How effective are you at interviewing job candidates?

Recently I read Intuition, Its Powers and Perils by David G. Myers. Very entertaining read. It is a more rigorous version of Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. Whereas Blink was full of stories and human interest, Intuition quotes the research. This happens to be a style of book that I thoroughly enjoy. Myers fills the pages with references to the original research while developing his argument.

Myers has a chapter on recruitment in which he presents the interview illusion (so called by Richard Nisbett). The interview illusion is the self-deception that managers and recruiters are able to read people well during an interview.

Myers present four reasons for the interview illusion and these are relevant warnings for anyone involved in recruitment.

  1. Any interviewee will try to act the right way

    During an interview, the interviewee acts according to how they think the interviewer wants them to act. While this effort is flattering to the interviewer it is wholly less revealing than on-going behaviours. “The best predictor of the person we will be is the person we have been. Wherever we go we take ourselves”.

  2. We let the best ones go (maybe)

    Interviewers determine the success of their interviewing skills from the success of the people that they employ. As most people will succeed, this confirms their bias. What they don’t consider is the on-going success of the people they don’t employ. These people can often go on to be even more successful. We let the best ones go, however we never find out if this is really true so we don’t need to worry about it. (This is an example of the error of post hoc ergo propter hoc. We employed someone who is successful so it should follow that we selected a good candidate. Except it doesn’t follow.).

  3. We think that the interview actually tells us something meaningful

    We fall into the fundamental attribution error by presuming that how people act in an interview is how they will act when on the job. We know that we act differently in different situations, yet we assume that others do not. A job interview is an exceedingly poor proxy for almost all jobs in a modern corporation.

  4. We overlook the effect of our mood and prejudices

    Our mood and prejudices color our interpretation of the candidate. In many cases impressions of the candidate have already been formed well before the interview. Perhaps from the demographics of the candidates, a highlight in the resume or some other factor that has been drawn to our attention.

Research consistently points out that unstructured interviews are an unreliable way of selecting candidates. Once we accept that we all (to some extent) suffer from the interview illusion, we are ready to consider the stronger alternatives.