No, job interviews can actually be valuable

job interviews
Anwar Khalil


written on June 8, 2017

Recently HRM published a story on the usefulness of job interviews that drew upon widely reported research. Here CEO Anwar Khalil takes a deeper look into the study and draws his own conclusions.

The shocking premise of the a recent study (outlined in The New York Times) is that the job interview is an impediment to hiring the right people. It’s controversial stuff, but worth understanding. Basically, the author makes two points.

1. Interviews may be irrelevant in determining fitness for a role

Years ago a medical school decided to admit 50 more students into a class than it had originally planned. These students, who had initially been denied admission, had met all the other selection requirement, but had failed the interview process.

Later, when measured for academic and clinical performance, researchers could find no significant difference between these students and the others who had passed the interview process. In other words, the interview had added nothing to the process.

2. Interviews can actually hurt the hiring outcome

Jason Dana, the writer of the article and a professor at the Yale School of Management, saw this research and went further. What if interviews were actually an impediment?

Students were given the past grades of other students, interviewed some of them, and were asked to predict their future grades (we wrote about it in more detail in our previous feature.)

The results were eye-opening. The students made better predictions when they hadn’t done an interview, the interviewees had effectively talked them out of making the correct assessment.

But job interviews AREN’T useless

Those of you with extensive interviewing experience will no doubt be raising some important objections. And you’re right. Let’s put this study into perspective.

The interviewers were students, and presumably lacked long-term interviewing experience. Not only that, these interviews were not taking place in the context of a workplace.

Second, the goal of the interviews was predictive of a very specific thing: future grades. The goal of a job interview is usually much more complex. When you’re assessing a future employee, you have already assessed their basic job competency and are now trying to weigh other features like cultural fit.

And let’s not forget the other side of the interview equation —the value a candidate receives. Interviews can serve the important purpose of giving the candidate insight into your organization before they make the choice. This insight can save you time, money and hassle. After all, if a candidate sees something they don’t like, it’s better that they screen themselves out before taking the job.

So can we make the most of interviews?

Many of us take pride in our gut instincts, our ability to “read” people and our emotional intelligence. All of these things are important, but there is no harm in injecting some healthy doubt into interviewing. The point is: don’t eliminate the job interview, but question it and by questioning it, improve its effectiveness.

So next time you interview, try these tips

  1. Don’t Just Tick The Boxes: Too many interviewers have a list of standards questions that they “need to get through”. This approach is counterproductive because you risk missing important social cues. If it’s a required part of your process, you can still force yourself to be conscious of the person sitting in front of you and if something they say piques your curiosity, follow that instinct. You may discover something critical.
  2. Be Brave With The Facts: Often interviewers can be too soft on the candidate, especially if they like them from the start (studies have shown that many hiring decisions are made in the first ten seconds of a meeting). Don’t be afraid to dig into the weak spots in a resume – focusing on the record will give you a good sense of how a person deals with uncomfortable questions, and keep the importance of someone’s past performance at the center of the hiring decision.
  3. Challenge Someone Who Speaks In Cliches: One thing that humans are good at, and machines (so far) are not, is catching nuances. Be on the lookout for language that is unoriginal. If someone spouts out how “passionate”, “driven”, and “motivated” they are —how they always give 110% to everything they do — it should raise an eyebrow and prompt you to challenge them. Ask the candidate what giving 110% actually looks like, or what being “passionate” in your job actually means. If they can’t think beyond cliches, you may just have your answer.


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3 thoughts on “No, job interviews can actually be valuable

  1. A good follow up to the previous article. As an interviewer the key thing is to develop that ‘instinct’. What is the person saying, not with their words, but everything else that is going on – from body language, eye contact, tone of voice, the cliches etc and then how do we interpret that to ask the right questions of potential candidates.

    I am a firm believer using questioning, filtering responses and questioning again. At the moment, people have the capacity to still be much better at this than any Artificial Intelligence and removing that from the hiring equation could end up with the wrong people.

    In saying that, interviewers need to be aware of their bias and ensure that do all they can to minimise that.

  2. And a very good reason to have multiple interviewers with diverse perspectives, and more than one interview over time – one formal, one less so. Some folk are certainly better at interviews (especially extroverts) than others. Include other evaluative techniques in the mix so that you are getting a rounder picture.

  3. The most important point in this article I believe, is that interviews allow candidates to check the employer out. Many discussions around interviews still seem focus on the assumption that interviews are pretty much a one way street – all in the employer’s direction.

    I have worked in organisations which have a strict protocol around asking every candidate the same questions, and in my experience, these interviews do not allow the opportunity for people who are on the introverted end of the spectrum to reveal their potential; and are in fact, very biased towards people who are good at thinking and talking on their feet. Unless carefully constructed to put people at ease and to help them feel comfortable communicating, any interview can unintentionally screen out otherwise good candidates.

    There are many useful tools and techniques an employer can use to uncover a candidate’s talents and abilities before or after the interview, but I believe the main purpose of the interview is to have a two way conversation that allows the employee (no matter how introverted) to ask their own questions too.

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