Most People – You Included – Are Bad At Interviewing. Here's How to Fix It.

October 13, 2017

Here's the right attitude you should have when interviewing a candidate.

Hiring is arguably the most important part to building a winning team – an organization is only as strong as the talent of the people who work there. And a big part of hiring is interviewing.

That said, I’ll let you in on a secret: humans are really, really bad interviewers. And, on top of that, all of us think we are really good interviewers.

For proof, look no further than a 2012 study conducted by Jason Dana and Robyn Dawes, two psychologists who work at the University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University, respectively.

In the study, the duo had 76 participants predict two students’ GPA for the upcoming school year. For the first student, participants just looked at the student’s background information, including their GPA in prior semesters.

For the second student, the participants received all of that information, but conducted an unstructured interview with the student as well. Overall, the participants predicted the performance of the student they didn’t interview a lot more accurately than the one they did. That means the unstructured interview proved to be a hindrance, not a benefit.

“Interviewers probably over-value unstructured interviews,” Dana wrote in the study. “Our simple recommendation for those who make screening decisions is to not use them.”

There have been other studies that have returned similar results. And it’s not just that unstructured interviews are a net negative, they also tend to reinforce unconscious biases the interviewer might have.

The solution

Okay, so what should you do? Ditch the interview completely?

First off, it’s worth mentioning that a work sample has been found to be the best indicator of talent. But, along with asking for a work sample, you should have structured job interviews.

And that means asking all of your job candidates the exact same questions.

“It's important that everyone involved in the hiring process also adheres to asking the same questions of every candidate,” Recruiting Consultant Barbara Bruno said in her LinkedIn Learning course, Interviewing Techniques. “It's the only way to compare perspective candidates, uncover red flags and determine who has the best chance of becoming a productive, engaged and most importantly, retained employee.

This is a practice Alphabet, owner of Google and the second-most valuable company in the world, adheres to. In his book Work Rules!, former head of Google’s people team Laszlo Bock said all Google job candidates are all asked the same questions, so the can more easily be compared against each other.

Bock said Google found this to be a much more effective interviewing technique – something nearly every study into the matter confirms.

The bottom line is this – you, like just about everyone else reading this, probably disagrees with this article. You probably think yes, it’s true for most people, but not me. I’m an excellent judge of character and can interview someone and really tell who they are.

Well, hate to break it to you, but you are wrong. Without realizing it, you likely will favor people who are like you, in their personality and even in their gender and race. So not only are you likely a bad interviewer, you are also biased.

There’s an easy work-around: structured interviews, where all job candidates are asked the same questions, matched with a work sample. While this doesn’t remove bias completely, it minimizes it, and is a far better predictor of how the person will do in the role.

Want to learn more about interviewing, like the questions you should ask? Watch Bruno’s full course, Interviewing Techniques, today.