How to make job interviews useful

How to make job interviews useful

How to make job interviews useful

Jason Dana of the Yale School of Management has written an article on ‘The uselessness of job interviews’. Before arguing the other point of view let me say that I agree with much of what he says but only up to a point. Job – and many other interviews, discussions and meetings – are not only a waste of time, they can be misleading, too. But I do not think we should condemn a vehicle simply because its drivers are untrained.

Mr Dana is an expert on how people make decisions, something that is more important today than ever before. With free-flow information we must assess massive quantities of it and decide if it is Right, Relevant and Rational. Good mathematicians hypothesise an approximate answer before they do a calculation. Good judges of people do the same. Both remain wide open to the possibility that they are wrong.

What is a job interview trying to assess? Four things.

First, trust. Can I trust this person if they come to work for the company? Our judgment of people is notoriously bad but it can be improved. The old concept of ‘communicating’ has done much damage to our interaction with others. It concentrated on the ‘push’ – what we want to say. Today it needs to concentrate on the ‘pull’ – what we can get the other person to want to hear, understand and react to. You do not find out about someone’s trustworthiness by staring at his CV and asking him to repeat it.

Second, attitude.
It is not simply a matter of positivity versus negativity. Some of the best judges of people I have known were pessimistic to the point of cynicism. And I have seen optimists, lovely people as they are, whose judgment was flawed by their very unwillingness to face reality. We interview potential employees for some of our clients to establish the employee’s attitudes to work, to life, to society, to customers, to peers, to bosses, to business, to almost everything that matters in life.

The rewards of delving for these attitudes is that you learn about your interviewees’ ability to think, their creativity, emotional intelligence and, most importantly, their ability to communicate by asking questions, not just answering them. Instead of seeing if the employee fits the job we aim to see if the company fits the employee.

Third, stature or presence.
If you think this is relevant only for bosses, think again. It is as important for an artisan as for a CEO because confident people, proud of the work they do, perform better than navel-gazing timids. In a bold world you have to be seen to be bold.

Fourth, lucidity and humour.
I put these two together because they are essential bedfellows for those who will make an impression. Surely some jobs don’t require a sense of humour? And there are many technical experts who can’t string two words together, aren’t there? True but in a world of increasing isolation the persuader will always win, however technical his or her job. As work environment becomes increasingly important so attention to the contribution made by subordinates, peers and bosses becomes more relevant.

There are multiple ways of assessing the suitability for someone for a particular job. Most of them are very job / organisation oriented. New employees certainly need to look inwards to see who and what they are working for.

It is even more important that they look outwards to see who and what they will serve.