The interview is like a recurring nightmare. We keep waking up, but it keeps coming back. We intuitively know that interviews are a poor selection tool. Study after study shows unstructured interviews have no predictive accuracy. Yet we still use interviews to screen job applicants and hire new employees. The evidence is right there: a large group of "lose 'ems" walking around. Why didn't we spot these people earlier? We really got to know them during the interview. And they looked good!
What is the source of the interview’s mysterious power? I think some intrepid researchers just might have discovered the answer.
In Volume 53 of Personnel Psychology, Murray Barrick, Greg Patton, and Shanna Haugland reported results from their study of a group of 12 experienced interviewers. Each of these interviewers had over 12 years experience, were members of SHRM, and had received extensive interview training throughout their careers. Basically, they were about as seasoned and experienced as an interviewer could be.
The study is very detailed, but here is a short list of some of its main points:
- Interviewers were told to use the same interview style used in their organization.
- Interviewees took the interview seriously.
- 73 people were interviewed.
- Interviewers reported that 61 (of the 73) interviews were based on job requirements, 25 interviews were conducted using situational-style questions, 31 with behavioral-style questions, and 17 with mixed behavioral and situational styles.
So twelve experienced interviewers meet 73 interviewees using good interview techniques. Did they manage to predict the two personality factors that are consistently associated with job success?"
A Little Background, Please
Normal personality factors can be clustered into five general factors called the Big Five. These are:
- Extraversion (whether you are outgoing)
- Agreeableness (whether you are easy to get along with)
- Conscientiousness (caring about quality work)
- Openness to experience (go with the flow)
- Emotional stability (not nuts)
Of these five, two have been consistently associated with high performance in all jobs: conscientiousness and emotional stability. No earthshaking news here — just a recognition that your basic high producer cares about work and is sane.
So was our professional interviewer team able to identify these critical traits? Nope! The only thing these folks were able to consistently and accurately measure were traits associated with "getting to know the applicant." That is, extraversion, agreeableness, and openness to experience. They completely misjudged the two biggest traits associated with performance: conscientiousness and emotional stability.
I think this is a primary reason why, as inaccurate as they are, interviews just won't die! A recruiter who relies solely on interview technology achieves just one objective, very successfully — he or she gets to know the applicant. Recruiters under the powerful spell of "getting to know you better" meet their own emotional needs, but entirely miss critical data.
This is a "good news/bad news" joke. The good news is the recruiter may feel very good about their hiring decision. The bad news is that feeling is totally meaningless to the real objective — acquiring people with the personality factors to be good performers!
What is the impact on the organization? A bunch of zombies. But at least most of them are extraverted, agreeable, or easygoing…
What's With Behavioral Interviewing?
You might have noticed that interviewers used behavioral (i.e., background, behavior, and consequences) and situational (what would you do if?) interviewing techniques. These are both well researched, and yield about 10% more predictive accuracy than casual interviews. But why didn't they pick up the critical traits? Well, because they were not designed to do that. Behavioral and situational interview technology helps you learn whether the person has the competency to perform the job, not whether the applicant has the right attitudes, interests and motivations to succeed at it. Even the best of the structured interview techniques is a very poor measure of conscientiousness and emotional stability.
Basically, it falls out this way:
- Unstructured interviews are poor measures of job competency, conscientiousness and emotional stability
- Structured interview techniques (behavioral and situational) are better measures of applicant competencies, but poor measures of conscientiousness and emotional stability
- If you want to be really, really sure of an applicant's success, you need to use more tools during the hiring stage. Specifically: cases, exercises, simulations, and special tests. All validated against your job, of course.
Don't Try This At Home
Research results must always be put back into context. Personality traits are an important part of performance, but not the only thing you need to measure. You also need to measure the job's required cognitive ability, planning ability, interpersonal skills, and job fit. You wouldn't hire a musician without an audition, would you? Why not use that same logic to hire managers, professionals, customer service associates, executives, etc.?
There are literally thousands and thousands of selection studies that show the way toward better hiring practices. If you have not read them, then read about them. If you don't have time to read them, hire an expert to do it for you.
Do you see your job as digging up bodies for managers to interview? Or as someone who is expert in human skills measurement? More to the point, you control the front door to your organization. Are you letting in a lot of zombies? Let's all say it together now. The interview is dead! It’s time to break the spell.