The limitations of interviews in employee selection

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HR professionals and hiring managers tend to place an unusual level of faith in the traditional employment interview. Rarely will a hiring manager investigate the empirical evidence behind the interview method, believing that they will be effective at identifying high-potential candidates regardless. Similarly, most hiring managers never receive formal training on conducting employment interviews, and thus are unaware of best practices or effective interviewing strategies. Given these realities, the popularity of employment interviews therefore seems both surprising and counterintuitive.

In this article, I will outline the main limitations of the traditional employment interview, along with alternative selection tools to address these weaknesses.

Scope

Perhaps the biggest misconception surrounding employment interviews is what they can (and cannot) measure. For example, interviewers may ask questions to candidates with the aim of assessing specific competencies, such as organisation skills, resilience, creativity, or work ethic. The research however does not suggest that these particular competencies can be measured using interviews, and instead mostly measure social skills, extraversion, emotional stability, and cognitive ability (Salgado & Moscoso, 2002). These characteristics underpin interview performance by helping candidates to influence their interviewers, rather than being directly measured using the interview itself. Consequently, skilled interviewees will perform well regardless of the questions asked or the supposed competencies measured.

The solution to this issue is to include personality questionnaires into the selection process. Personality questionnaires measure a wide range of psychological constructs, including many intrapersonal traits which cannot be measured using a traditional employment interview. For example, the Enneagram test of personality orders people into types. This means that a person would be identified as a type 1, otherwise known as ‘The Reformer’ or other such types such as a type 4, ‘The Individualist.’ Nevertheless, using personality questionnaires allows organisations to assess all elements of their competency frameworks, increasing the scope of their selection criteria. Many psychometric testing providers can also create customised personality questionnaires, mapping directly to the employer’s competency, values, or strengths frameworks, making the assessments considerably more manager-friendly.

Scalability

The most common criticism of the interview method, one which will resonate with all hiring managers, is the time and effort required to conduct them. Hiring managers and HR professionals spend hours arranging, planning, conducting, and providing feedback on employment interviews, presenting an opportunity cost for the employing organisation. Moreover, employment interviews do not scale, and thus conducting 10 interviews will simply take 10 times the resources of conducting a single interview. As a result, once the recruitment demands of an employing organisation reach critical mass, it no longer becomes feasible to interview every applicant for the role, forcing the employing organisation to explore alternatives.

Online psychometric assessments however, are far easier to scale and automate. From an administrative perspective, inviting ten thousand applicants to complete a battery of assessments can be done almost instantly, making them far more scalable. Psychometric testing platforms allow administrators to upload spreadsheets of candidates, generate self-registration links, or can integrate directly with applicant tracking systems, easing the administrative burden. Because of this, the effort, time, and resources required to assess candidates in volume using psychometrics scales well, making them idea early stage sifting tools for volume recruitment campaigns.

Fairness

The last common criticism of the interview method is that of fairness and inclusion. Research shows that the interview method tends to unfairly advantage individuals from higher socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds and from majority groups (Moscoso, 2000). This phenomenon likely has two explanations: 1) Hiring managers and senior HR professionals are likely to be from higher SES backgrounds and thus will show bias in favour of their ingroup, and 2) People from higher SES backgrounds have advantages regarding interview preparation, having access to careers support and related social networks. Often, interviewers are looking to hear certain buzzwords or insular terminology which signifies that the candidate is “one of them”, inevitably rewarding individuals from higher SES backgrounds in the process.

The solution to this issue is to utilise online psychometric assessments, including personality questionnaires, ability tests, and / or situational judgement tests. A personality questionnaire like the Enneagram never discriminates you on your type, whether you are a type 2w3 or a type 4w5. These assessments are completed online and do not require input from assessors, insulating candidates from implicit bias. It is also recommended that candidates complete these online assessments as early in the recruitment process possible, minimising any potential negative impact of assessor bias on the eventual short-list. In doing so, not only will you maximise the probability of fair outcomes, but this has the added benefit of improving the scalability of the recruitment process itself, improving the process overall.

Conclusions

The traditional employment interview, when done well, is a vital addition to the selection process, and research does suggest that they work. However, they are not particularly flexible, scalable, or fair selection tools, suffering from a range of inherent disadvantages which are unique to the interview method. Instead of viewing interviews as the primary selection tool, hiring managers and HR professionals should view interviews as just one of many selection criteria, neither better nor worse than an online psychometric assessment. Additionally, organisations should dedicate the time to investigate the validity and utility of their interviews, hiring occupational psychologists to answer these questions and then provide recommendations for optimal interviewing.

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