The traditional job interview has a long history as the primary (if not only) tool in selecting employees. The idea is simple: get the job candidate in a room and ask them to describe themselves and their suitability for the work. The problem, however, is that the traditional job interview is actually one of the least reliable ways of assessing a prospective employee’s potential to succeed in the job.
Interviews reward charisma, confidence and the ability to perform under pressure. While these aren’t bad qualities, they do not represent the skills and aptitudes that will determine success in the role – people management for example, or strategic problem solving. Yes, there will be questions that address these competencies, but you really want evidence that goes beyond their ability to tell a story about how good they are.
The effectiveness of traditional job interviews as a selection tool also varies widely based on the skill and experience of the interviewer, and the process exposes the employer to their biases – it’s well documented that people tend to hire in their own image.
The reason traditional job interviews are still so widely used is because their limited validity is offset by their practicality. They are fast and inexpensive. Most employers take a simple approach: ask job candidates a series of questions about work. Frequently these are fairly straightforward questions like why they want the job, what skills they have related to the job, how they have acted in previous roles to be successful at work.
The best interviews are well-structured, with a common set of questions and a consistent, numerical approach to rating candidates. However, developing these consistent ratings systems take more time and preparation. More rigorous and methodical approaches are sometimes abandoned in the interests of time.
That is not to say that the interview should be scrapped altogether. It is still a useful tool. But if interviews are to be used effectively, they shouldn’t be used in isolation, but instead as part of a more thorough assessment process.
Intelligence, personality, knowledge and skills can be assessed beforehand. Psychometric tests like the High Potential Traits Inventory (HPTI) provide a clear framework of how employees are likely to think and act in the workplace, which can then be complemented by practical tests of ability and 360 degree appraisal data. Asking job candidates to complete psychometric tests prior to an interview will also mean that interviewers are asking better questions and have more information to support their decision making.
Just as a good scientist can improve their research with more information, a good manager can make better hiring decisions by getting more information about candidates.
If that seems like a lot of hard work, think of the cost of getting it wrong. Just as employers would expect their future employees to put in the work up front to get better long-term results, employers must be prepared to invest their time and resources in using the best tools to make the best hiring decisions.
There are a huge range of tools now available for selecting and identifying high potential employees. The top managers will be savvy enough to find the best tools, and ultimately make the best decisions.
High Potential: How to Spot, Manage and Develop Talented People at Work, by Ian MacRae, Adrian Furnham and Martin Reed is published by Bloomsbury (£25)
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