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If the job interview is a poor predictor of success, what kind of interview sequence consistently results in identifying and attracting top performers? Bob Corlett wraps up his two-part series on The Case For Evidence-Based Interviewing.

In Part 1 of this series, I quoted a Harvard Business Review article from Marcus Buckingham, in which he concluded that, “Neither you nor any of your peers are reliable raters of anyone. And as a result, virtually all of our people data is fatally flawed.”

I mention this again because, if you accept his conclusion (derived from three psychometric studies of half a million participants), it can seem extremely daunting to engineer a hiring sequence that works.

Daunting, but not impossible. You just need to slow down your thinking.

Think Slower. Hire Better.

Speaking of rating people, the folks who award Nobel prizes have a pretty strong track record (and the benefit of waiting decades to select the winners).

photo of Bob Corlett on

Bob Corlett, President and Founder of Staffing Advisors and HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

One Nobel recipient wrote a particularly relevant book on judgement and decision-making. In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, Princeton professor emeritus and recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, describes the two systems of thinking everyone uses – fast and slow.

Most of the time, we are in fast mode. Life is more random than we think, and necessitates the quick processing of a lot of information. To make sense of randomness, we all use “heuristic” or simple procedures to help us find adequate, though often imperfect, answers to difficult questions. It’s how we get through our days. We recognize patterns, and lean into familiar feelings, because they feel right, not because they are right. (This explains why a lie begins to seem true when it is repeated often enough.)

This is a function of evolution – we continually assess our world through these heuristics or rules of thumb. When the outside world was dangerous, this ability to think quickly made sense. You could quickly determine a threat vs. a major opportunity.

But our brains still work this way, even though our need to react quickly to sabretooth tiger attacks has disappeared. We have intuitive feelings about everything that comes our way. We like or dislike people long before we know much about them; we trust or distrust strangers without knowing why.

Whether we state them or not, we often have answers to questions that we do not completely understand, relying on evidence that we can neither explain nor defend. We’re wired to jump to conclusions on very thin evidence and to find consistency and coherence where there is none.

In other words, we’re rarely stumped. That old adage, “Often wrong, but never in doubt” is far too accurate. As Kahneman puts it, “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”

Think about when a hiring manager wings it in the interview, or when a charming extroverted candidate comes up with fast confident answers to interview questions. Or when an interview gets off to a great start, and you maybe ease off on the tough questions a bit. All can lead to interview failure, because all rely on this superficial, fast thinking. Performance in this type of interview will not predict performance on the job.

In evaluating people for a job, without noticing it, almost everyone pivots from talking about competencies – the skills actually needed to do the job – to talking about the attributes and personal qualities they want to find in a person. That’s because attributes are easier to think about. A properly designed interview process will keep the right information, right in front of you, the entire time. (And it will decrease the chance of some common cognitive biases affecting your evaluations.)

Evidence-Based Interviewing

So in the face of all these all-too-human challenges, what kind of an interview sequence consistently results in identifying and attracting top performers?

What is needed is an evidence-based hiring approach that replaces easy, fast, rule of thumb thinking with what Daniel Kahneman calls deep, slow thinking – a system that keeps evidence at the forefront and diminishes the role of opinion and bias.

Here are a few components of an evidence-based interview process:

  • Deciding Who Will Decide: Before the first interview is scheduled, decide which people in your organization will participate, and which of those will have decision-making power. Be sure they all have input in the evaluation criteria and disagreements are resolved.
  • Prepared Evaluation Criteria: The best evaluations are competency based, not opinion based. We recommend at most five or six prerequisites for success in the position. They should be as independent from one another as possible. Design fact-based questions that can get at evaluating each competency, and ensure all interviewers agree what a very strong, or very weak answer would look like for each skill.
  • Follow-up Questions: The best interview questions are follow-up questions that delve into how the work was actually done. Ask candidates “How did you do that? With whom? What was the outcome? What did you measure?”
  • Work Sample Testing: The best predictor of whether someone can do the work is having them do work.
  • Structured Debriefing: In hiring, opinions abound and facts are scarce. It is quite common for people to present their personal opinion as if it were a fact about one of the candidates. Be sure you ask the right questions to get at the facts. When someone has presented an opinion, such as, “the people who work at that organization are all bureaucrats,” consider asking them “how would we learn if that’s true for this candidate?” Or “how can we better understand how that might relate to their performance in this role?”

A well-structured, evidence-based interview process helps you hire more quickly and mitigate the risk of hiring the wrong person. The right process has the additional benefit of establishing performance expectations long before your new employee shows up for their first day of work.

If this post was somehow not long enough and you want to learn even more, feel free to download our Employer Guide to Interviewing. It provides the step-by-step details of how to integrate an evidence-based approach into your interview process.

Have you read the full series?
  • The Case For Evidence-Based Interviewing: Part 1
  • The Case For Evidence-Based Interviewing: Part 2



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