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Interviews Still Suck

This article originally appeared in InnovationDAILY, June 30, 2010, titled Why Interviews Suck. I thought I would update it, but on rereading it, I couldn’t change a word. The fact is, interviews sucked then, and they still suck. The only new thing is that with the economy improving ever-so-slightly, you may be more likely to be on one side of the table or the other. Or both. 

Notice that I am making a statement, not asking a question. There is no question about it. Interviews suck. And it doesn’t matter if you are the interviewer, the interviewee, or someone else who’s been sucked into the process.

There are three simple reasons.

First, interviews are very much like blind dates. Both sides get a lot of hype upfront, and most of it is inaccurate or misleading. Think back to the last time you bought-in to: “…and he’s so good to his mother” or “…but she has a wonderful personality.” Is that any different from “…he’s an undervalued property” or “…you’ll really grow with this company”? The bottom line is that interviews are a form of assessment, and no matter how structured or ‘fair’ you think you are being, they are neither standardized nor objective. Even if you are using ‘behavioral interviewing’ techniques, the information you retain about each candidate will still have been filtered through your personal frame of reference and unconscious biases. And just like the date who seemed like a perfect ‘fit’ – until their quirks, or their temper, or some other ‘undocumented features’ began to show up – there are people who have become experts at getting hired by NOT being themselves during the interview process. (Did you know there are dating coaches and interview coaches that drill people in how to ‘get lucky’?)

Second, for various reasons, the scales tend to tilt in favor of people who are least likely to be great team players. Poorly defined job scope? Insufficient resources? Unrealistic performance expectations? A great team player will raise relevant issues for discussion. A bad team player will tell you just what you want to hear. To make matters worse, all parties to the interview process have the same desired outcome, which no one will openly admit: they just want to get it over with!

  • For HR or a staff recruiter, the harder the hiring manager is to deal with, the stronger this desire becomes.
  • For an external recruiter, the desire to close and move on is variable: retained search, “No problem”; contingency, “Excellent choice! When will my check be mailed?”
  • The interviewer(s) will push for rapid progress to the ‘right’ decision, despite the fact that the same process has proven faulty in the past.
  • And lastly, the candidates (depending on their employment status, how shaky they think their present situation is, and any number of other factors) want a job, a great job, the perfect job, or at least one that they can survive until they land somewhere else. All this pressure favors candidates who are easy to ‘fall in love with’ instead of the people who are the most capable of adding value to the team.

Third, the very best person for the job rarely gets picked. Why? Let’s go back to dating for a moment. Did you know that the surest way to hook up with the wrong person is to look for someone who matches your personal ‘want list’? (This is a fact based on research, not folklore.) Think about it: can a list of experiences, skills, and physical attributes predict the quality of interpersonal behavior? Certainly not! In order to get a positive I.D. on a ‘good team-player’, you need to know something about how the person will behave when working with others to overcome obstacles and achieve common goals. Unfortunately, that’s not what we get from interviewing.

First there are the interminable screenings to match candidates to a ‘job req’, i.e., the ‘want list’. And since screening is rarely done by the person doing the hiring, persons with slightly different – yet truly unique and excellent – qualifications usually get kicked to the curb. The longer and more complex the interview process, and the more people involved, the more likely the process will produce a lowest-common-denominator selection. (Example: we know of a senior level executive who worked for well over a year to convince a competitor’s top salesman to ‘jump ship’, only to lose this guaranteed star player in an off-target and humiliating (for the candidate) intra-departmental ‘stress interview’.) Bottom line: interview survivors may be the ones who best tolerate non-productivity, who thrive on petty corporate politics, and/or who blow the biggest smokescreen.

As the saying goes, “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.” If you want productive teams, you need to be able to identify the best team players. Now there’s a way to do that BEFORE you make big investments in a questionable interview process and risk a long-term commitment to the wrong person.

Some aspects of interviewing may always suck, but the outcomes will be a lot better if you limit it to the candidates who really know how to ‘team’.

BTW, since I wrote this, I discovered a fabulous source for women’s businesswear, so if you need something that fits well and says professional for an interview, check out www.bluesuitsonline.com. If you’re on the jobhunter side of the equation in this economy, you need every edge you can get. Good luck!

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