Employment The interview: A poor predictor of job performance?

With enough research, training and preparation, anyone can be successful in a job interview. Why? Because if you have done your homework, it’s easy to tell the prospective employer what you know they want to hear. 

Most HR professionals would like to think that we’re skilled enough to accurately determine a good employee when we select them, but the truth is our gut feeling may not always be right. 

The interview is only one step in the recruitment process, but it is often given the most weight. So what happens when that brilliant candidate, who sold themselves in the interview, turns up to work and doesn’t deliver on all that they promised? 

Depending on your management style and organisational culture, there are several different types of interview methods to choose from. The unstructured interview can be as informal as a general conversation between the interviewer(s) and the candidate and focuses more on observing the candidate and how they answer the questions.

In summary, the unstructured interview is based predominantly on emotion – do we like each other? 

A structured interview is standardised, and contains a set of pre-defined questions, ideally with corresponding levels of possible answers and scorings. Questions will often probe the candidate’s past behaviours and performance, following the theory that past behaviour predicts future behaviour. The most effective questions will ask for specific examples of how the candidate utilised a particular competency or skill. Candidates should be asked to show, with examples, that they can do the job and how.

For example, “Tell me about a problem you encountered and the steps you took to manage it.” 

Although the structured interview is generally the best method, most interviewers are either not trained well enough to conduct them properly, or choose to follow the traditional option. Moreover, when pressed for time and resources, interviews are often conducted by only one person, whereas most structured interviews were designed to be conducted by a panel to allow for more objectivity. 

According to The Adler Group, a US-based recruitment consulting firm, there are 10 factors that can accurately predict job performance, including technical competency, motivation, team skills, problem-solving skills, cultural fit, character and values, and upside potential. Most traditional interviews may only broach two or three of these factors. 

Allen Huffcutt, an organisational psychology professor at Bradley University in Illinois, USA argues that nine out of the top 10 traditional interview questions are “utterly useless at predicting whether or not someone will be good at a job”.

They are either self-evaluating (why should I hire you?), future based (where do you see yourself in five years?), or retrospective (why did you leave your last job?). These questions are not correlated in any way to job performance. 

Interviews, although not intentionally, tend to favour individuals who appear to be attractive, social and articulate. Granted, you want to be able to get along with the candidate you are hoping to hire, but is that enough to make a good employee? The qualities that we tend to judge in a 30 minute interview are not necessarily the same qualities that are important for doing the job. 

Being a fairly small island and given that a lot of the companies here are smaller in numbers, personality fit is, without a doubt, a big concern in Cayman. With a considerable number of candidates coming from overseas as well, we rely heavily on telephone or Skype interviews, and in these cases it is even more crucial for us to get it right before we relocate them here.  

In order for businesses to succeed, you need to have that personality and cultural fit, as well as high performing employees. The question is: How do we determine a candidate’s ability to perform during our selection process?  

Unfortunately, hundreds of studies reveal the profound limitations of the traditional interview. Psychological testing has found that unstructured interviews have between 5 per cent and 15 per cent success rate in predicting job performance.

Moreover, years of research on hiring practices and job performance has proven that the unstructured job interview method, that is still being used by most companies, has about the same predictive validity or success rate as random selection. This, to a recruiter, is quite a scary thought.  

For decisions as important as hiring, which will ultimately determine the success of your business, these odds do not sound too great. So what can be done to improve this?  

Organisations should standardise their interview process by asking the same questions to each candidate and evaluating the answers based on a pre-determined set of scores. However, this is still not completely fool proof – if you Google “how to ace an interview” you get nearly 75 million hits, including videos, books and guides.

This means that structured interviews should also be supplemented with something objective and quantifiable that is related to the job.  

One thing that is consistently correlated to strong work performance is mental ability and aptitude. This may not apply to all jobs, but it is a good starting point. There are a variety of intelligence tests available that are relatively inexpensive to administer, and in contrast to the interview, it is difficult to fool an IQ test.

A simple intelligence or aptitude test, along with personality profiles or psychometric testing such as Myers-Briggs, paired with a structured and unbiased interview will ultimately reduce the possibility of misjudgement or error and increase our accuracy in predicting job performance.  

Interestingly enough, highly intelligent people might not interview well due to lack of interviewing experience, and they may be overlooked if the only method of selection being used is the traditional interview.

In the same regard, some people may simply get so nervous because of the circumstances of an interview, and they may come across as lacking confidence or intelligence – whereas they are probably hard-working and highly skilled. As such, the weak interviewee could turn out to be your best employee, and likewise, the person who wows you in the interview may not perform in the end.  

Frank Heasley, president and CEO of MedZilla.com, a leading Internet recruitment and professional community, has been quoted as saying: “Employers shouldn’t make hiring decisions solely on an interview or two.

Many job candidates today are well trained in the art of interviewing -and that can make it difficult to recognise candidates who are truly qualified from those who simply sell themselves very well.” 

This does not mean that we should necessarily cut the interview stage out of our recruitment and selection processes, but we should be more careful about how we interview, and how much we rely on them to make our decisions.

To hire someone based on a 10 minute informal conversation is just as risky as hiring someone based solely on how aesthetic their resume looks. So then how do we improve our interviewing methods? Standardise, structure and quantify.  

My suggestion would be this: Don’t be so quick to dismiss the weak interviewer, be sure to dig deeper than appearances and be wary of the candidates who have all the right answers.  

It is a very wise business decision to put more time, effort and resources into the recruitment process, because hiring the right person is a lot cheaper than replacing the wrong person.