Job interviews: Assessing the assessment process

Last Updated 16 August 2021, 18:47 IST

Landing a job entails various steps, with resumes being sorted and screened and candidates taking an aptitude or job-proficiency test. This initial filtering is usually followed by an interview, some with several rounds. Recruiters typically try to gauge intangible qualities like a candidate’s work ethic, professionalism and whether a person fits into the culture of the organisation. For most jobs, the final interview is the clincher that decides a candidate’s fate. As job interviews are one of the decisive factors when it comes to selecting candidates, it might be worthwhile to examine the validity of this rite of passage.

In their recently published book, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, behavioural scientists Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R Sunstein state that traditional job interviews are “often useless” in terms of providing reliable information that is predictive of a candidate’s success on the job. While the interview may help a company sell itself to a potential employee, the usual, unstructured interview is not a great selection tool.

A typical interview unfolds in the following fashion.

First, the candidate is asked to speak about himself or herself highlighting why they might be a good fit for the job they are seeking. Candidates usually emphasise their qualifications and elaborate on personality characteristics that would be assets on the job. A few questions may focus on the person’s hobbies and interests.

Candidates are also given an opportunity to ask questions, which are also assessed by the interviewers. Has the candidate done adequate homework to find out about the company and job demands? Does he or she exhibit enthusiasm for the role? And, most importantly, will the candidate fit into the company’s culture?

By the end of the interview, recruiters may have strong opinions regarding candidates.

However, despite their gut instinct to pick one candidate over another, this process is ridden with noise, as Kahneman, Sibony and Sunstein sagely point out.

The first problem with interviews is that they depend on the predilections of individual interviewers. One study found that even on panel interviews, where a candidate is interviewed simultaneously by a selection panel, interviewers disagree at least a quarter of the time on which candidate to pick.

Second, interviews tend to favour extroverted candidates with strong oral skills rather than the skills required by the job per se. Another problem of open-ended interviews is that recruiters form first impressions of candidates based on their resumes and test scores, which then impels how the interview proceeds. Most troubling of all, recruiters tend to give undue weightage to the interview, often overlooking more objective and better predictors, like test scores.

Number of interviews

To circumvent these issues related to interviews, former Googler and writer, Laszlo Bock offers suggestions in his book, Work Rules! The optimal number of interviews, if multiple ones are required for senior-level positions, is four as additional interviews don’t seem to add predictive power to the hiring process.

Kahneman, Sibony and Sunstein also elaborate on three principles, described by Laszlo, that Google uses to select candidates. These principles have helped Google create a structured and well-defined hiring process. The first, decomposition, involves breaking down a complex decision into identifiable components. Each component has to be spelled out, and may even involve further subcomponents. For example, Google uses the following four dimensions: “cognitive ability, leadership, cultural fit and role-related knowledge.” Of course, these dimensions have to be tweaked based on the job and organisation.

The second principle, independence, is that each judge has to assess the candidates independently without first sharing their ratings. Rather than open-ended interviews, the authors posit that structured interviews with predefined questions and a rubric for scoring answers is more predictive of a candidate’s performance on the job. An aggregate rating, based on the individual ratings of the judges, leads to superior decisions.

Delaying judgment is the third principle. Rather than being led by first impressions or giving undue importance to one aspect over another, selectors review the “complete file of all the ratings” of each candidate on different facets of the hiring process. The hiring committee then deliberates on whether a candidate merits a job offer. Following such a structured process makes the hiring process fairer, more transparent and leads to sounder judgments.

(The writer is an author and blogger)

(Published 16 August 2021, 18:35 IST)

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