Why are Traditional Hiring Interviews so Unreliable?

Why do employees – hired by the same methods, doing the same job, and managed by the same person – perform so differently? Dependency on the traditional one-on-one unstructured interview is a prime reason.

Let’s first define the “Traditional Interview”…

1. Traditional interviews are always unstructured, that is the hiring manager sits across the table from the candidate and has a general chat – often in an unstructured environment like the local coffee shop.

2. Interview questions tend to seek opinions, not explicit example of pasted behaviour.

3. The interview is one-on-one, inviting judgement of future performance on emotional and bias grounds. This environment also encourages too much talking from the interviewer and not enough listening.

4. The interview process is not “scored” and specific notes are not taken. If several of these unstructured interviews are performed, the hiring manager must rely on his or her memory in the final analysis and usually this will be based on appearance and likability – not the specific attributes and abilities needed to be successful in the job.   

Besides being the most expensive  tool (management time) in the selection process, the unstructured interview is also the least valid – between .05 and .15 – so at best you’ll get it right one out of every six interviews. The structured interview jumps validity to between .40 and .60 – much better, but still the toss of a coin.

Traditional interviewing practices are historically and scientifically proven to be poor predictors of success on the job. Why?

1. Bias of the interviewer(s). No two interviewers assess the candidate’s
responses the same way. That’s why research tells us to have two or more interviewers.

2. The candidate’s responses to interview questions are affected by the environment in which they are interviewed and by the rapport established with the interviewer. The interview must be conducted in a “business environment” with no interruptions. 

3. Many questions don’t accurately measure what you want them
to measure. Most questions seek opinions, not evidence of past behaviour. Interview questions must be behaviourally based and be aligned to the core group of performance factors related to the role.

4. The responses sound and feel good, but they are not predictive of
job success. Managers continue to assess on gut feel. Just because a person dresses well, looks attractive, talks we’ll and acts confidently doesn’t necessarily imply they can do the job. Remember, at interview the candidate is on their best behaviour, what you see is the best you will ever see them! 

Statistics show, when it comes to applying for a job you can fool all the people some of the time. I read a frightening statement in Fortune Magazine recently that at least half of all new hires in US businesses don’t work out. Likewise, the US Dept of Commerce reports that 30% of business failures are due to poor hiring practices. I can’t find a similar measure for NZ, but I think we would be no different.So, how can you hire with more accuracy for less cost?

For the sake of this example, let’s assume your cost of hiring equals $7500. Using scientific evidence on the validity of interview types, what is the real cost to hire the right employee based on the type of interview conducted?

Traditional Interview

% of right hire successes = 14%; Real cost adjusted for miss-hires = $53,571

Team Interview (but unstructured)

% of right hire successes = 35%; Real cost adjusted for miss-hires = $21,429

Behavioural Interview (with 2 or more interviewers)

% of right hire successes = 55%; Real cost adjusted for miss-hires = $13,636

Source: The Tax Advisor, September 1996


The above cost clearly demonstrate a 75% cost savings when you move from a traditional unstructured interview to a multi-rated behavioural based structured interview. And that’s just the interview -Imagine what happens when we add a valid personality/mental ability profile and a structured background and reference check!
Just like sport, when it comes to hiring new staff, the unprepared, untrained and over confident will pay the price after the event is over.

The manager who hires a person without a natural job match and hopes he/she can overcome the new employee’s shortcomings with training and coaching might as well try to train a turkey to climb a tree – would it be easier to hire a squirrel?

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