What do interviews really tell us?

“That most basic of human rituals – the conversation with a stranger – is a minefield.”   – Malcolm Gladwell, The New-boy Network: What Do Interviews Really Tell Us?

Most of us make quick, intuitive judgments about people we have just met. When interviewing a job candidate, this is one of the most significant tendencies we should all fight against.

In his May, 29, 2000, New Yorker column, best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell illuminates this common tendency – to fixate on supposedly stable character traits in people we meet and overlook the influence of context. Psychologists call this the Fundamental Attribution Error.

In a nutshell, this is the tendency we all have to assume that the way someone behaves in one context (say, in the context of a job interview) is indicative of the way they will always behave.

How someone acts in an interview may or may not allow us to predict how they behave in other contexts or be relevant to how good a hire they would be for any given position.   Some very excellent workers get nervous during interviews. Some people who are tremendous presenters, and truly shine in interviews, might have little to offer within the context of a difficult team leadership position or during the everyday grind of a high-pressure decision-making position.

There are some very specific ways to avoid errors of attribution and improve the outcome of candidate interviews:

1.       Be clear about what behaviors the position for which you are hiring requires. This is best done via a three-way conversation with someone who is doing the job well already, someone who supervises the job and someone who interacts regularly with the position.

2.       Use structured interviews that keep to a fairly rigid format. Script the questions and treat applicants in the same manner. Create questions that illuminate the behaviors identified in question #1 above.

3.       If the job requires an excellent phone manner or outstanding one-on-one presentation skills, these skills will be easy to ascertain via a phone interview or in-person interview.   But if these are not the primary performance requirements for the position, it may make sense to include other exercises or problems to solve as part of the interview.

Putting in the extra thought and effort to include these best HR practices will be well worth it to your business. And if you need help along the way, we’re ready at ADVISA Hiring to step in with candidate assessment data tools, applicant screening expertise – and staff to even do the work for you if that’s the level of help that you want.

“It is a truism of the new economy that the ultimate success of any enterprise lies with the quality of the people it hires.” – Malcolm Gladwell