Believe it or not, there actually is some value to talking to people to see if you get along. Management and psychology researchers have demonstrated that the interview becomes a long-term part of the employer-employee relationship (Herriot, 1989). Assuming you eventually hire the candidate, the interview is your best opportunity to get off on the right foot. Also, candidates develop their own impressions about your company’s culture during the interview (Jablin, 1987). So, the interview is a key moment in which you can sell your company to the candidate.
However, even though the vast majority of organizations choose their candidates based on interviews, there are decades of research that demonstrate that interviews do not accurately predict job performance (Heneman, Schwab, Fossum & Dyer, 1986; Huffcutt & Arthur, 1994; McDaniel, Whetzel, Schmidt, & Maurer, 1994; Ulrich & Trumbo, 1965; Wagner, 1949). In many ways, interviews are the least effective way to predict who will be the best hire, since interviewers can be distracted by the candidate’s looks, charm, and charisma, instead of focusing on the candidate’s job history and skills.
What is the best way to conduct interviews?
Although it is not ideal to rely on interviews, researchers have shown that you can make your interviews a bit more effective if you use a structured interview process (Orpen, 1985). In a structured process, candidates might be interviewed by several interviewers, each of whom would ask the same questions, and the interviewers would operate in a panel, or would compare notes later. Research shows that panel interviews are slightly more effective than other techniques (Campion et al., 1988).
There are two common types of structured interview. The first is “situational interviews,” in which the interviewer asks, “Suppose you were in the following situation – what would you do?” The second is “behavioral interviews” in which the interviewer asks, “Please recall a time when this happened – what did you do?” Some research demonstrates that the situational interview is more effective than the behavioral interview (Taylor & Small, 2002). Perhaps this is because candidates can answer more freely when they are asked to imagine a situation than when they are asked to recall an occurrence. (For example, they may not be able to recall such a situation, which might make them anxious.) While structured, situational interviews have been shown to be more effective than other kinds of interviews, they still have limited predictive value (Roth & Campion, 1992).
Getting a Clearer Picture
One of the best ways to hire is to create a situation in which you can see the candidate actually performing the work that will be required on the job. There are two good ways to do this:
If you can make it a practice to hire your employees temp-to-perm, you will develop strong knowledge of their work and behavior before you make a full-time offer. In order to do this, you work with a temp agency, which places employees who are hoping to find full-time work. You will have the benefit of having someone on the job within a day or two (instead of the 4- to 8-week process that is required for full-time hires), and you will have an opportunity to get to know them in the work situation before you commit long-term. If you do decide to hire the temp into a full-time role, you will generally need to pay a transition fee to the temp agency, but this can be well worth the confidence of knowing you have the right person in place.
Another way to see the person on the job is to give the candidate a “practicum” to complete, either during the interview, or overnight afterward. Ask them to actually perform the job task. For example, if you are hiring an executive assistant who will handle travel, give the candidate a sample itinerary to complete. If you are hiring an editor, give the candidate a passage to edit. If you explain that the practicum is part of the process in the beginning, most candidates will be happy to demonstrate their skills. One important note: If you ask candidates to do something that takes more than an hour, you should pay them for their time. This softens the blow if you do not ultimately offer that person the job, and it shows that you respect your candidates.
While it is not always practical to give a practicum (particularly at the executive level), it is a powerful tool that will give you a chance to see your candidate in action. If you need to rely on the interview, then putting in the time in advance to develop situations and a clear process will yield better results than a friendly chat.