5 October 2022

Do job interviews really tell you if someone is worth hiring?

| Zoya Patel
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With so much riding on just one interview, perhaps it’s time we found a better way to find the right candidate. Image: File.

It’s no secret that the job market is tight right now for employers looking to hire. It feels like there’s no one applying for roles, and if you have a LinkedIn account, you’re probably being inundated with recruitment companies pitching new opportunities to you with increasing intensity.

I haven’t had to interview for a job in a while, but I am frequently on the other side of the table.

I feel like it wasn’t until I started hiring people that I realised that the dynamic I assumed was in place wasn’t necessarily the full picture. I always thought that as the job seeker, I was the vulnerable person in the interview room with the most to gain from the situation. I thought of my potential employers as impassive judges, with so many candidates to choose from, that they weren’t invested in me unless I could prove my potential value to them.

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As a hiring manager now, however, I am so aware of the vulnerability of the organisation. Finding the right candidate for a role is nerve-wracking. When you interview a standout candidate, you’re desperate for them to accept the role, especially when there are so many roles and so few job seekers in comparison.

But the more I go through the hiring process, the more I wonder whether we’re doing it wrong. Interviews are such a specific scenario for both the job seeker and the employer. They create an artificial dynamic that doesn’t allow for genuine connection and frames the conversation into a sort of ‘test’ with right or wrong answers.

Jobseekers feel pressure to ‘perform’ and show that they have all the answers as though it’s a quiz show and they only get one chance to get it right. And too many hiring managers play into the same dynamic and judge the responses to their questions as an indication of the individual’s capacity when perhaps they just needed the question rephrased or more time to reflect and provide their response.

Sure, there are other components used in the hiring process, like the application itself and written tasks etc, depending on the role, but I genuinely wonder if a high-pressure process like an interview really gives people the chance to show the breadth of their character and potential.

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The fact is, lots of people simply don’t perform in interviews, and plenty of people are great at interviews but are unable to actually perform in a role. Is there a better way to do this? Should the second interview be a standard practice to give people a chance to reflect on their first engagement and respond to another set of questions to gain a better understanding of their skills?

Plenty of times, I’ve hired people because I already know about their ability to perform, based on either working with them prior or via a recommendation from someone who has, even though their actual interview performance hasn’t been stellar. But how many excellent candidates have slipped through the cracks because I haven’t had that additional insight into them that their interview hasn’t provided me?

The way we think about employment and how work factors into our general wellbeing and lifestyles are changing. Perhaps the way we actually assess people for employment needs to change too.

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As a behavioural scientist specialising in assessment and selection of people for jobs, I can tell you that the science shows unstructured interviews to be the least effective method of assessing the likely success of a person in a job. More structured interviews are only slightly more effective.

It is important to have a multi-step process beginning with a proper job analysis to identify the knowledge, skills and abilities essential to success in the role (essential job criteria). Then you assess those things via the methods proven to be most effective. The methods will be different for many of the job criteria, but include job sample tests, problem-solving tests, thorough investigation of the resume, qualifications and references. You are looking to evaluate past performance as well as current performance and potential for performance on new and different tasks. Organisational psychologists have much evidence on this.

“ As a behavioural scientist specialising in assessment and selection of people for jobs” I’m not surprised by your view. From a business owner’s perspective a multi-staged process is completely unnecessary as it leads to ridiculous recruitment costs.

Capital Retro5:06 pm 06 Oct 22

So, do we call him Mister psycho now?

It costs the business owner much more when they make an ill-informed decision, but if that’s your preference, go for it! I must admit to laughing from the sidelines when I see arrogant people think they know best (despite lacking the knowledge and skills) getting it wrong and paying the cost. I feel sad for the employee who is harmed in the process, but clearly you’re not worried about that.

Nup! Prefer informality. We all have our own skills to be valued.

Tom Worthington1:39 pm 06 Oct 22

Job interviews don’t tell you if someone is worth hiring, unless you are hiring them to perform in interviews. But might be useful in deciding who not to hire: you quiz the applicant about something they claimed in the application. The best way to select a candidate is with direct evidence they can do the job, through a practical test, or have someone they have worked for tell you they did the job. What the applicant claims to be able to do is not much use.

Agree. You also have to investigate the relationship between a referee and the candidate as most candidates will carefully select their referees to suit their agenda.

calyptorhynchus12:16 pm 06 Oct 22

Interviews only select for people who are good at interviews. The basic lack of competence of the private and public sectors atm is the evidence for this.
When selecting screen for education and relevant experience and then choose at random, interview only the randomly selected candidate and only to make sure they are aren’t insane.

Random selection is a lottery. Better to use science.

Capital Retro10:47 am 06 Oct 22

It’s general knowledge that you work for the YWCA Zoya, an international organization founded on established values for young, Christian women. It’s nothing like that now and if you are in charge of hiring there only about 10% of the workforce would get to an interview as it’s all about the “Y” only in a gender context.

To be fair I sort of agree that job interviews aren’t the best judge of fitness for a role. Think unpaid internships are the best way and would love to see more of it. No better way than seeing the candidate in a high pressure situation and deciding to cut them loose after 6 months or offer them a contract is usually a no brainer.

