Traditional Job Interviews: 2 Reasons to Avoid Them

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This article outlines some of the key flaw associated with traditional interviews and provides some tips on how to improve these weaknesses.

The Problem

Chris Rock, the comedian, warns people not to trust the person you meet on your first date. The reason being, on first dates, you are not meeting the real person that’s behind
the smiling face and good manners; rather, you’re meeting their “representative” – the one who is trying to make the best impression possible. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to many of us who mistook someone entirely different from the one we enthusiastically thought was our soul-mate.

Job interviews are no different; candidates often pull out every tool, technique, posture, and tone in an attempt to make the most favorable impression possible. Some candidates are so good that they can fool even the most savvy and seasoned interviewers. It’s no wonder that when companies use traditional interviews to select candidates, on average, there’s only a 1 in 5 chance of identifying that exceptional performer. This translates to 4 out of 5 being either average or poor performers (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998).

Here are two (among many) reasons why traditional interviews have such a poor track record and why hiring professionals should avoid them:

Reason 1: Failure to make a distinction between critical and non-critical KSAOs
Reason 2: Inconsistent questions from one candidate to another

Below, I describe briefly each of these areas along with “The Fix” corresponding to each:

The Fix

Reason 1: Failure to make a distinction between critical and non-critical KSAOs

When creating job descriptions, it is tempting to include a laundry list of knowledge, skill, ability, and personal qualities (i.e., KSAOs). This approach tends to muddy the distinction between what is truly critical and what is less critical; leading to confusion over what one should look for during the interview.

Reason 1 – The Fix: Plan ahead by sitting down with the hiring manager and others who will be interacting with the new hire. Identify and distinguish between critical and non-critical KSAOs tied to the position and achieve a consensus among participants. It is recommended that a thorough job analysis be conducted in order to identify critical competencies but in the absence of time and willingness, a brief group discussion is still far superior to relying on the decision of one or two persons.

Reason 2: Inconsistent questions from one candidate to another

Ad hoc questions created by interviewers and administered is one of the biggest reasons why different candidates are often viewed very differently amongst interviewers. The questions tend to vary widely as they focus on what a given interviewer deems important for success – which may or may not correspond to another interviewers’; thus, introducing inconsistencies in perceived “fit” between the candidate and the job.

Reason 2 – The Fix: During the planning phase – once the core (or critical) KSAOs have been identified (hopefully through a formal or an informal job analysis) – determine the set of questions to be asked of ALL candidates. While the ordering of the questions can vary from one interviewer to another, the questions themselves should not. Using this approach, interviewers have a much better idea as to what qualities he/she should be looking for.

Because traditional interviews typically lack the first two recommended steps described above, they leave room for interviewers to rely on their intuition and emotions – especially when multiple candidates are involved.

The first two problems and associated fixes are designed to inject some degree of structure into the interviewing and decision process. Added structure, in turn, tends to reduce the influence of human intuition and emotion in decision-making. While intuition and emotion have their place, they can be detrimental in selection contexts (see Salgado et al., 2002).

I hope you find this information useful. There’s a lot more to be said here but I wanted to keep this article to roughly a page. Look for my “Why wrong candidates get hired” series where I get a lot more in-depth in how traditional interviews can lead you astray.

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