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Value of Well-Prepared Interviews Should Not Be Underestimated

Untrained interviewers and too much small talk can result in poor hires and promotions.
by Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations
Interviews, whether used in hiring new employees or for promotions within an organization, are a key component of the process. 
Managers conduct numerous interviews, and most will say they are apt judges of character and abilities and have a successful record in hiring competent and productive employees.
However, if they turn out to be good hires or promotions, it is not necessarily because of the interviewing and selection skills of the hiring manager, says Wendell Williams, founder and managing director of Scientific Selection, an Atlanta-based consulting firm specializing in hiring and interviewing practices.
Actually many managers, and even their human resource departments, are the weak links in the hiring chain because they do not know how to conduct the kind of interviews that reveal a candidate’s suitability for a specific job, said Williams.
Too often interviewers look at qualities not necessarily related to the actual performance of the job, such as personality, appearance, likeability, and how they handle themselves in the interview. Then their opinions of the applicant are not competency related but rather peripheral to the job.
“Unless the hiring manager is a specially trained behavioral interviewer and has a thorough job analysis available, it is unlikely the interviewer will gain any good information about the candidate’s ability to perform the job,” he said.
The consequences of poor interviewing can lead to increased turnover, lower individual employee performance, and higher training costs, and can damage morale if co-workers soon learn that the new hire is not capable of performing the job.
And just because a candidate has been successful in one job within the company doesn’t mean he or she will be successful in another assignment. A thorough assessment is needed to determine if he or she is right for the new position.
Take sales for example. A true professional salesperson has exceptional rapport-building skills, asks the right questions at the right time, focuses on the client’s needs, and can help buyers overcome the fear of making a bad decision, Williams said. 
“Now move that person into a management role where the job requirements are quite different. In addition to the sales skills that made the person successful in the former position, he or show must become a coach, a planner, an analyst, and a decision maker. That person may not be a good fit for the new assignment,” he said.
Williams said research shows three key criteria needed to conduct interviews that yield the best results. Those include developing an analysis of the job to be performed; creating specific questions and employing tests that reveal a person’s knowledge, abilities and skills to do the job; and using a scoring system that measures the applicants’ answers to each question.
“These are called structured or behavioral interviews because they seek to learn detailed information that focuses on situations related to the position being filled. The intent is to determine job competencies,” he explained.
“For example, a writer may be judged on whether the interviewer or rater liked the writing samples. But there’s more. How much research did the writer conduct? Were the right questions asked? Does the writer have good language skills? All these kinds of precursors are important in determining the candidate’s competency,” Williams said.
Criteria need to be developed for each interviewing situation because not all jobs are the same. Some jobs require intelligence and the ability to see the forest rather than focus on the trees, whereas others may require applied intelligence where the candidate is adept at making quick and short-term decisions, Williams said.
He lists four areas interviewers should closely examine. They include the candidate’s cognitive abilities, which show competencies in learning, making decisions, and analyzing; the ability to organize, structure, and implement work assignments; interpersonal skills needed for teamwork, coaching others, developing one-to-one relationships, and managing; and attitude, interest, and motivation.
Too many interviews are “get-to-know-you” meetings and are a far cry from determining a person’s skills for a particular job. What the interviewer really wants to know is if the candidate has the core constructs to perform the job. “The interviewer is really a talent scout, not looking for someone they like,” he said.
Many managers still rely on gut instincts to determine if a candidate is right for the job, a practice that has no place in recruiting, Williams pointed out.
Most interviewers work from a job description, which simply describes the job and its duties, and is not a thorough analysis of the abilities needed to perform the job. “If you don’t know what you are looking for, you don’t necessarily get someone who can do the job,” Williams said.
To clearly understand a position and the skills needed to perform it, Williams suggests interviewers talk to people currently doing the job or who have been in that job. This is seldom done, he said.
If someone has failed previously at the job, take a close look at why. “That could provide some information that will be helpful in hiring the next person and perhaps avoiding a hiring mistake,” he said.
He said a good test as to whether a manager has made a good hire is to review a year later how new employees and promoted workers are performing. Are they meeting expectations? Are they a good fit in their assignment?
“HR offices often do not follow-up in these cases and they should,” said Williams.
Productive interviews require a great deal of preparation. “If done well, they can be a benefit to the organization. If not, they can result in a great deal of damage,” he said.