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An open letter about the "utter uselessness" of job interviews

by Brian M. Stern

Jason Dana, assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management, recently argued in The New York Times that job interviews are “utterly useless” in identifying the best candidates for the job.

Dana describes an experiment that purports to demonstrate interviews as inconsequential to determining the future success of applicants. He claims that interviewers often form strong impressions about applicants that frequently turn out to be entirely inaccurate, "revealing more about themselves than the candidates."

Students of industrial-organizational psychology have conducted this old experiment many times. It’s actually been well-documented that poorly planned, unstructured interviews are poor predictors of on-the-job success.

At issue is an organization's leadership discipline to deploy, manage, and adhere to known best practices for conducting objective and useful interviews. Hiring is a business process with outcomes to manage. In the absence of discipline, the process runs out of control and the results are unpredictable.

Compatibility can often be determined in the first few minutes of an interview. However, a rigorous exploration of an individual’s competence requires planning, structure, content, and process.

Over 100 years of other experiments have documented that the inclusion of objective candidate evaluation data positively augments the outcome of hiring decisions. Objective candidate evaluation methods work much better than the interview to establish degrees of competence.

According to the 2016 Talent Board Candidate Experience Awards and Benchmark survey, 75 percent of companies are using one or more types of objective candidate evaluation. This process serves the needs of recruiters and candidates. Candidates who complete one or more objective evaluation experiences report they had a better opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. And recruiters enabled with the data from such evaluation are more accurate and efficient: they invest their time with better-fit candidates and end up hiring individuals who remain on the job longer and achieve superior results.

The fastest growing segment of objective candidate evaluation is simulation-based assessment (50 percent increase from 2015 to 2016), which engages candidates in day-in-the-life work tasks and activities. Simulation-based assessment adds discipline and consistency to the evaluation process while enabling recruiters with objective insight into performance potential that helps focus the interview on matters of competence instead of compatibility.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) and Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) conduct an awards program to recognize organizations that demonstrate and advance evidence-based practices. Bank of America recently won the prestigious Human Resource Management Impact Award for documenting $6.8 million in savings from improving their hiring outcomes.

Setting up an experiment to document the failure of flawed practices is easy. What’s hard is employing leadership, vision, and discipline to deploy known best practices to deliver bottom-line impact.