Interests In Ineffective Interviewing

Other than a summer job I applied for as a teenager 20+ years ago, I don’t have a lot of experience as an interviewee. The family business didn’t require an interview for employment, and the military doesn’t really interview so much as they reshape all their applicants into a form that they want. However, in my later years in the family business, I did participate on a few interview panels.

Long before I took my first business classes, I could tell that a lot of what we did was ineffective. A lot of the problem came from our total reliance on unstructured interviews. Yet, try as I might, I couldn’t get management to take a different approach. An article in the Harvard Business Review stated that, “Managers are overconfident about their own expertise and experience, and they dislike deferring to more structured approaches that might outsource human judgment to a machine.”[1] This described our situation perfectly.

Without structure, our interviews usually consisted of one simple, open-ended question, “Tell me about yourself,” followed by some absurdly simple “yes or no” questions. There were no situational questions and no behavioral questions. No difficult questions. What this system did was favor people who were really good at telling us about themselves.

Obviously, we paid for our poor selection process later on. Turnover was fairly high. Some new hires were a just a poor fit for the job. Others were a poor fit for any job (read criminal tendencies). Our interview process had low reliability, because it was fraught with errors and probably produced worse results than pulling a resume out of a hat. It had low validity because nothing was really measured; everything was based on management “gut feel.” It also had low utility, because even though it cost us no more than a half hour of hour time to conduct an interview, or poor results often cost us money, making it not worth the time or effort.[2]

During my time with the company, I could never get management to make an honest reassessment of our interview process. However, if I could, I would suggest making a structured interview using a pre-planned set of questions and asking each candidate the same questions in the same order. These questions also have to be more open-ended, situational or behavioral type questions, which would give us a better understanding of how a candidate thinks or works.

  1. Bohnet, Iris. “How to Take the Bias Out of Interviews.” Harvard Business Review, April 18, 2016.
  2. Week 4, Lecture 2: Choosing Selection Methods

Justifying Job Analysis in Small Businesses

I’ve worked for a few different organizations – sizes ranging from miniscule to gargantuan, spanning public and private sectors, across a few different industries. In each of these I found the value of having formal, well-maintained job descriptions. Of course, in most cases, said value was found by experiencing the problems caused by their absence or ineffective utilization.

For examples, let’s look at an organization where I spent a good deal of time. This was a small, local private sector company. This company had no formal job descriptions (or, for that matter, any formal HR function). There was a lot of overlap in what employees did. Performance evaluations were informal affairs, usually based on management’s perceptions. Of course, with fewer than 10 employees, it didn’t matter.

The situation was quite different a few years later. We now had close to 30 employees. Now we had some “real” business problems. Role overlap created conflict. Some people wanted a path for career progression. Others tired of doing work they didn’t feel was their responsibility. Every time we made a hire, they came into the job confused about their role. Conversations about pay and promotion were sometimes confusing, as there was no objective metric for rating employees.

I made the case for developing job descriptions as an objective standard of comparison. The senior management (the owner) didn’t buy my argument. Cost was a concern. Who was going to do this? Who was going to pay for it? There was also the fear that this was an unnecessary level of bureaucracy.

At the time, I didn’t have the research and evidence to back up my claim, so nothing happened. If I were to try again, the following points would be important to note:

  • An article in the Society for Human Resource Management’s HR Magazine states, of job descriptions, that, “Everything from recruitment and training to performance evaluations and compensation all stems from that document.” (1)
  • Furthermore, it states that, “Ideally, what is put in the job description can create a job posting and performance goals. It walks into a development plan for training you need.” (1)
  • Clear job descriptions are also important in the event that legal issues arise. (2)

  1. Tyler, Kathryn. “Job Worth Doing: Update Descriptions.” SHRM, January 1, 2013.
  2. Lecture 1: Job Analysis