People are always writing articles about the best interview questions. One author (who positioned himself as a hiring expert) actually advised, "In terms of 'canned' interview questions, my suggestion is to select a few questions you like and ask them."
This is a fine strategy for making friends, but absolute nonsense for a recruiter (I had another word in mind, but it would have been politically incorrect.) After some initial chit-chat, the only interview questions a recruiter or hiring manager should ask are ones that provide trustworthy and reliable data about whether the candidate has the skills for the job.
Canned Questions and Pickled Answers
Why do so many people miss the obvious? Anyone involved in hiring knows there is a big difference between acing an interview and acing a job. Furthermore, as we all know, working in a job we neither like nor have the skills for is a painful experience. I can understand this kind of clueless interview recommendation coming from an inexperienced hiring manager; but, should we accept this advice from someone who either passes himself off as an expert or who recruits for a living? After all, screening applicants based on job qualifications is the recruiter's job, isn't it?
Knowing What You Need
If knowing what to look for in an applicant seems so simple, why do so many people get it wrong? For one thing, it's not as simple as knowing the results you want to achieve. Results do not tell you how a job was done -- or even who did it -- they are the scores at the end of the game. They do not tell you what the player did, when, or why the player did it. Knowing just the results can lead to unfounded assumptions about the skills used to achieve them. You need more; otherwise your assumptions will produce hiring mistakes. Let's use Olympic skiing as an example.
The competitor's objective is to get to the bottom of the hill faster than anyone else. Simple enough, right? That hill, however, is covered with a mile and a half of snow and ice in various conditions: powdery, packed, icy, slushy, smooth, bumpy, etc. Course conditions can also change rapidly due to sunshine, clouds, falling snow, rain, wind, and the tracks of other racers. So the skier is only partially in control. Between the start house and the podium lies a wilderness of unpredictable and dynamic conditions -- not to mention lingering injuries, equipment issues, and the like -- that are beyond his or her control, yet can dramatically affect the results of the race. The same is true of job-holders.
Although we treat other people as if they are in total control of their performance, we reserve the right to make excuses for our own behavior. Psychologists call this fundamental attribution error. That is, you are totally responsible for whatever happens to you -- but I am entitled to blame others for whatever happens to me. Attribution error interferes with hiring decisions every time we hear a candidate tell us he was unsuccessful.
Fundamental attribution error addresses only one part of the human condition; halo is another. Humans tend to use snippets of information to make sweeping assumptions about other abilities. This is called the halo/horns effect:
- What? You misspelled the word disenfranchise? You must be a complete doddering idiot who needs help tying his shoes!
- What? You reduced the overall consumption of paper clips in your last job? You are obviously qualified for our presidential suite!
How often have you heard someone suggest the first two minutes of an interview make or break a candidate? Do you honestly believe someone's entire career-skill set can be measured in two minutes? The halo/horns effect causes us to make errors both for and against every candidate.
To summarize, there are many insidious forces actively at work whenever applicant, recruiter, or hiring manager meet: silly interview questions; fundamental attribution error; halo and horns; unclear expectations; and, assuming that results and skills are related. It's a mystery why more hiring decisions aren't disasters!
The recruiting field is awash in nonsense and bad advice. This leads organizations to hire too many wrong people and reject too many right ones. Experts estimate that the cost of poor hiring ranges anywhere between 20% to 50% of base salary.
Being passionate about a hiring methodology and being able to prove it is valid and reliable are not the same thing. If a product or report seems off-target, ask to see studies proving scores actually predict job performance. Look at the vendor's professional credentials to see if they belong to the right associations (SIOP). Or simply ask if the product was specifically developed to predict job performance. Claims from a vendor making that sound too good to be true are no different than the emails announcing your lottery winnings. A little common sense and education can make a world of difference.