Selection Interviewing: It’s All about Your Preparation
The dangers of making a hiring selection decision based on your perception of a candidate’s “attitude” is that you can’t directly observe a person’s attitude. We reach a conclusion about a person’s attitude by inferring what it is based on the person’s behavior (usually what they say), and that inference often has more to do with our own biases and needs than it does with the person’s actual attitude.
Selection interviewing is difficult because you’re trying to make a prediction about a person’s future performance in a particular job based on a small sample of their behavior.
This is why it is so important to focus your interview on the things that will increase the accuracy of your prediction. This also means that generic interview questions—one-size-fits-all jobs—are not going to be very effective.
First, you need to identify the knowledge and skills that are the most critical for successful job performance, and then prepare questions asking about how the person has used that knowledge or skill in a previous situation.
Don’t bother with a hypothetical, “What would you do if …?” It’s much too easy to make up an answer to that kind of question, and the answer often will have little to do with what the person would actually do.
It’s much harder for candidates to fabricate an answer to what they have actually done, e.g., “Tell me about a time when you had to use your knowledge of project management for a particularly difficult project.” “What was the situation?” “What did you do?” “What was the result?”
While it’s not perfect, past behavior is probably your best predictor of what the person will do in the future.
You also need to identify personal characteristics that are especially important for candidates to possess to be successful in a particular job. Perseverance, motivation, analytical skill, patience, creativity, integrity, even sense of humor … these are just a few of the personal characteristics that may or may not be relevant to a certain position.
I’m not suggesting you become an amateur psychologist (though most people do think they understand human behavior), but if a certain characteristic is important to be successful, then you need to use the selection interview to gather information about it so you can compare candidates.
Again, the same approach works. If motivation is what you want to measure, then try: “Tell me about a work situation when your motivation was at its highest.” And vice versa, “Tell me about a work situation when your motivation was at its lowest.”
The best way to identify these skills, knowledge, and personal characteristics is to work with a group of people who are knowledgeable about the job, and get them to agree on what factors to use. This gives you more consensual validity regarding their relevance for your prediction and reduces the impact of any one individual’s biases.
Look at your current job holders who are performing at a satisfactory level. What do they have in common? A certain level of knowledge in a particular area? Maybe this becomes one of your minimum job requirements; if a candidate doesn’t possess the required level, they would drop out of future consideration.
Ask your group the question: “What differentiates the outstanding performers in this job from the satisfactory performers?” The answers will hold clues to the skills, knowledge, or personal characteristics that will be your best predictors of superior job performance in the future.
Your focus as an interviewer should be on gathering information on these factors, not making an evaluation. That comes after the interview when you have a pool of candidates to choose from because, in essence, this is a comparative evaluation.
The other approach is to identify a hypothetical “perfect candidate,” and then compare the actual interviews to this ideal. Even here, however, hold off making that evaluation until after the interview is over. If your ideal candidate is a 10 on each of the factors you’re basing your prediction on, assign an appropriate number for each of your interviewees based on the information you gathered.
Holding off on the evaluation will also prevent you from making one of the most common interviewing errors: going into the interview looking for something that is “wrong” with the candidate so you can drop them from consideration.
In a one-hour interview, I usually recommend that an interviewer focus on no more than six factors. My preference is to have a lot of information about a particular factor (a larger sample size) that I know is relevant to my prediction, rather than less information about a lot of different factors.
Also notice that all of the information you’ll be gathering is based ultimately on observed behavior and the result—what did the candidate actually do, and what impact did it have. This is based on the relatively simple notion that it’s difficult for us to evaluate performance if we can’t see it or we don’t know the result. BW
Dave Wight is the founder of Performance Leadership Systems, a performance consulting firm that works with mid-tier and smaller family-owned companies to help them become more competitive and grow. A graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial & Labor Relations, with a master’s degree in industrial psychology and additional post-graduate training in family therapy, Wight has held a variety of executive positions with companies of all sizes. www.performanceleadershipsystems.com