Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on May 30, 2019.
Employers gain strong impressions about job candidates through the often-used unstructured, free-form interview—but research shows that those impressions are often "unwarranted," and frequently don't provide any insight into future job performance, Jason Dana writes in the New York Times' "Gray Matter."
The 'uselessness' of the free-form interview
Dana, an assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management, writes that there is a "widespread problem" among employers using "free-form, unstructured interviews in an attempt to 'get to know' a job candidate." He cites research that shows in such interviews, "interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees, often revealing more about themselves than the candidates."
In fact, according to Dana's research, free-form, unstructured interviews can actually be "harmful, undercutting the impact of other, more valuable information about interviewees."
For the study, Dana and colleagues asked a group of student interviewers to predict a fellow student's grade point average based on an interview, the interviewee's course schedule, and past GPA—which interviewers were told is the most accurate predictor of future grades at the school. The students were also asked to predict performance of students whom they did not interview, using only GPA and course schedule.
Dana and colleagues found that student interviewers' GPA predictions "were significantly more accurate for the students they did not meet." Moreover, none of the interviewers noticed that half of the interviewees had been directed by the researchers to answer questions randomly rather than honestly. In fact, Dana adds, "the students who conducted random interviews rated the degree to which they 'got to know' the interviewee slightly higher on average than those who conducted honest interviews."
The takeaway, Dana writes, "is that people have no trouble turning any information into a coherent narrative," even if that information is incorrect or random.
A better interview
Dana offers a few suggestions for combatting the dangers of the unstructured interview:
1. Make sure all candidates receive the same questions, a strategy that Dana says "has been shown to make interviews more reliable and modestly more predictive of job success"; and
2. Use the interview process to assess job-related skills, rather than using the time to chat or ask personal questions (Dana, "Gray Matter," New York Times, 4/8).
Advisory Board's take
Many health care organizations struggle with ineffective interviews and, ultimately, make bad hiring decisions. In fact, more than a quarter of employees who leave health care organizations each year have less than one year of tenure. This high early turnover is due in part to hiring the wrong people in the first place.
Structured interviews are known best practice, but it can be difficult to figure out the right set of questions that will predict success and fit for a role. Even if you identify the perfect question set, you still have to get every individual hiring manager on board and consistently using the standardized rubric, which is no small feat.
Here are a few things health care organizations can do to bring some structure to the interviewing process and make better hiring decisions:
1. Create standard interview guides for high-priority, high-turnover roles. These guides should include not just the questions to ask, but also standard criteria to evaluate candidate's answers. Use our behavioral-based interview template builder to create custom interview guides based on specific competencies.
2. Try using group interviewing to meet large-scale hiring needs. When hiring managers are given a condensed period of time to evaluate several candidates, they can make a more informed decision. It's easier to evaluate who the best candidates are when you see several candidates in a few hours and ask the same interview questions, versus seeing the candidates over the course of a few weeks. See how Mosaic Life Care has managers evaluate up to 10 nursing candidates in an hour and how MacNeal Hospital structures their large hiring events.
3. Supplement hiring decisions with a standardized pre-hire screening tool that uses a data-driven algorithm to assess candidate fit. See our key considerations for evaluating candidate screening vendors, plus information on several vendors in the market.
Finally, it's important to remember that interviews are not solely about evaluation. In today's job market, organizations need to sell candidates on the job as well. It's important to set hiring managers up to make a personal connection with candidates so that they see your organization as a place they want to work. See our Interviewer's Cheat Sheet for guidance on how to help hiring managers close the deal, once they've decided the candidate is a good fit.
The manager's guide to BBI
Hiring the right candidate for a position is a decision with long-lasting repercussions. Choose poorly and you may end up devoting precious time and resources towards supervising a toxic employee. To ensure you make the right hire, you need to know how to get the best ‘read’ on a candidate.
This toolkit has 11 manager-friendly tools that will help you shape your interview strategy and ensure that you are ready to weed out bad hires and identify the next star performer.