Job interviews are stressful. People can spend hours going over possible interview questions, rehearsing well-crafted answers, and picking perfect outfits that will make an excellent first impression. But what if all that effort is for nothing?
The interview process has increasingly been shown to be ineffective and inaccurate at predicting whether a candidate will excel at a particular position. Even more so, external factors, as opposed to objective data, can influence an interviewer’s decision, rendering the interview process flawed.
A job interview is when a potential employer and an applicant have a conversation about an open position. The employer will ask the applicant about their qualifications and other questions to give them better insight into the applicant as an employee.
The job interview process itself varies from organization to organization and from nation to nation. In some cases, companies may hold a preliminary phone interview (or, several) before a face-to-face one. 2020 saw the rapid rise in the use of video interviews, as well. Assuming the world moves back to pre-pandemic norms, the in-person interview usually makes up the bulk of the job application process. Bottom-line: it's a company representative (or several) discussing a role with an applicant, and it has its flaws.
Employers generally use the unstructured interview format, which doesn’t follow a specific pattern. The questions change depending on the flow of conversation and are usually used to assess a candidate’s personality.
The effectiveness of interviews has been called into question for decades. In 1979, the University of Texas Medical School drew attention to the ineffectiveness of interviews when a legal change caused them to increase their class size by another 50 students. Studies on this incident found that the students admitted after failing the interview performed just as well as those who initially passed the interview.
Research has shown that the unstructured interview is highly ineffective at determining a potential employee’s future performance. In a new book called Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman, along with Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein, delve into how noise, which is the inconsistency in judgments, can impact business decisions, including the hiring process.
According to a Harvard Business Review article featuring Kahneman, human judgment can be influenced by many factors, including current mood and the weather. Research has found that experts’ decisions in many tasks, including evaluating job performance, are highly variable.
“The unavoidable conclusion is that professionals often make decisions that deviate significantly from those of their peers, from their own prior decisions, and from rules that they themselves claim to follow,” Kahneman and others wrote in the article.
Further evidence points to the inaccuracy of job interviews. Statistics show that the recruiting process has a failure rate of 50% across all job levels. And a small study found that interviews are only accurate 56% of the time. The fact that 81% of applicants lie in job interviews further contributes to the flawed hiring process.
Research by Yale professor Jason Dana found that unstructured interviews can undermine other valuable information about the interviewees.
He says that unstructured interviews enable interviewers to make casual observations about applicants that have little or unknown informational value. As a result, interviewers will rely on as many details as they can gather while ignoring other reliable data.
The study found that participants were worse at predicting students’ GPAs after an interview than predicting using GPA alone. Despite showing how inaccurate unstructured interviews can be, most participants still valued interviews over no interviews at all.
Many would instead base their predictions on an interview they know is random than on background information alone. This phenomenon is the dilution effect, a bias where individuals over-rely on non-diagnostic information when making judgments even if there’s diagnostic information present.
Noam Shpancer, a clinical psychologist, wrote in Psychology Today that the traditional interview is a poor predictor of performance due to various reasons, one of which is that it only constitutes a small sample of an applicant’s behavior. When an interviewer and applicant meet for the first time, biases may start to form unconsciously.
These biases can impact the effectiveness of job interviews. A specific bias that can affect effectiveness is the fundamental attribution error. This is when people assume that an individual's actions are indicative of their overall character and not dependent on social or environmental factors.
“Without appropriate external guardrails—which the unstructured interview format does not provide—our mind veers off the lane of reason and rationality and into the ditch of distortion,” Shpancer writes.
Some experts point to the structured interview as an alternative to unstructured interviews. Structured interviews involve the employer asking the same set of questions in the same order to all applicants and grades each response against a scoring system. Recently, a Parisian talent acquisition leader put out a structured guide emphasizing how this can be achieved - and it is worth bookmarking.
Kahneman believes companies, to avoid as much noise as possible, should adopt procedures that promote consistency by ensuring “employees in the same role use similar methods to seek information, integrate it into a view of the case, and translate that view into a decision.”
Research has shown that the unstructured interview format is an unreliable method of choosing potential employees. It leaves space for biases and noise that can influence an interviewer’s perception of applicants. A more structured and consistent interview or testing method can help boost effectiveness.