Saturday, October 21, 2017

Job Interviews Are Pointless

Good morning
"And the beat goes on..........................."

Note:  Arlene Goldbard, at the hypothetical U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, has issued a call to acknowledge and honor Native Land.  

"IN COUNTRIES SUCH AS NEW ZEALAND, AUSTRALIA, CANADA, AND AMONG TRIBAL NATIONS IN THE U.S., it is commonplace, even policy, to open events and gatherings by acknowledging the traditional Indigenous inhabitants of that land. While some individuals and cultural and educational institutions in the United States have adopted this custom, the vast majority have not. Together, we can spark a movement to change that.

JOB INTERVIEWS - Antiquated and useless?

The job interview is a staple in our hiring process, as sacrosanct as anything we cling to.  But it is largely a waste of time for both the hiring organization and the candidate.

Increasingly, we rely on search firms to conduct the whole of the process of finding qualified, and ideally, the right person to fill our open slots.  That includes narrowing down the list of potential new hires, and it is often the search firm that does the initial interviews to winnow the applicant pool to a few candidates to present to the organization for their final consideration.  In and of itself, that process is fraught with the danger that candidates that might be the best match for us are eliminated early on.  Search firm recruiters can't possibly know your organization well enough to always make the best decision.  Moreover, they have their own biases and prejudices and like us, they too suffer confirmation bias - whereby they zero in on candidates that check off their list of qualifications, and favor those who meet their own pre-determined criteria for the position.  It is a mistake, I would argue, to abrogate the decision making to the search firm.  Despite their seeming expertise, they are really just guessing too.

We suffer the same shortcomings in that we, often subconsciously, favor experience over other less obvious qualifications.  We have internalized the notion that a university degree equates with greater ability to perform the work.  We subscribe to the idea that experience trumps other qualifications.  We may even succumb to certain racial, gender and age prejudices.  All of these false narratives move us to prejudge and predetermine who we think we ought to be looking for in our hiring.

And when we finally get down to a couple of possible candidates, we steadfastly cling to the "job interview" as the way to make the best final decision.  It's a tool that is largely unquestioned; a given so rooted in our organizational dynamic that it is rarely, if ever, challenged.

And so we focus not on the value, or lack thereof,  of the interview itself, but rather how to conduct it, who should be present and especially what questions to ask.  Again, tradition dictates that the interview is conducted by the senior management or department heads.  But if one of the objectives of the interview is to try to identify who among the finalists will best fit in with the culture of the organization, limiting those from the organization who conduct the final interviews makes little sense - for several reasons:  First, in truth, the conclusions based on the interview are a crap shoot.  We're really just making a guess as to who is the best fit.  So the more people who can offer input to the process may make it less of an individual decision that is subject to the human error factor.  Moreover, the ideal candidate is not necessarily the one who pleases the highest level of management, but one who fits in the niche of a department.  And that decision might be better made by the people the person will work with.  Ditto the process of the Board hiring the Executive Director - for it is arguably more important that the titular leader has to get along and be a good fit with the staff, than with the Board.

Second, the interview really is a poor way to confirm or judge the candidate's qualifications and experience.  The questions we design have become standardized, and the internet is full of advice to the interviewee how to respond to all of these questions.  In the tech world, devising the questions to ask candidates became a game of how to trap the candidate in a difficult situation; ostensibly to see how they would react under stressful circumstances.  But the reality is that crafting almost impossible questions became more a oneupmanship game to show how clever the question makers were.  And some of that ego-centric approach seeped into our processes too.  The interview became a contest between combatants - with no winners, and losers on both sides.  The best candidates are often eliminated for specious reasons.  And we never know it.

And now comes new research to show that the job interview is largely a waste of time.

