Interviews: Is it Time to Blow Them Up? (Part 2 in a 2-Part Series)

Last week I started this series by asking why organizations continue to use interviews as the primary means of assessment, given that they stink as a predictive indicator of performance and nearly every person involved hates them.

The response to Part 1 was largely supportive, while a few comments supported interviews for their ability to help gauge team fit. To build on Part 1, I would like to continue the train of thought by exploring how interviews impact the candidate and the recruiting department.

Interviews and the Candidate Experience

Interviews might not just result in a weak hire, they might turn off nearly all candidates with the capability and capacity to do the job at the top-performer level.

Such negative experiences can have a disastrous impact on an organization’s ability to hire, as stories spread throughout the labor force, significantly reducing the pool of talent even willing to consider opportunities with the organization.

Some of the possible negative candidate experience drivers include:

  1. Candidates are forced to lie. Candidates coming to an interview who are currently employed (generally the most desirable) are essentially forced to “lie” to their current boss as to why they are away from their current job. Forcing them to lie too often can cause them to prematurely drop out of the hiring process. By holding interviews during work hours and requiring candidates to come back for second and third interviews, hiring managers make the problem even worse.
  2. Scheduling is difficult. When multiple candidates are brought in for interviews, just scheduling the many different interviews can be frustrating for those candidates and managers. The time it takes to schedule these interviews almost always stretches out the hiring process to the point where most top candidates will be lost because of the long time delay before a final hiring decision is made.
  3. Managers do stupid things during interviews. Sometimes interviewing managers can be the cause of high offer rejection rates. By taking phone calls during interviews, canceling and rescheduling interviews, appearing disorganized, or even asking illegal or silly questions, interviewers can easily scare away the top candidates. Remember, great hiring only starts with effective skill assessment; you must also “sell” the candidate. If you disillusion or discourage top candidates, they will simply make up an excuse to drop out of the running or say no to your offer. Incidentally, you can only find out the real reason why they rejected your offer by asking them six months later. When such research is conducted, most organizations find the answer is quite often, “I rejected you because you treated me so poorly during the hiring process.”
  4. Death by repetition. When candidates are subjected to multiple interviews at the same firm, it is common for different interviewers to ask similar questions in back-to-back interviews. This is often because interviews by different managers are not coordinated. It is also partially caused by interview training manuals, which, by suggesting appropriate questions to use in an interview, can inadvertently cause interviewers to re-use the same questions. One firm had the audacity (or intelligence) to ask applicants what they thought about the multiple interview process. The results were startling. The candidates were frustrated and angry about being asked the same question over and over. In addition, by repeating the same questions, the firm loses the opportunity to gather data in a broad variety of areas that might help to improve the value and accuracy of the overall interview process.
  5. Being kept in the dark. Another all-too-common abuse of candidates occurs when managers keep the candidate in the dark about the interview process and what is expected during it. Frequently, they are not told who will be there during the interview and the role of each interviewer. This lack of information leads to confusion and frustration on the part of the “powerless” candidate, and all for no reason. There is no legal regulation that prohibits companies from telling candidates upfront about the process and what is being assessed during it. Failing to educate the candidate may cause them to over-prepare in some unimportant areas and under-prepare in the key ones. Not knowing who will participate in the interview prohibits the candidate from doing research on the background of the interviewers. By telling the candidate more, you can limit their frustration and increase the likelihood that they will provide the information you need to make an accurate hiring decision. Candidates also get frustrated when they are not given feedback about where they stand immediately after the interview process is complete.
  6. One-way conversation. Unfortunately, most managers spend more time talking than listening during interviews. Most interviewers don’t leave equal time for the candidate to ask questions and to present information that they want to present, which can frustrate them. In addition, many interviewers forget that a significant part of the interview should be devoted to “selling” the candidate on the firm and the job.
  7. Losing customers. Because most interview processes are so candidate “unfriendly,” rejected candidates are highly unlikely to speak kindly about your firm to others, thus hurting your employment brand. In addition, if they are or were considering becoming customers, treating them poorly during and after the interview might mean that you lose them permanently as customers.

Recruiting Department Impacts

Poorly designed interviewing processes can also have negative impacts on the firm.

