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Sin-terviewing - is your company guilty?

With 74% of people in business judged by UK heads of HR to use poor interviewing techniques, it is highly likely your company is missing the best candidates or taking on the wrong ones.

Interviewers make hiring decisions (or don't hire) based on stereotypes or gut feel. Sometimes their decision may be affected if they are simply having a bad day. And this is in spite of today's focus on objective decision-making and non-discrimination.
Interviewing seems to slip through the net of good employment practices. So what are the three big sins?

Retrospective Interviewing
The Interviewer forms an impression, positive or negative, about a candidate within seconds of their arrival. And worse, they tend to collect evidence throughout the interview to substantiate the yes/no decision they have already made.
First impressions count, of course, but they can often be very wrong. We have all formed impressions of people who have gone on to prove us wrong. Interviewers often forget what they are interviewing for; they should not look to hire someone who fits a stereotype they have constructed - often modelled on themselves.

This is an interesting area, which has strong links with psychology. If a candidate reminds the interviewer of a person who had a negative influence on them in the past - perhaps they share the name of a childhood bully or look a bit like an ex-lover - the interviewer will form a negative opinion from the outset. The unsuspecting candidate doesn't stand a chance. This is unforgivable but it is human nature. The first thing to do is to recognise this as a completely unreasonable basis for decision-making.

Environmental factors
Another sin is to allow time pressure or a stressful day to influence the treatment given to each candidate. Even factors such as the temperature of the room or the availability of a cup of tea can affect a candidate's chances of success - none of these has anything to do with the candidate, but they can affect interviewers' decisions.
The effect, not only in terms of cost, but lost revenue and productivity, is huge. Again, research from HR consultancy A&DC, surveying UK heads of HR, shows that 24% believe poor interviewing affects the bottom line.

How to get it right
Now, more than ever, HR must spend shrinking budgets wisely and not squander cash on ineffective and short-lived hires. A better approach is desperately needed.

The answer lies in business psychology and the concept of the structured interview.

Structured, or competency-based Interviews (CBIs), give interviewers a platform to collect and evaluate evidence of a candidate's suitability based on their own answers on job-related performance.

Interview questions should relate directly to competencies needed in the role. So to start you need to understand the required competencies or skills. Reviewing job descriptions can do this and interviewing current job incumbents, line managers and other key stakeholders.

A clear set of questions need to be framed that will inform interviewers about a candidate's past performance. Competency questions often begin with ‘Please give me an example of when you have...' or ‘Tell me about an occasion when...' and include ‘What did you do?' or ‘What was your role?'

A candidate's response can then be classified as either positive or negative evidence of the competency in question. Each competency can be given an overall rating, using a scale ranging from unacceptable to highly acceptable.

Since candidate responses are based on actual experiences and behaviours, information collected is highly relevant. Cubes follow a systematic process and can therefore be repeated by many different interviewers without results being affected by the sins of bias, stereotyping or poor environments.

Online tools exist that allow interviewers to search from an existing library of competency- based interview questions. Alternatively, good business psychologists can guide you through the process to suit individual organisational needs.

Sin-terviewing shouldn't be a necessary evil. Following this structured approach can vastly reduce the risk of making bad decisions.

Nichola Weston, Assessment & Development Consultants