The Seven Deadly Sins To Avoid When You Interview
I wince when I watch most hiring managers interview their candidates.
As an executive recruiter, I’ve made every interviewing mistake in the book. Having finally learned the right way to interview job candidates, it’s painful to see others make the same mistakes that I made time and time again.
As I wrote in Forbes last week, several research studies indicate that interviews are a poor predictor of job performance. I suspect a major factor driving those findings is this stark truth:
Most hiring managers simply have no idea how to conduct effective job interviews.
Having participated in–and observed–thousands of job interviews, I’ve captured seven deadly sins most commonly committed by interviewers:
Brainteasers: Are you still asking questions like, “Why is a manhole cover round?” or “How many birdcages are there in New York City?” They won’t help you figure out who to hire. Google was famous for these questions early on, but they abandoned them once they realized they didn’t reveal anything predictive.
Being unprepared: When I observe interviews, it’s surprising how often the interviewer has barely glanced at the candidate’s résumé before walking into the room. A résumé provides valuable information on candidate “markers” — things like career movement, gaps in employment, quantifiable achievements. Study the résumé, make notes, and drill into areas that stand out and relate to the skills and competencies needed for the position.
Talks too much and listens too little: The interviewer should speak no more than 20% of the time. Hiring managers often get caught up in describing the department, the position, and the performance of people who previously held the job. In the initial interview, save your talking for the beginning and the end. Get the candidate to speak, listen closely, and take notes so you can accurately compare candidates later on.
Unstructured approach: Rather than prepare a list of precise questions to determine if a candidate can do the job and fit with the organization, too many interviewers ask whatever random question pops into their head. This approach fails to elicit the information necessary to objectively assess and compare candidates.
Focus on the wrong things: Interviewers often waste their time focusing on things that have little to do with the success or failure of new hires, such as industry experience and education. Sure, industry experience is nice to have, but it can have a downside: the person may be unable or unwilling to abandon their old ways of doing things and embrace a new approach demanded by the hiring organization.
Similarly, advanced degrees are great, but the ability to learn, make decisions, and adjust based on new information is far more valuable. After an internal study concluded there was little correlation between grade point average and performance, Google decided to no longer set a minimum GPA for new hires.
Confirmation bias: To one degree or another, we all suffer from confirmation bias. It rears its head in all sorts of areas–from relationships to politics to who we hire. When you first meet a candidate, your brain subconsciously decides within 20 seconds whether you like the person or not, and then it searches for evidence to validate that decision while ignoring contrary information. Some people call it “gut instinct” and it’s the primary reason 50% of new hires don’t work out.
Rather than fight this instinct, I use it to my advantage. After taking note of my initial feelings about a candidate, I’ll spend the next hour seeking information to overturn that feeling. Often, by the end of the interview, I’ve changed my mind.
Hubris: Many executives assume that, by virtue of their career success and experience, they are excellent interviewers. As a result, they tend to make many of the mistakes listed above. They don’t prepare well, they ask random questions, and they trust their instincts.
Interviewing job candidates is a skill and a discipline. Hiring managers need to look at interviewing as a competency that can be developed and improved.
How to Interview the Right Way
First, build structure into the process by methodically asking the same questions, in the same order, to each candidate. Keep detailed notes and a scorecard for each candidate. That will enable you to create a trend line of each candidate’s career and compare them against each another.
Second, focus on competencies needed to succeed in the role and the candidate’s cognitive ability. If they don’t have all the competencies in full, can they develop them? Can they ask relevant questions, analyze information, and adjust their approach accordingly? Are they open-minded enough to accept information that conflicts with their point of view?
In today’s fast-changing business environment, cognitive ability is far more valuable than raw intellect. A head of marketing can no longer know everything about every marketing tactic, but if she has high cognitive ability, she will know what questions to ask, how to interpret data, and when to change an approach or strategy.
Third, determine if the candidate’s DNA (his or her hard-wired characteristics) are a match with your organization’s DNA. Let’s say you’ve decided that optimism and grit are two of the DNA characteristics that define your organization. Ask the candidate to detail examples of when they were forced to exhibit optimism or grit, even outside of work.
Above all, resist the temptation to overweight the interview in your hiring decision. While a well-conducted interview is valuable and will round out your picture of a candidate, it should not become your be-all, end-all decision tool.
In my view, interviewing is more science than art. Approach it in a disciplined and methodical way and don’t blindly follow your gut feelings.
You’ll gain sharper insights into candidates and make more accurate hiring decisions.