This is why job interviews are worse than useless


For years studies have shown unstructured job interviews are poor predictors of future work performance. New research tells us they’re much worse than that – they actually bias us against more reliable predictors.

Most people, particularly those who work in HR, would have a story about someone who did well in an interview but failed to live up to expectations. It turns out this is because unstructured job interviews aren’t actually helpful.

Malcolm Gladwell offers an example; a study showing that one-hour interviews give comparable results to 15 second video clips (basically the first “hellos” and the handshake) of those same interviews. Ratings of the eleven traits the interviewees were being assessed on were extraordinarily similar between the audience of the video and the people actually asking the questions.

Now a New York Times article by Jason Dana, an assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management, takes a scientific eye to whether or not interviews are helpful.

Dana and his fellow researchers conducted a study where students were asked to predict cohorts’ future grades based on their past grades and an interview. They were informed that the former had far greater predictive power.  For another group of students, they were told there would be no interview and were asked to predict future grades based solely on past grades.

Their results were clear: the interviews hurt. The subjects’ predictions were far more accurate when there wasn’t one.

To spice things up, the researchers also privately asked some of the interviewees to answer questions randomly, based on the first letters of the last two words of the question. Not only did none of the interviewers realise some people were answering randomly, they actually reported feeling as though they “got to know” those subjects more intimately.

“The key psychological insight here,” says Dana, “Is that people have no trouble turning any information into a coherent narrative.”

A common takeaway from all job interview studies is that traditional interviews only really test for first impressions – for how likely you are to be charmed and/or get along with this person given a very brief interaction. They don’t really test for how people will react under stress, how well they will work in teams, whether or not they’re results driven, and so on. In other words, they don’t test for how well you’ll do in the job.

What are the alternatives to job interviews?

The sustained popularity of standard job interviews might be explained by the fact that there’s so many people trying to tell us what the best predictor of career success is, and they’re all saying something different. There’s articles telling us that it’s conscientiousness, emotional intelligence, being in an open network, a growth mindset, and so on.

A 1998 meta-analysis found the standard interview was better than a reference check, and better than the number of years of work experience. However, they are a worse predictor than a work sample test and a general cognitive ability test – even if neither of these can tell you about people’s interpersonal skills, such as collaboration.

(Psychometric assessments have also shown to be effective, to learn more about these, read our article.)

The main direct alternative to a normal interview is what’s called a structured interview – where questions are purposeful, standardised and where, preferably, the results are looked at by people who weren’t in the room. They have been found to be as predictive as a test of general cognitive ability, and have the bonus of testing for soft-skills.

Most recruiters will use a combination. The trick is to not let an unstructured interview bias you against data that might be more helpful – because that’s their main danger. Our instincts – so hard to overcome – were evolved to make snap judgements that will keep us alive. They will never tell us whether a person will be, for instance, a collaborative systems analyst.

Want help with your recruitment process? Gain access to AHRI:ASSIST – an online resource centre with info sheets, guidelines and templates on different HR topics. Exclusive to AHRI members.

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Max underhill
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Max underhill

The interview technique can be great (although some is the structured outcome competency approaches is not mentioned). It is the design and valuation of the position first so the interview is a quantitative process giving comparative value and a gap analysis which forms the basis for a development plan in the letter of offer. Having software for this value adding vs an administration system is important as well.

Yvonne Walker
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Yvonne Walker

It’s interesting that the study conducted was not into whether the interviews were structured or not – it was just about whether they were good predictors at all when compared with grades alone. Unless the study has been misreported then is this article not still over protective of the role of HR by stating that it’s about the interviews being unstructured? After all anyone can pick on grades.

Stacey Mahoney
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Stacey Mahoney

The bit that’s missing for me here though is that other research has shown that even structured interviews aren’t a valid predictor of on-the-job performance. Some research has shown that there is only a very small difference between the ‘Predictive Validity for Job Performance’ number of structured vs unstructured (where psychometric testing has shown to be a stronger predictor and can be used as an input to shape interview questions, based on the person). Also they report that the mix of selection techniques matters, and that several assessment methods should be chosen (the mix would depend on the identified role… Read more »

Colin Imms
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Colin Imms

Personally, I don’t necessarily agree with all of this article. Some of it certainly has merit, logically, of course you can’t absolutely predict all aspects of job performance in an initial interview, you would be crazy to think so., However, holding an interview still has significant merit, if for no other reason: “… traditional interviews only really test for first impressions – for how likely you are to be charmed and/or get along with this person given a very brief interaction.” How you, and your team, are likely to get along with this person is an important element of a… Read more »

More on HRM

This is why job interviews are worse than useless


For years studies have shown unstructured job interviews are poor predictors of future work performance. New research tells us they’re much worse than that – they actually bias us against more reliable predictors.

