, including: 1) keeping small talk to a minimum, or ideally, to the end of the interview, and treating the unstructured interaction as something completely irrelevant to whether the candidate is a good hire or not, 2) sticking to the script and asking the same questions in the same order to all candidates to keep things fair, and, 3) stop making general inferences and focus on evaluating each answer based upon its relevancy to the job, then sum up the ratings to form an overall score.

Despite their inaccuracy, interviews are here to stay. To make the most of the interview, focus on job-relevant skills and qualifications. Or better yet, supplement your hiring process by using skill-based testing and work samples where possible.

This work has been funded by Viewpoint Foundation.