Is The Interview A Roll Of The Dice?

Interviews are the way you hire new recruits. How you understand future potential. How to gauge best-fit within a team. But are they the best at doing all of this?

It was Thomas Edison in the 1920’s who first started using interviews as a technique for selecting new hires. Prior to that people were most commonly selected for jobs based on their family connections. But Edison was looking for inquisitive minds, not social status. So he developed a 150 question interview that allowed him to rate applicants. Whilst the world of work has moved on a pace, the interview has not changed much in the past hundred years.

This begs the question, is there a better way to select the right person for a role?


“Most interviews are useless” exclaims Laszlo Bock, Google’s Senior Vice President of People Operations. And Google certainly have enough data to back the statement up. The internet behemoth deals with more than a million applications each year.

“We looked at tens of thousands of interviews” says Laszlo, “and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship.” (Laszlo Bock – Business Insider)

Bock is not alone in his view that the common job interview doesn’t work. Indeed [geot region=”Europe” ]behavioural[/geot] [geot region=”North America” ]behavioral[/geot] scientists thoroughly dismissed the case for the interview over a decade ago. Summing up over 85 years of research into the accuracy of different selection methods, Schmidt and Hunter (1998) showed that interviews select the right person about 14% of the time. That is less than a one in seven chance – would you gamble the success of your organisation on those odds?

Recent research by Jason Dana at the Yale School of Management goes further.

His team found that in some cases interviews can actually diminish the ability to select the right people.

Our own research confirms this. In our studies of a client selection process where psychometrics and interviews are used, we found the combined results are less effective than the psychometric testing alone. Summing up their findings in the Journal of Judgement and Decision Making, Dana says “Our simple recommendation for those who make screening decisions is not to use them”.

Perhaps most disconcerting is that despite the continued barrage of scientific evidence, many big businesses continue to take senior hiring decisions without objective and scientific measurement. Instead, businesses are routinely paying expensive experts to provide an “in-depth” interview.

More often than not this amounts to a selection process that is simply a barrage of unstructured questions that lead to mostly inaccurate inferences.

A recent example was a senior executive candidate who told us that he was asked the disconcerting question, “Describe your 12 year old self”. Even if you can remember your 12 year old self, what is the relevance to future performance?  The continued use of the interview as a selection method should be cause for concern.

A wrong decision is just the start. As we know, selecting the wrong candidate is a costly business. It is not just the time and capital invested in another recruitment initiative, but because during that time you may not have the corporate capability to achieve the business objectives set out in your strategy. At best you stand still, perhaps you cover the responsibility by diffusing it across the rest of the board, compromising the energy and focus they have for their own remit, or you have a temporary promotion, both are still less than ideal.

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