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Are Job Interviews Broken?

Topics: Career Advice
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Think back to your last job interview. Did you feel like the interviewer’s questions revealed your aptitude for the job? If you’re on the other side of the conference table, think about your last hire. Did you feel like your questions helped you figure out how the candidate would fit into the organization — and were you right?

Chances are, your interview experience as a candidate or a hiring manager produced very little in the way of actionable information, regardless of how you felt about it. In fact, research shows that despite the popularity of “unstructured” interviews — meaning, those in which the interviewer chooses the questions — it’s unlikely that they lead to accurate information and thus better hires.

In a recent New York Times article, Jason Dana, assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management, explained:

In one experiment, we had student subjects interview other students and then predict their grade point averages for the following semester. The prediction was to be based on the interview, the student’s course schedule and his or her past G.P.A. (We explained that past G.P.A. was historically the best predictor of future grades at their school.) In addition to predicting the G.P.A. of the interviewee, our subjects also predicted the performance of a student they did not meet, based only on that student’s course schedule and past G.P.A.

In the end, our subjects’ G.P.A. predictions were significantly more accurate for the students they did not meet. The interviews had been counterproductive.

But that’s not all: some interviewees were instructed to answer randomly to interviewers’ questions. Not one interviewer figured out that they were being misled. When interviewers were asked to rate the degree to which they “got to know” interviewees, they rated the random fibbers higher than the honest responders.

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Problems With Job Interviews, as They Currently Exist

If you’re not persuaded by this research alone, considering these other issues with standard job interviews:

  • Socially adept people do better. If you’re hiring for someone in a sales or customer-facing role, that’s fair enough. If you’re hiring for a software engineer or a translator, the ability to make conversation might not be a top priority. Of course, many organizations address this by testing for job-specific knowledge in addition to conducting interviews. But conducting interviews in addition to tests means that it’s easy for an awkward performance to skew the hire.
  • Persuasive liars get a chance to impress. In the movies, people who tell the truth do so without hesitation and with a lot of eye contact. In real life, sometimes it’s the liars who come across as super-confident and smooth. Job interviews can be the perfect opportunity for practiced dishonesty.
  • Random questions can lead to comparing apples to oranges. Hopefully, the hiring manager has a list of essential questions to ask, but if he or she deviates too widely, it’s possible to miss something important with one candidate, while asking another. That means incomplete information — and a challenge when it comes time to compare.

What Would Be Better Than Standard Job Interviews?

In his article, Dana is clear on the fact that most companies won’t be changing their interview processes any time soon. Unless you work in HR or own a company yourself, there’s probably not much you can do to influence that. But it is worth thinking about what might work better, especially if you find yourself in management one day.

Dana’s suggestions?

“One option is to structure interviews so that all candidates receive the same questions, a procedure that has been shown to make interviews more reliable and modestly more predictive of job success,” he said. “Alternatively, you can use interviews to test job-related skills, rather than idly chatting or asking personal questions.”

Tell Us What You Think

Job interviews, yea or nay? We want to hear from you. Tell us your opinion in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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