Job interviews, having remained broadly unchanged in organisations for decades, are no longer fit for purpose and desperately needs a shake-up, experts say.
In a recent Work Life podcast episode called ‘Reinventing the Job Interview’, by organisational psychologist and bestselling author Adam Grant, the traditional job interview process is torn to shreds.
Rigorous research shows that if you attempt to rank the performance of 100 candidates based on a verbal interview process, you’ll be lucky if you get eight of them right, says Grant.
Other evidence shows that interviewers who think it’s a good idea to toss brain-teaser questions into a job interview – such as, “How many marbles does it take to fill an Olympic swimming pool?”– actually score quite highly on the sadism scale, he says.
Then there are interviewers who ask different questions to each candidate, which makes it impossible to compare apples to apples and therefore negates the purpose of the entire process.
And don’t even bother with open-ended questions around the candidate’s hobbies, or who they’d choose to take to a deserted island, or why they want to work in the industry. They have no relation whatsoever to the prediction of job performance, he says.
If you want to give your tired job interviews a shake-up and move beyond questions such as, “Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?”, keep the following in mind.
(Read HRM’s articles about illegal interview questions to avoid, as well as interesting questions to pepper throughout your job interviews in 2022).
1. A structured process is always best
One way to glean better data from your interviews is to adopt a structured interview process, says Grant in his podcast.
“In a structured interview, you identify the skills and values that are essential to the job and the team. You build a set of questions around those. And then you ask the same questions to every candidate and score their responses. You might be thinking, ‘That sounds robotic and boring,’ but the evidence suggests your accuracy will often double, or even triple.”
Even better is to build the set of questions by first doing an analysis of the high-performing people in your organisation.
“You need to come to the interview with a completely different mindset.” – Katriina Tahka, CEO of A-HA (A Human Agency).
What traits do they share? What is it that makes them an excellent fit? Importantly, this data should be collected from a diverse range of high-performers.
“One risk when you’re looking to create more of what you’ve got already is a loss of diversity,” says Gavin Freeman, performance psychologist and Director of The Business Olympian. “When you start looking for people who look like the ones you’ve got, you need to be very careful about confirmation [or affinity] bias.”
2. Interviewers need a new mindset
Katriina Tahka, CEO of A-HA (A Human Agency), says the pandemic has caused skills shortages in almost every sector. As a result, many employers have less power in the interview process than they’re used to.
“The candidate is interviewing you,” says Tahka. “They’re figuring out whether to accept your job or one of many others. You need to come to the interview with a completely different mindset.”
Employers must shift their definitions of what they’re looking for and, in many cases, simplify their shopping list, she says.
“Employers say they need five years’ industry experience, specific degrees or certificates, specialist training and other industry-specific knowledge, etc. Actually, they just need to be clear on what the core capability is to perform the job well, such as someone with good people skills. That’s all.”
“Employers need to ask themselves what are the key capabilities they really need? What can they live without? What can they train and how will they do that? Then, focus the interview around mindset and attitude. Avoid the trap of pulling out the template interview guide and asking the same bland, irrelevant questions of every candidate.”
Freeman agrees, citing retailer The Body Shop, which simply asks three questions – are you eligible to work in this country, can you stand for up to eight hours, and can you lift a certain weight? This is based off a concept called ‘open hiring’ where you require no resume or experience from candidate; just potential and a willingness to learn.
“They’re saying that if you’re prepared to work hard and you want to work with us, we’re prepared to work with you,” says Freeman.
3. Keep it simple
To shake up your interview process, first consider where you’re drawing talent from, says Freeman. The current talent pool is diverse and dispersed, and working from home is the new normal.
Next, consider what you need in an employee, says Tahka.
Aldi, for example, has only one requirement for staff in positions of manager or above: a university degree.
“There are no other requirements,” she says. “You don’t even need to have worked in retail. Their philosophy is they’ll teach you their way of doing things. They just need to know that you can learn.”
This simplification of needs broadens the talent pool further, says Tahka. Next, whittle down your interview process, by stripping it back to basics.
“I once had a part-time job as a Sydney Opera House guide,” she says. “The interview process involved me walking them into the Royal Botanic Gardens next door and taking them on a quick tour. They were simply assessing how well I could lead and interact with a group of people. Everything else, they could teach me.”
Finally, don’t try to add too many bells and whistles. Consider how certain processes, such as asking the candidate to provide a short video, might cut down your talent pool. For example, people with less technological experience or confidence might not apply. Pare the process back and keep it simple.
“Innovation comes from clarity on what is the core required skill,” says Tahka. “Are you looking for people who can work together, people who have excellent numeracy, someone who can lead and engage a group?
“Figure that out, then design an activity and assess from that. Don’t just ask them the same question you’ve always asked in interviews. It’s not useful for you and it’s nowhere near as engaging for them.”
This article was first published in the March 2022 edition of HRM Magazine.
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