Talent Selection – Part 2: Interviewing Reality

Everyone has a theory about interviewing candidates for hire. This applies to everyone involved in conducting interviews and not just people in positions of leadership in HR or recruiting. The two primary ignorance factors that keep us from doing it right are the line managers who dismiss interviewing as something that anybody off the street can do and the HR types who don’t realize that people could have that opinion. If there are no missionaries for the cause of good interviewing on the HR side, it can’t be expected that management will respect this as a prerequisite for the company’s future. The awful truth is that it goes deeper than just interviewing. It stems from a total lack of respect for the value of HR in general and the perspective that programs are crammed down the throats of managers who are busy working on their other priorities… but more on that later. A culture of management awareness of HR value and an HR mentality of teaching rather than preaching is a step in the right direction.

I’ve told the personal story about an interview that I had as a candidate for a recruiting manager position in a high-tech aerospace firm. As time was running out in a session with one of the company’s director-level managers, he looked at his watch, opened a desk drawer, pulled out a stack of paper, and said, “Well, I guess I have to ask you these damn behavioral interview questions that HR wants me to use.” Suddenly I didn’t want to work there anymore. Somebody didn’t get the memo or somebody forgot to send it. It is these types of experiences that kill the candidate experience and why most people have been so desensitized to this type of interview that they shudder when they hear the “Tell me about a time…” question. Behavioral interviewing is a tool that can be misused and often gets maligned because of improper use. If you use a hammer to cut a board in half instead of a saw, it isn’t the hammer’s fault.

I have been totally immersed in the Targeted Selection® behavioral interviewing methods from DDI and have taught it to both recruiters and other interviewers. I have found that this and other behavioral interviewing techniques worked well, but not because it was the best method. In an environment totally devoid of all interviewing structure, almost any systematized approach will produce better results. Regardless of the interview technique used, adding value happens by instilling some form of consistency in the process. Statistics show that an organized approach can make better hires and training is imperative to being organized. If the theory that past behavior is a predictor of future performance, it is less important to train interviewers on how to ask questions than it is to train them how to get answers and to interpret them. Listening, interacting, and active follow-up is the best crap filter to use in determining the validity and applicability of the candidate relative to the position.

The tough part about installing a system that works is gaining buy-in from management and line interviewers. Even the behavioral experts can only offer statistics that past performance only has a 55% correlation to future performance. This is only slightly better than a 50-50 coin toss. The stark reality is that if there is no system or if interviewers are not trained then there is no reason to interview at all. There are advocates of abolishing the interview, but that is not likely to happen soon because it is too ingrained in our corporate mentality. Perhaps the weak economy that has increased the number of part time and contingent workers on a payroll is fixing that problem by natural selection. Try before you buy.

It isn’t easy, but do something! Left to their own devices interviewers will ask non-job related or tricky mind teaser questions in an effort to guess at some flicker of fit in a candidate. By the way, manhole covers are used to hide sewage… manhole cover interview questions are used for the same purpose.

Image credit: auremar / 123RF Stock Photo



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    • Jamie Winter on October 2, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Tom, your blog is spot on in so many ways. Interview training (or in many cases, reading a few things about interviewing on the internet or in one’s 99 cent interview app on a smart phone) has become such a commodity. Yet, there is a plethora of evidence that hiring managers and recruiters are not very good at hiring people. All one has to do is spend a few minutes on Glassdoor.com reading candidate comments and one can tell there are some real issues with many organizations’ interviewing process resulting in poor candidate experiences (not to mention bad hires). Organizations that view their interviewing system as a critical business process requiring focus and discipline will certainly have an advantage building their employment brand and hiring better talent. Also, I hope you don’t mind if I borrow your line on manhole cover questions.

      • Tom Bolt on October 3, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      There is no copyright on my manhole cover opinion. It remains one of my pet peeves that some interviewers think that preteen brain teasers actually mean something. I’ve come up with several silly answers I would use in reply to that question. Maybe that is the topic of another blog post.

    • Mrs. Green on October 3, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    I am student at Davenport University, and our Human Resource class assignment was to research some blogging on HR. Well I was interested in your article and it made so much sense about The realities of interviewing. I especially enjoyed your story of your job interview. I would have gotten up and left too. If the person giving the interviewer responded that way, you would know how the company really is, that guy was not a happy person. going into a interview a person is so what already nervous.
    so it is nice to know the reality of interviewing

      • Tom Bolt on October 3, 2013 at 8:47 pm

      I really appreciate your comment. Feedback is so important for HR in general, but especially so to a blogger. Let me know if there is any way I can provide info to you or your class. If I am not able to help I can connect you to someone who can.

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