Most people, particularly those who work in HR, would have a story about someone who did well in an interview but failed to live up to expectations. It turns out this is because unstructured job interviews aren’t actually helpful.

Malcolm Gladwell offers an example; a study showing that one-hour interviews give comparable results to 15 second video clips (basically the first “hellos” and the handshake) of those same interviews. Ratings of the eleven traits the interviewees were being assessed on were extraordinarily similar between the audience of the video and the people actually asking the questions.

Now a New York Times article by Jason Dana, an assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management, takes a scientific eye to whether or not interviews are helpful.

Dana and his fellow researchers conducted a study where students were asked to predict cohorts’ future grades based on their past grades and an interview. They were informed that the former had far greater predictive power.  For another group of students, they were told there would be no interview and were asked to predict future grades based solely on past grades.

Their results were clear: the interviews hurt. The subjects’ predictions were far more accurate when there wasn’t one.

To spice things up, the researchers also privately asked some of the interviewees to answer questions randomly, based on the first letters of the last two words of the question. Not only did none of the interviewers realise some people were answering randomly, they actually reported feeling as though they “got to know” those subjects more intimately.

“The key psychological insight here,” says Dana, “Is that people have no trouble turning any information into a coherent narrative.”

A common takeaway from all job interview studies is that traditional interviews only really test for first impressions – for how likely you are to be charmed and/or get along with this person given a very brief interaction. They don’t really test for how people will react under stress, how well they will work in teams, whether or not they’re results driven, and so on. In other words, they don’t test for how well you’ll do in the job.

What are the alternatives to job interviews?

The sustained popularity of standard job interviews might be explained by the fact that there’s so many people trying to tell us what the best predictor of career success is, and they’re all saying something different. There’s articles telling us that it’s conscientiousness, emotional intelligence, being in an open network, a growth mindset, and so on.

A 1998 meta-analysis found the standard interview was better than a reference check, and better than the number of years of work experience. However, they are a worse predictor than a work sample test and a general cognitive ability test – even if neither of these can tell you about people’s interpersonal skills, such as collaboration.

(Psychometric assessments have also shown to be effective, to learn more about these, read our article.)

The main direct alternative to a normal interview is what’s called a structured interview – where questions are purposeful, standardised and where, preferably, the results are looked at by people who weren’t in the room. They have been found to be as predictive as a test of general cognitive ability, and have the bonus of testing for soft-skills.

Most recruiters will use a combination. The trick is to not let an unstructured interview bias you against data that might be more helpful – because that’s their main danger. Our instincts – so hard to overcome – were evolved to make snap judgements that will keep us alive. They will never tell us whether a person will be, for instance, a collaborative systems analyst.

Want help with your recruitment process? Gain access to AHRI:ASSIST – an online resource centre with info sheets, guidelines and templates on different HR topics. Exclusive to AHRI members.

6
Leave a reply

avatar
100000
  Subscribe to receive comments  
Notify me of
Max underhill
Guest
Max underhill

The interview technique can be great (although some is the structured outcome competency approaches is not mentioned). It is the design and valuation of the position first so the interview is a quantitative process giving comparative value and a gap analysis which forms the basis for a development plan in the letter of offer. Having software for this value adding vs an administration system is important as well.

Yvonne Walker
Guest
Yvonne Walker

It’s interesting that the study conducted was not into whether the interviews were structured or not – it was just about whether they were good predictors at all when compared with grades alone. Unless the study has been misreported then is this article not still over protective of the role of HR by stating that it’s about the interviews being unstructured? After all anyone can pick on grades.

Stacey Mahoney
Guest
Stacey Mahoney

The bit that’s missing for me here though is that other research has shown that even structured interviews aren’t a valid predictor of on-the-job performance. Some research has shown that there is only a very small difference between the ‘Predictive Validity for Job Performance’ number of structured vs unstructured (where psychometric testing has shown to be a stronger predictor and can be used as an input to shape interview questions, based on the person). Also they report that the mix of selection techniques matters, and that several assessment methods should be chosen (the mix would depend on the identified role… Read more »

Colin Imms
Guest
Colin Imms

Personally, I don’t necessarily agree with all of this article. Some of it certainly has merit, logically, of course you can’t absolutely predict all aspects of job performance in an initial interview, you would be crazy to think so., However, holding an interview still has significant merit, if for no other reason: “… traditional interviews only really test for first impressions – for how likely you are to be charmed and/or get along with this person given a very brief interaction.” How you, and your team, are likely to get along with this person is an important element of a… Read more »

More on HRM