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What to do to make interviews work

Last updated: 01 March, 2011
Dave Millner 20:06 IST

The interview as a concept is prevalent in our society today, we all watch television and watch the supposed celebrities of today being interviewed and Im sure there is a time when you wish that the interviewer would ask a particularly difficult question rather than the usual nothing question that would start to explore that part of their lives that they dont want to talk about but we as viewers all want to hear about in more graphic detail.

As we all know most organisations use interviews, and the Gulf region is no exception. The majority of us will have experienced one at some stage of our career as a part of a recruitment or promotion decision making process. Many organisations place a firm and often inappropriate emphasis on the evidence they gain from these interviews when making those decisions. Questions continue to be repeatedly and forcefully raised as to the quality of decisions that arise from it.

My view is that there are three key factors which need to be understood and adhered to for an interview to be truly effective:

(1) The interview must be based on a sound, up-to-date competency or performance framework that reflects what high performers do in those jobs that are being recruited for,

(2) Questions should be asked that explore sound evidence of past behaviour against this framework and

(3) A structured format should be used to guide interviewers to collect the appropriate information during the interview process.

The majority of organisations tend not to follow all of these three crucial elements and continue to use their historical interviewing methodology which has consistently failed in the past - and the reasons for this? Interviews have become such an established part of the recruitment process that candidates and line managers would be in uproar if they were to be abolished.

Let’s be honest, line managers want the opportunity to meet their potential team members and ‘size’ them up prior to any job offers being made and they would feel cheated if they are not allowed to do this. Candidates meanwhile want the opportunity to sell themselves (which many feel is easier to do in an interview than in other assessment methods) and to find out more about the organisation so that they can make a realistic and informed decision about their desire for the job. If these reasons are accepted and the interview is in fact here to stay, organisations need to take more responsibility for increasing the value of this method. Three key areas need to be addressed as a ‘starter for ten’.

Structuring the interview has been proven to increase the effectiveness of recruitment decisions. Certainly over the last few years the structured interview has become much more common than its unstructured predecessor.

In essence this means that each candidate is asked exactly the same questions in exactly the same order. Adopting this approach seeks to minimise the amount of variability between interviewers and ensure that all candidates experience a fair, consistent process. It is necessary however to go much deeper than this to ensure that the decision-making from interviews improves.

Having such an approach in isolation isn’t the answer to getting it right though, it’s supposed to be a conversation between two people and the continued emphasis upon writing everything down rather than listening to what the candidate is saying can make the process seem very unfriendly.

There is a need to remember that this is about selling the organisation as well as making the right decision. Interviewing against well chosen competencies has been shown to facilitate the selection of an optimal performer. However that assumes that the correct competencies have been chosen in the first place. There is little point conducting a fully structured competency based interview which covers three competencies that are not crucial to job performance. There is equally little point in spending time interviewing on a competency that is better assessed elsewhere i.e. analytical thinking is much better assessed through a psychometric test or simulation exercise than an interview.

Many interviewers make a decision about a candidate in the first two minutes of the interview, training interviewers ensures that they do a good job. Many organisations use a combination of HR and line managers to conduct recruitment interviews, which may be one-to-one or panel based. Irrespective of the approach that is employed the interviewers must be provided with rigorous training. But many ask ‘Why?’ The answer is complex but individuals should be trained to ensure that they learn objective, practical techniques to ensure they question and probe a candidate in an effective way. Lots of managers say ‘I’ve been interviewing for years so why do I need to do it?’

Experience can be both a hindrance as well of being of value - it’s about developing the right balance. People and organisations frequently use the interview method ineffectively. Take responsibility now for doing something to improve the recruitment situation within your organisation. As hiring starts again across the Region you have to make sure that you don’t recruit someone else’s problems!

The writer is Director of consultancy services for the Global Assessment Practice, Kenexa.

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