Monday, August 4, 2008

The Recruitment Interview – A Waste of Time?

In general terms it’s pretty undeniable that the interview alone is a highly flawed recruitment tool, including occasionally even in the hands of an experienced recruiter. As such, interviewees at this level should be (or should make themselves) well placed to take full advantage. But take care. You could also come very unstuck, especially if the company uses a partial or full multiple assessment process, or behavioral interviewing techniques, with or without core competencies are measurement tools.

Why is the recruitment interview flawed?
The major reason, in my view, is that it is not really that hard for the socially skilled candidate to mask his or her flaws because they have “interviewed so well”.

As a former senior HR manager with arguably the world’s largest international bank, I lost count, in the early days, of the number of times one of my recruitment executives told me “what a nice guy! He’s just right for us.” If this was at a recruitment exercise where we weren’t using a multiple assessment process, then that sort of comment scared the pants off me.

What do they mask?
A socially skilled interviewee is of course usually a pleasure to interview. While they may well tell you very convincingly of their successes, and even comment on a few failures for good measure, as an interviewer you take their word for it at your peril. At interview they cannot demonstrate their inter-personal skills in a team environment, nor with colleagues, more senior managers nor lower level staff.

They also of course mask their technical skills level. For example, let’s say you’re interviewing candidates for the post of Production Manager. OK, you can talk with them about their experience to date, and (assuming you’re a line manager with production responsibilities, and not an HR executive), you may well get a certain level of comfort or, of course, the exact opposite.

OK, so what can we do differently?
No, I’m not merely going to drive you towards a multiple assessment approach, for that isn’t always necessary, nor is it always economically justified, especially in times of economic growth when good candidates call the shots, not you.

Have you tried a style that is commonly known as “Behavioral Interviewing”?

Essentially with behavioral interviewing we are attempting to prevent the candidate from waffling, or even fabricating, by having him or her recount a particular incident from their actual experience. They are forced to talk about something real, something which has happened in the past.

For example, I might ask: “Please tell me of a time in your work experience when you’ve been faced with a particularly negative attitude of one of your direct reports.”
What happens if they say they’ve never had such an experience, in which case I would ask them to recount any experiences they’ve had with poor attitudes from shop assistants or similar. Anyone who cannot provide such an example either comes from another planet or are not being truthful.

Their answer can tell us a lot about the way in which they might manage people, even the way in which they lead. It should tell us how well they understand behaviors, and the effect of negative behaviors on those around them.

In another scenario, we might ask: “Tell me of a time when you’ve had a particularly difficult problem to handle, how you approached it, and the resultant outcome.” There is so much we can learn about a candidate from such a question – their balance of analysis and creativity in problem solving, their communication skills, their leadership and managerial approach, their reasoning skills and so on.

This works best, perhaps unsurprisingly, when you are also measuring responses against a set of core competencies (described in a previous article of mine on here), but even without the benefit of competencies, you can still get far better value from the interview, than if you were conducting it on traditional lines.

It’s been quite some time since I interviewed in any other way, and of course the major benefit is that the vast majority of employees selected have stayed, have grown and are a terrific vindication of spending just that little more time and effort in the recruitment process.


Michael is a British citizen, but long term resident of Asia (Hong Kong and Malaysia). After 25 years with a global banking leader, he headed up his own HR and Management consulting company, and today this successful business has branched out to include database/direct marketing aswell as Internet and Affiliate Marketing. For the former, contact is at and for marketing businesses at . We look forward to hearing from you.

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