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Recruitment: Is it time to retire the traditional interview?

by Richard Cuff Richard Cuff

12th Sep 2018

The traditional interview (from hereon called the ‘interview’) - a formal discussion between ‘recruiter(s)’ and job applicant often using set questions designed to enable the interviewer(s) to assess the suitability of the interviewee to the role being offered.

The interview has been used in many various (but essentially similar) forms for as long as all of us can remember. For it to have lasted this long, it must have performed its function sufficiently well but is it now time to consider other options? For reasons explained below, I believe that we all need to seriously consider when it is appropriate and when it is not. I believe that, in most cases, the interview should rarely be used alone when assessing a potential employee.

It is widely accepted that appearing confident is perhaps the most important factor in being selected at interview. It gives the impression of knowledge, skill and/ or competence and many job specifications name this as a desired characteristic. Of course, the interview process is designed to determine the most competent person; not the most confident. We also consider more attractive people to be more competent e.g. intelligent or qualified as a rule even though there is rarely any evidence to back this up.

People are rarely great judges of others. There are countless studies showing that we make up our minds about a person in the first few seconds after meeting them and how we only accept views/ evidence which support our current opinions. Therefore it is very easy for us to make judgements about people quickly and it is not often in our nature to be able to change this opinion even when presented with evidence to the contrary. We are easily drawn to confident people and generally poor at discerning between confidence and competence.

Example scenario: interview for a salesperson.

Required attributes:

  • Working under pressure
  • Outgoing and friendly
  • Self-confidence
  • Competitive
  • Enthusiastic
  • Tenacity

If an interviewee for this position displayed these traits they would probably fare very well in an interview and may be offered the job. Of course they may have told untruths and this is one major flaw in the interview process.* In this scenario I would suggest that the best person may be chosen for the job as the traits suited to performing well in interviews closely resemble that required in the role on offer, above.

What if you are recruiting a Counsellor or an Accountant? Are the traits that are suited to the interview the ones that you are looking for?

The Philosopher Bertrand Russell said “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” If this is the case then what does that say about the interview, bearing in mind that we have established that self-confidence is a great trait for scoring well? The Dunning-Kruger effect shows that people with little knowledge in an area overestimate their ability whereas people who have a great deal of knowledge tend to underestimate their ability. Again, this suggests that more competent people may appear less confident than less competent people. This leaves the interview with a major problem: It could be said that, in most cases, the interview is biased toward selecting a less competent applicant.

If we establish that the traditional interview does not fulfil our needs for a particular role then the next question is: What do we replace it with? This is the real question and one that does not have a simple answer (as usual). What are the options? The three most commonly used examples are as follows:

Tests

e.g. psychometric, technical, practical, problem-solving - The best way to determine if someone can do something is, surely, to let them show you. If the role entails some task that you could conceivably allow them to do then make them. Don’t forget, it’s your ‘interview’ and it’s up to you how you conduct it. Just make sure that the test is a fair one and is a genuine representation of something they would have to do if they were successful in their application e.g. don’t make them stand up to perform a task that could be done sitting down as this could disadvantage a physically disabled person. Assessment days are now quite commonplace and if they are willing to devote a whole day to an ‘interview’ then it shows some form of commitment and desire to be successful in their application.


Try them

An ideal way to decide if they could do the job would be to get them to do the job for a period of time. This is not really practical but, effectively, this is what a probation period is. If you consider it part of the interview process then it makes things a little clearer. It also allows you to see how they fit in with your other staff members and culture of the organisation. As long as you support the (now) employee through probation, if they do not meet your high expectations then you are perfectly entitled to dismiss them; but, again, beware of discriminatory criteria.


References

What could be better than asking someone that knows them well and maybe has even seen their work over a long period? Surely this is the perfect gauge? Useful, honest, unbiased references are, however, notoriously hard to obtain. This is due to a number of factors including fear of being sued, the information contained therein being passed on to the subject as a result of data protection laws and our inability to give balanced, objective opinions.

Once you have considered the options you will need to decide which (or which combination) fits your need best.