"An assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management, Jason Dana, has argued in The New York Times that job interviews are “utterly useless” even harmful, in identifying the best candidates for the job.
Dana claims that interviewers typically form strong impressions about applicants that often turn out to be completely false. "
People who have studied personnel psychology have known this for years, he argues. For example, in 1979, when the University of Texas Medical School was ordered to increase its incoming class size it admitted more than 50 students who had previously been rejected at interview stage. These students subsequently did just as well as their classmates in terms of academic performance, clinical performance and honours earned.
In other words the judgement of the interviewers would seem to have no role in discerning the most able applicants.
More worryingly still, job interviews can actually detract from other more valuable information about candidates. 
In one example from Dana’s own research, 76 students were asked to interview other students. Using information gleaned from the interview along with previous academic results and an upcoming course schedule, the interviewer was then asked to predict the future success of the interviewee. They were then asked to predict the future success of a second student based on paper alone — that is, without the interview. 
The result? The predictions made without the interview turned out to be by far the more accurate."
"Dana concludes that people are overly confident in their own ability to build an accurate picture of someone from a face to face conversation.

We believe that chatting to someone for a mere 10 minutes gives us a better sense of who they are and what they can offer than their CV, experience, references and records. The management professor strongly argues that this is a mistake."

This overconfidence in our reliance on our gut feeling and ability to discern deep insight into how someone will function on the job is a conceit we aren't quick to admit.  I've been on both sides of the interview, as have most of us.  As a candidate, I was always aware that there are answers to questions that seem more right to an interviewer than others, and I played to that reality.  Most interviewees do that.  They want the job, so they have rehearsed their answers to maximize their chances of impressing the one asking the questions.  They, of course, don't always turn out to be right in their assessment, but that this is the norm skews the process and makes it even more irrelevant and useless.    As an interviewer, I succumbed to the false belief that I could design questions that would allow me to make the right decision as to a hire.  Sometimes, long after the fact, that self-assessment turned out to be wrong, and left me wondering if I had hired one of the other finalists if that might have been a smarter decision.  Hindsight in hiring is always 20/20.

There are no magic questions to ask a candidate that will definitively improve your chances of making the right hiring decision.  And a 30 minute, or one hour, interview isn't likely to give you that insight.  To think otherwise is a delusion.  The game is rigged.

So relying on Goggle to provide you with the Ten Best Questions to ask in an interview, and thinking that will be any better than tossing a coin in terms of choosing the candidate who will best benefit your organization, is a fiction, best abandoned.

What do we do then?  If you insist on continuing the interview process, at least include many more people from the organization so that you have more input and opinions about the ultimate decision.  If a fit into the organizational culture is a determinant, then accept that the higher up in management, even in small organizations, the further away from the daily culture you are.  Include people on the ground floor.  If experience is the determinant, there aren't many questions you can ask that will confirm how that prior experience will mesh with your organization.  While recommendations aren't always reliable either, it may be a more accurate gauge than interview questioning. And if out-of-the-box thinking and innovative, creative aptitude is important, that is ultimately proved in the practice, not confirmed by verbal gymnastics in an interview.  Rock and a hard place.

It's highly doubtful we are likely to abandon the job interview.    That's ok.  Go into it by changing the rules where you can, bearing in mind the prejudices and biases we bring to the process and understanding that the interview reveals the determined candidate, not necessarily the idea employee or team member.  Use the interview then to assess, as best you can, the personality and drive of the candidate.  Just bear in mind all your questions are not going to reveal any reliable truths.

Obviously, you will want and need to meet a future hire in person.  There may be alternatives to the interview to meet the candidates.  Perhaps you might invite them to a staff or department meeting, preferably one where ideas or strategies will be discussed and invite their participation.  Or even a social situation may allow you to take their measure.  Arguably a less structured and less stressful situation will allow them to be more at ease and forthcoming, and you to learn more.

Hiring is always somewhat of a crap shoot.  The interview itself mocks the intent and goals by not only making a game of the process, but by believing that process actually accomplishes what it is theoretically designed to do.  Nobody wants to leave such important decisions to a coin toss, but the reality may be that the coin toss is just as accurate as our attempts in an interview to reach the right decision.

If a candidate seems a good fit on paper, based on their past performances, and a goodly number of your current staff can reach consensus on one over another candidate, particularly if they have the opportunity to interact personally, you might not even need an interview.  Though I'll bet you will find it hard to give it up as an option.

I understand.

Good luck.

Don't Quit