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  • Costs. If you add up the multiple hours that managers and employees must spend in interviews (multiplied greatly when there are team interviews), the costs of a series of interviews can easily grow into five figures. The amount of hours that are required can also lead to “management fatigue,” which can cause managers to delay future hiring and put off the interview process. If an HR person must be present during all interviews, the costs go up even higher.
  • The number of interviews. In many cases, legal fears have forced corporations to increase the number of interviews that a candidate must go through before they can be offered a job. The number of interviews has proliferated like rabbits. Where one or two interviews used to be common, one firm I know now demands five to 10, while another averaged over 17 before realizing the disastrous consequences. This “death by interview” extends the time to hire, which could result in you losing the candidates who are in the highest demand.
  • Business impacts. The extremely low validity and reliability of most interviews means that you frequently end up not only hiring the wrong person but simultaneously, you may be “missing” a top performer. This “mis-hiring” means that your business results will be lower. Additional negative side effects might be that you will have to re-start the hiring process (with its increased cost and time commitment) when you have to fire the “bad hire” who was selected as a result of your poorly designed interview process.

Final Thoughts

Interviews are a lot like Jell-O: they can be molded in almost any way. Unfortunately, their flexibility generally leads to them being filled with flaws and errors.

Because interviewers have the highest “weight” within the selection process, this excess flexibility often means that most people end up hiring the wrong people based on misimpressions gained from interviews.

If you’re still not a believer in the weaknesses of interviews, look at the various studies (generally in psychology) that provide hard statistical data on the accuracy of the many different selection devices. If you do, you may become a cynic when it comes to having faith in interviewing.

Incidentally, if you want to know of a better way to hire, consider how you would hire a chef (or musician or writer). You certainly wouldn’t spend a lot of time talking about knife skills; instead, you would put the candidate in the kitchen and then taste their food. The same would be true for an athlete. You wouldn’t spend a lot of time talking with Shaq; instead, you’d give him a tryout. It turns out that nothing is a better predictor of on-the-job performance than “putting them in the kitchen,” even if it’s only for a brief period.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



9 Comments on “Interviews: Is it Time to Blow Them Up? (Part 2 in a 2-Part Series)

  1. Part 2 was a welcome follow-up,and provided excellent, though predictable, solutions. The problems discussed in Part 1, and solutions provided in Part 2, have been evident for years. Yet, large corporations, and their not-so-large imitators, continue to proliferate these wacky, phoney, and harmful interview models. Just who is it that is causing this proliferation? Certainly not C-level folks. Nor, is it the Hiring Manager. Sadly, it is HR, and Legal. The same folks who are supposed to provide brilliant insight into interviewing have, instead, developed myopic systems resulting in a disastrous selection process.

    As an owner of a search firm, these problems were so obvious even a dozen years ago. Yet, now as then, if it is brought to HR’s attention in even the kindest approach, one will be sharply rebuffed with the generic response, ‘That is our system, and it works!!!’, followed by some reference that any suggestion made by an outside recruiter is obviously self-serving.

    So, we shall continue down the path of developing ever-more complex interview models, supported by endless metrics. The study of interview models will likely evolve as a career. All the while, the Hiring Manager will cry, ‘WHY CAN’T WE JUST MAKE A DECISION!!??’

  2. I read both installments with great interest. While I agree with the flaws mentioned (most interviews do truly stink), I am still a believer.

    The real challenge lies with turning your interview process into something valuable. That takes enormous effort on the part of HR and enormous support from upper management: extensive management training, and a constant HR presence throughout the process to provide support and quality control. However, the payoff is worth the effort.

    The key to creating a valuable process lies in the very last paragraph of the article: give them a tryout. If the interview process is structured around asking the candidate for real-life examples of how they’ve demonstrated skills in the past, and providing the candidate with exercises that allow them to show what they can do in your work environment, you can gauge a candidate’s real capabilities.

    I’ve had the good fortune to work with companies that allowed me to design interview processes that really worked. One of the key elements is telling candidates up front that the goal of the interview process is to provide them with a real picture of life at the company, even the challenges. In return, I ask that they be honest, and that they be fearless about asking questions of the interview team. Candidates seem to find this approach refreshing and comforting. The results have been extremely positive, and have set the tone for a healthy working relationship before people are even hired.

