Why We are Bad at Interviewing

The first 10 seconds of a job interview predict the outcome.

What?!?

In his book Work Rules!, longtime Google executive Laszlo Bock shares the results from a year 2000 study which showed initial impressions of a candidate based on a handshake and brief introduction correlated strongly to whom was recommended for hire and who wasn’t.

In the study, researchers videotaped real interviews.  “Slices were extracted from each interview, beginning with the interviewee knocking on the door and ending 10 seconds after the interviewee took a seat.”  These clips were then shown to naive observers who provided ratings of employability, competence, intelligence, ambition, trustworthiness, confidence, nervousness, warmth, politeness, likability, and expressiveness.  

For nine of the eleven variables, thin-slice judgments correlated significantly with the final evaluation of the actual interviewers.

The problem?

These predictions formed during the first ten seconds are useless.

It’s a textbook example of confirmation bias: our tendency to search for, interpret, and prioritize information in a way that confirms our beliefs.  We make a snap evaluation in the first ten seconds and then spend the remaining 99% of our time hunting for evidence to confirm our initial impression.  Moreover, these unconscious judgments are heavily influenced by our existing biases. 

The goal with any hiring process is to select people who will be high performers.

In 1998, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter published a meta-analysis of how well various hiring assessments predicted performance.  They examined 19 different assessment techniques.

Standard unstructured job interviews are bad predictors of how someone will perform when hired, explaining only 14% of an employee’s performance.

Reference checks?  7%

Years’ work experience?  3%

The best predictor of performance at 29% involves assessing performance on a sample piece of work similar to what the candidate would do in the job. While this approach works for some technical positions, the challenge is many jobs don’t have nice, neat pieces of work we can evaluate a candidate.

The second best predictors of performance at 26 percent are:

(1) General cognitive ability tests similar to an IQ test because they help predict the ability to learn.  

(2) Behavioral and situational interviews.  

Behavioral interviews are about matching prior achievements to the current job.  Think: “Tell me about a time when…” questions.

Situational interview ask about job-related hypothetical situations.  Think: “What would you do if…” questions.

These types of questions give a consistent, reliable basis for finding top talent because top talent will have much better answers.  There is a clear line between great and average.

The other benefit?  Both candidates and interviewers have a better experience and are perceived to be the most fair.

The challenge?  Good behavioral and situational interviews are hard to develop – both writing and testing them.  And, it can be a challenge getting interviewers to stick to them.  We also have to refresh the questions periodically so candidates don’t compare notes and come with prepared answers.

Laszlo tells us: “It’s a lot of work, but the alternative is to waste everyone’s time with a typical interview that is subjective, or discriminatory, or both.”  

The research also shows combinations of assessment techniques are better than anyone technique.  Google combines behavioral and situational structured interviews with assessments of cognitive ability, conscientiousness or “work to completion” and leadership.

Here are some examples of the types of questions Google has used in the past:

Tell me about a time your behavior had a positive impact on your team.

Follow up questions: 

What was your primary goal and why?

How did your teammates respond?

Moving forward, what’s your plan?

Tell me about a time when you effectively managed your team to achieve a goal.  What did your approach look like?

Follow up questions: 

What were your targets and how did you meet them?

How did you adapt your leadership approach to different individuals?

What was the key takeaway from this specific situation?

Tell me about a time you had difficulty working with someone.  What made this person difficult to work with for you?

Follow up questions: 

What steps did you take to resolve the problem?

What was the outcome?

What could you have done differently?

One early reader of Lasslo’s book commented: “These questions are so generic it’s a little disappointing.”

“The questions are bland,” Laszlo replied.  “The answers are compelling.”

One resource to create these types of questions is the US Department of Veterans Affairs website which has dozens of sample questions – www.va.gov/pbi/questions.asp.  

________

Reflection:  What can I do to improve the quality of the people we hire?

Action:  Do it.

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