In the last blogs, we proved that most traditional job interviews are unreliable, and explained why companies like Google are moving away from using this popular selection tool. This is not to say companies should abandon job interviews altogether. It is the way interviews are conducted that must be changed.
While much less popular than traditional, unstructured interviews, structured interviews are far more powerful in terms of predicting actual job performance. Structured interviews enable hiring managers to make personal connections with candidates while minimising the impacts of bias.
In the Frank Schmidt and John Hunter analysis, structured interviews were tied with GMA (general mental abilities) tests as the second-best predictor of on-the-job performance. They account for 26% of hired employees’ subsequent performance, as opposed to the 14% of unstructured interviews.
In comparison to unstructured interviews, structured interviews are far more demanding and time-consuming in terms of preparation and implementation. Lists of job-related questions have to be written down, tested and validated.
Weighting is assigned to each question according to its relative importance. The questions then have to be delivered to each candidate in a consistent manner, and the candidates’ responses have to be carefully scored during the interviews. But the efforts pay off in the end.
Structured interviews eliminate most biases and subjectivity via standardisation. All candidates are asked the same questions, which are job-related and carefully crafted to measure the candidates’ specific skills, competencies and experiences. Random, brainteaser questions should be avoided.
Each question is assigned a certain weight, for they are not equally important. The interviewers should also score each answer immediately rather than wait until the end of the session to avoid biases like recency and availability.
Ideally, the list of questions will be reviewed and updated from time to time to ensure their relevance and effectiveness. It also helps prevent candidates from obtaining the questions from previous interviewees and practising their responses in advance.
The underpinning of structured interviews is rather simple—how candidates behaved in the past is the best predictor of their future performance. Typically, two kinds of questions appear in a structured interview—behavioural and situational.
Behavioural questions require candidates to describe what they actually achieved or experienced in their prior jobs. For instance, “Tell me about a project that you failed to complete” or “Tell me about a time when you had to work with people you dislike.”
Situational questions require candidates to explain how they would handle specific, job-related situations. For instance, “What would you do if your boss rejected most of your ideas?” or “What would you do if you were assigned a task you are not trained to do?”
According to Frank Schmidt and John Hunter’s analysis, other assessment methods are better or as good as structured interviews: work sample tests and GMA tests.
Work sample tests
Work sample tests require candidates to perform tasks or activities that mirror what they would do in the job. They are, understandably, more geared towards routine, technical or task-oriented positions, such as mechanics, graphic designers, clerical staff, and programmers.
General mental ability (GMA) tests are tied with structured interviews as the second-best predictors of actual employee performance. They assess cognitive abilities such as reasoning, reading comprehension, logic, mathematical ability and verbal ability. GMA tests can be administered via paper- or computer-based formats. Cognitive ability tests have been proven to be exceptionally good at predicting on-the-job performance.
Every single selection method has its own pros and cons, and none can be claimed to be all-powerful with regard to hiring the right people. Even the best method in the Frank Schmidt and John Hunter study, work sample tests, can explain only 29% of employee performance. Consequently, it is better to use a combination of assessment tools. That is, structured interviews should be accompanied by some kind of test to maximise the results.
The limitations of traditional, unstructured interviews are well known and have been mentioned in several distinctive studies. The development of alternative assessment techniques and tools—structured interviews, cognitive ability tests, behaviour tests, etc.—has been the highlight of advancements in industrial and organisational (I/O) psychology over the past decades. HR professionals, however, still fail to adopt them and instead rely on their beloved method, which falls short. This addictive reliance on unstructured interviews and the false sense of effectiveness they create can prove costly to organisations. It is, therefore, imperative that CEOs and HR professionals alike understand the gravity of the situation and start to take a more scientific and systematic approach to candidate assessment during hiring.