Make important job interviews useful

Make important job interviews useful

Make important job interviews useful

Jason Dana of the Yale School of Management has written an article on ‘The uselessness of job interviews’. Before launching into a tirade of disagreement let me say that I agree with much of what he says but only up to a point.

Job interviews – and many other discussions and meetings – are not only a waste of time, they can be misleading, too. But I do not think we should condemn the vehicle simply because the drivers are bad.

A friend of mine once had this experience with a job interview. Keen on the position, she arrived five minutes early and was immediately ushered in. After her interview she was offered the job. Later, one interviewer remarked how impressed she was that my friend was so composed showing up 25 minutes late. As it turned out, Anna had been told the wrong start time by half an hour; she remained composed because she did not know she was late.

Anna might not have remained so cool had she known she was late. The interviewers misunderstood differently. They might, however, have concluded that her calm reflected a flippant attitude, also not a trait of hers. Either way, they could have been wrong to assume that her behaviour at the interview was indicative of her future performance.

This is a widespread problem. Employers like to use free-form, unstructured interviews in an attempt to “get to know” a job candidate. Such interviews are also increasingly popular with admissions officers at universities looking to abandon test scores and other sometimes misleading measures of quality. As in Anna’s case, interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees,

People who study personnel psychology have long understood this. In 1979, for example, the Texas Legislature required the University of Texas Medical School at Houston to increase its incoming class size by 50 students late in the season. The additional 50 students that the school admitted had reached the interview phase of the application process but initially, following their interviews, were rejected.

Researchers found that these students did just as well as their other classmates in terms of attrition, academic performance, clinical performance (which involves rapport with patients and supervisors) and honours earned. The interviewers’ judgment had added nothing of relevance to the admissions process.

Reciting a candidate’s Resume at a job interview is disastrous. First, it tells the interviewee that the interviewer has not read it. Second, it repeats what the resume says – some of which may be wrong or misleading. Asking for an expanded version of what is written may be even worse – helpful to the creative but damning to the truthful.

Having conducted many interviews, both when building businesses and as a mentor, I have discovered that a modified form of role-play is probably the best way to discover the key points in an applicant’s assets. I rate these as:

[1] Ability to grasp an issue, formulate questions about it, ask them in a way that will produce engagement and cooperative response and then reach a conclusion, however tentative.

[2] Interest in my business and its issues.

[3] Evidence that this person will continue learning indefinitely.

[4] Potential to take over my job, or part of it, in the future. I do not, of course, expect everyone I hire to be eligible to do this but rapid staff changes, regulatory pressures and intermittent crises of the sort we expect today mean that any manager must be potentially able to handle at least some of the work I do and make some of the decisions I make.

Role-plays from a book are a waste of time. They must be written for each candidate. Two or three are enough to illuminate the candidate’s potential. Sounds as though it takes a lot of work? Calculate the value of the decision you are making when you hire someone.

It is well worth it.

Terrific Mentors International has an interviewing (not a ‘search’) service, both conducting interviews and training interviewers. For more please email