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.

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