A study gained five personality trait scores on students from their close friends. Total strangers were then asked to rate the same people on the same traits after viewing their college dorm room for a short time. The strangers scored more accurately than the close friends on three of the five traits. What does this tell us? Perhaps it is that our personal, private side (the dorm room) tells us much more about someone than their outward, public side. I have often wondered whether it would be better to insist that interviewees attend in casual dress rather than seeing the facade of smart dress. Perhaps it would be better to see a less staged and more representative view of them. Being casually dressed may also put them more at ease.

Maybe you should consider your wording in a job advert as a certain style may appeal more to the kind of person that you’re looking for but again be wary of unintentional discriminatory language.

Whilst I believe that there are other options to the interview and some job roles are very unsuited to this method of assessment, it still has its place in the recruitment process. Perhaps a more relaxed interview without difficult questions could be used to try to see the person behind the interview persona. Maybe you could ask them to tell you about themselves on a personal level i.e. not professionally.

I think that if you only take one thing from this piece it should be that the traditional interview is not the only way to determine the best person for the job. Think about what you’re looking for and then decide how to find this out.

Need help with your recruitment? Message us or give us a call, below, for a no-obligation chat

* Incidentally the traits of a successful salesperson are often displayed in psychopaths. A great salesperson may put the sale above all else, for example, the suitability of the product/ service to the customer. A lack of empathy is also a very strong trait in psychopaths.

The Dunning-Kruger effect

by Richard Cuff Richard Cuff

19th Sep 2018

Are you a good driver? Would you say that you are better than average?

Ever heard the saying "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing"? Why is this? Surely having some knowledge is better than having no knowledge?

We all know someone that knows everything about everything. It might be you. Are these people aware that they 'know everything'? I don't know. I would suggest that there has never been a single person that genuinely knew everything about everything. So why are there people that seem to think this?

Have you ever started learning a new subject and, shortly after starting, thought "this is easy". It's normal to hold this belief. Then after some time you started to think "Actually, it's not that easy". Again, this is perfectly normal. In a subject which you have a great deal of knowledge, do you sometimes doubt your knowledge/ ability? Once again, this is normal. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

The graph, below, shows a rough approximation of how perceived ability relates to actual ability. It peaks very early, then drops dramatically and then gradually climbs back up toward the initial peak level after a great deal of increase in ability.


Dunning-Kruger effect graph

Imposter syndrome is the name for the phenomenon where competent people often see their ability as less than it actually is. Albert Einstein said that he was an "involuntary swindler" as he did not believe that his work was as good as others considered it to be. It is probably due to a few factors including the belief that, if we have a particular area of competence, we often believe that to be the norm and that others also have it. We rarely hear other people stating their own doubts or deficiencies but we are usually well aware of our own, especially if we are competent.

Professor Dunning stated

“the knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task—and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at that task.”

Meaning that if you don't understand a subject very well then you won't know if you're wrong. In one study, students scoring no better than 10% of others rated themselves at being better than 67% of others.

This effect can cause problems in interviews as they may appear supremely confident when, in actual fact, they just think they know everything. In performance appraisals it can also cause trouble. You may see a staff member as incompetent but they may think that they are the opposite. Then you have to try to explain to them what the problem is. They will think it's you, by the way. This is why having measurable targets is so important. It's very hard to argue with statistics (although they may well) so it generally works out in your favour, if your targets are fair and truly measurable.

So what is the answer? Ask for feedback and don't be offended. You are welcome to question its validity but if you frequently hear it then it's probably true. Don't be scared to voice your own doubts and weaknesses, especially if you are in a position of power. Your staff/ students/ less senior colleagues will be comforted hearing it and it is likely to make them more willing to share theirs with you.

I always find it inspiring to think that the best and most successful in any profession always had obstacles to overcome. JK Rowling's Harry Potter books were rejected many times and the Beatles had to go to Hamburg.

Going back to the initial question "Are you a good driver?" The vast majority of people believe that they are better than average. Obviously, almost half of these people are wrong. The next question is "What do you consider to be a good driver?". I don't know if they asked that. Probably not.

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