  3. I agree that in general performance tests, or work samples, or simulations, or whatever you want to call them (like giving Shaq a tryout) are the overall best way of assessing someone. BUT…

    a) Be careful what you ask people to do. It should be something you would expect day one, not something they would learn on the job. For some jobs this is easier said than done, and some people have great POTENTIAL, even if they haven’t performed that exact task before. Would you have recognized Shaq as a potential basketball great before he ever picked up a ball?

    b) People aren’t going to stop using interviews, at least not anytime soon. Given that, we need to emphasize to hiring supervisors that they use best practices such as job analysis and using reliable interview practices (every candidate gets every question, approximately the same time, etc.). As you point out, there are things we can do to make interviews better–for the candidate and the employer.

  4. Jim,

    I can’t dispute that HR is in the unlucky position of promoting processes that flat out don’t work. Especially in large companies. That doesn’t sit well with a lot of us.

    But, do keep in mind that HR in large corporations exists as a support function that is generally viewed as strictly overhead-generating by executives. The extensive change required to ‘blow up’ the interview process requires incurring costs and instituting wide-spread change – two things that are not usually viewed as popular coming from a support department.

    True, HR has the responsibility of quantifying its worth, and gaining perception as a strategic business partner. But that’s a whole other topic!

    If you really want HR to be successful in changing things, be a supporter, advocate and partner. We can use all the help we can get!

  5. Pamela,

    I appreciate your views and respect them as well. But what would you say about this incident.A colleague of mine underwent three rounds of interview for which she had to take leaves/half day’s off from her current employment.She cleared tech rounds, HR rounds,meeting with the Team manager etc,only to be told later that due to some policy change in HR they can’t hire her as she has a ‘husky’ voice unsuitable for telehonic sourcing.why didnt they put this point forth in the begining so to save all the hassle.

    What were those interviews worth?


  6. Pamela,

    Thank you for your thoughts. You sound like one HR person I would love to work with. True, HR does not have the budget to easily correct interviewing ills, nor the blanket authority to institute widespread change.

    Unfortunately, the HR people I most often work with perpetuate the problem, and either do not recognize, or will not admit to, the serious flaws in their hiring system. As an outsider, it seems obvious that HR and Hiring Managers are not communicating well in many instances. Removing the lines of battle between those two factions would be a great first step.

    Thanks, again, Pamela. I very much respect your view.

  7. The research shows clearly that the traditional methods of hiring don’t work. Peter Drucker believes that 66% of all new hires prove to be mistakes within the first 14 months. That’s because 52% of all resumes have discrepencies, and the interview process as a whole is flawed. Mostly because of what has already been discussed, but also many times decisions are made within the first five minutes of an interview, and the rest of the process is simply used for the Hiring Manger to justify his/her decision.
    The only reliable indicator of job success is job match. Every company spends lots of time money,and energy trying to differentiate themselves from thier competition, and then they use the same exact methods their competition uses to hire people.
    What works, is measuring your top performers, and creating a job match pattern. Use this pattern as a benchmark for your candidates to compare to. Thinking Styles, Behavioral Traits, and Occupational intersts. Use this with traditional methods and studies show you have a 75% chance of making a good hire.

  8. Sandra,

    In the example you gave, it is possible that HR was simply providing an excuse. It is also possible that HR was lacking a critical piece of information about voice types until late in the process.

    Either way, the process sounds cumbersome, and lacking in consideration for the candidate.

    What use were the interviews? Your colleague now knows that her voice type might be an issue when applying for similar jobs. If no one at the next employer mentions it, then she should. Also, if she did well in the interviews, she should use people from the team to expand her professional network.

    Even bad interviews can teach candidates valuable lessons. Even if it is just what NOT to look for in an employer!

  9. Jim,

    Thank you for the compliment. You and I would probably enjoy working together very much.

    There is a reason that I’ve chosen to focus my business on helping small employers. I made a conscious decision to avoid the quagmire that exists in most large-company HR departments. It can be very defeating, for the HR staff as well as their customers.

    I have a more progressive view of HR and what it can truly accomplish by being open-minded and embracing change. My small-employer clients, by necessity, already think that way. Consequently, we are able to come up with solutions that really work for their businesses.

    It’s unfortunate that so many larger corporations, who have money and resources, don’t take advantage of the power they hold to change the face of HR practices.

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