"Interviews are probably the most overvalued instrument at our disposal" and "quite literally hundreds of studies have shown that [they] do a very bad job at predicting future performance", said Iris Bohnet on the Freakonomics radio podcast, "What are gender barriers made of".

Many would agree with this statement. True, "big data" is increasingly making strides into the assessment and evaluation of candidates' capabilities.  However, with all its flaws, the traditional face-to-face interview continues to be a key part of most employers' recruitment processes and so looks here to stay for a while longer.  So how can we make the best of this blunt tool?

  1. Be aware of your biases.  As Iris Bohnet commented: "it's not that nothing useful happens in an interview, but it's almost impossible for our minds to sift through what we've just learned and tease apart the valuable information from the less valuable information".   Less than 1% of the brain's activity is conscious.  Our social and cognitive biases and preferences drive the interview and evaluation process, so we end up hiring the person we like the most (i.e. who is most like us and/or reflect our cognitive biases and stereotypes).   'Surfacing' your biases and noticing the differences/similarities between you and the candidate is the starting point to minimising the impact of them in the hiring process.
  2. Have a structured interview process.  Planning and preparation is crucial.  Clearly identify the key competencies required for the role and write down the (competency-based) questions that will best help you predict the future performance of the candidates.    And then ask those questions in the same order to each candidate and assign a score for the quality of each of their answers. 
  3. Lean away from making a decision until the end of the interview.  Research shows that  we make decisions about people in the first 1-2 seconds of meeting them.  Whenever we have to make sense of complicated situations or deal with lots of information quickly, we bring to bear all of our beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, education and more on the situation. Then, we "thin-slice" the situation to comprehend it quickly.  Malcolm Gladwell described this as our "blink response".  The key to minimising the impact of this is to be constantly aware of this and to gather all of the data before making a decision.  
  4. The best predictor of future performance is past performance.  Ask for specific examples from the past and then drill down to understand, in detail, what the candidate actually did.  Avoid future hypothetical questions, which don't tell you very much except how good they are using their imagination. Using the funnel and STAR questioning techniques can help with this. If they don't give a satisfactory answer, score it accordingly.
  5. Be accountable for your decisions. Specify your reasons for evaluating one candidate more highly than another.  Refer to the specific evidence you gathered in the interview. 
  6. Imagine the alternative decision. One of the problem with cognitive biases is that they restrict our ability to imagine.  So force yourself to do this - work through how it might look if you went against your gut instinct and chose a less-preferred candidate.

We regularly run actor-based Hiring the Best training sessions which give participants the opportunity to practise these important skills.  If you would like to discuss this further, please contact jenny.harrison@byrnedean.com.