Well, really it takes a few months for people to adapt to a new job so wouldn’t it be better not to pay them for 12 months rather than 6, so you can get an even better picture?
Then there is the question of whether they are really persistent and willing to sacrifice to show they are worthy of a a place in society, or being paid at all, so maybe we should intern them for 12 months then put them on half pay or just food rations for three years. You have to see them in a high pressure situation; survival could do it.

You would love to see more of it, disinterestedly regarding profits from free labour of course.

My son was asked to do unpaid shift at a coffee shop to test his suitability for employment. He didn’t get the job, not did others who followed him.
The manager said that employment decisions were made by the owner of the business, who lived in Qld. A person who never witnessed the staff member working.

In my opinion, it was a scam. Free labour

Why does it surprise exactly no one that Sam Oak prefers slaves as the employment option of choice.

Yep it happens and these employers get away with it. The same thing happened to my daughter waitressing at a cafe at the shopping centre between Civic and Defence HQ. Waitressing, cleaning and listening to a few cranky customers. She didn’t fill out the relevant paperwork and when she inquired about being paid they told her she was never employed.

Hello Hello enjoy your coffee, Hello Hello …

People deserve to be paid for all work they do. Unfortunately there are many exploitative employers who are happy to abuse others. Wouldn’t want to work for them and I’m sure they have high staff turnover, whilst also being the people who complain they can’t get workers. I wonder why.

Good employers in hospitality rarely need to replace staff as they value them and treat them well, often keeping them for years.

It is all too common for many in hospitality to abuse job candidates and staff, seeing them as disposable tools rather than people. It’s why so many of our chefs move into other fields of work. It’s also why so many hospitality employers have to import staff. They can then abuse them with impunity, paying them less than they’re worth and treat them badly, replacing them at will. It’s great to see them struggling for staff right now.

Heywood Jablowme2:33 pm 06 Oct 22

You cant get paid if you dont fill out a TFN declaration form, and other work related docs.. How did she expect to be paid? Perhaps she should accept some responsibility for the outcome…

Criminal! But common especially in dealing with young people who don’t know how best to manage such a situation. These employers need to be exposed either with a website devoted to abusive behaviours by employers, or by charges of fraud, actions to Fair Work or even to the Human Rights Commission. Slavery is illegal. Clearly there was an expectation of being paid that the employer did not correct.

Frankly I’m not surprised by the level of negativity around internships. In most cases the intern is actually providing no value add so would not justify paying them a wage as it’s not covering the corporate overheads for providing them with desk space, electricity, heating, water, etc. However the experience the intern receives can be invaluable. Especially if they have no previous work experience. Don’t expect to be just handed a job if you have nothing to offer. Interning is similar to volunteering which is not something that’s frowned upon. If you don’t want to do it then don’t but don’t expect to get a paid job straight up!

“In most cases the intern is actually providing no value add so would not justify paying them a wage as it’s not covering the corporate overheads”

Well this is just complete tosh and particularly so when you think interns should be much more broadly used, the situation you describe would exist for only the most junior and unexperienced of staff.

Also interesting that you think a person should give free labour to a business until the business can exploit that person for profit. Basically a heads you win, tails they lose situation.

Where the business owner should never have to invest in their employees training for future gain, yet you expect the employees to subsidise the business to gain the benefit of “experience”.

“Well this is just complete tosh and particularly so when you think interns should be much more broadly used, the situation you describe would exist for only the most junior and unexperienced of staff.”
Chewy, we are talking about the cases where there is information asymmetry where the employer has no information about the candidate’s capability and skills beforehand and the best way to assess it is on the job that is of limited cost to the employer (i.e. an internship). If it were true that the intern has actually proven the ability to create value and generate profits they would have been headhunted and poached from another organisation.
It’s completely misleading to spin it as exploitation of the employee solely for profit. This is the misinformed opinion of people who have never run a business before and don’t understand just how difficult it is to make a profit. For every 10 people you hire, only about 2 ever breakeven and justify the salary that you pay them. The vacancies in the job market don’t mean there aren’t enough people looking for work, there’s just not enough people with the right skills and qualifications that justify the advertised salary. So the solution to this is to offer unpaid opportunities so that those people can train up and build those right skills and qualifications. They don’t necessarily need to stick around at the end of the internship, they can obviously take their newly gained talents to another organisation. It’s a win-win for both the company and the intern.

You seem not to understand what the concept of profit means. It means revenue has to exceed the costs. You can’t just accommodate an infinite number of interns generating infinite profit for you or this would already have happened. The intern is taking up space (rent), using up water, electricity, amenities and all of this is at a cost to the business. Usually the revenue they generate barely covers this overhead cost so they wouldn’t qualify for the minimum wage. This is an opportunity the business is providing that it never needed to in the first place. In return the experience the intern receive is more than fair compensation for their services.

haha it certainly it fits doesn’t it. A multi-stage process is unneccessary as its too expensive, but working for no pay for 6 months is fine. What a clown.

Allow me to take Sam Oak seriously for a moment, with this part:
“…there is information asymmetry where the employer has no information about the candidate’s capability and skills beforehand…”

From a business perspective, S Oak claims outright that he is not good at selecting employees. That is fine, no crime in not knowing what you are doing if you are not in a responsible position, although a million or many more other businesses in Australia may do better (about 2.5m exist).

From an economic perspective, S Oak advocates solving this admitted lack of competence by transferring the cost from the business to employees.

Apparently, investment (capital risk for future gain) is more of a foreign country to S Oak than he would like you to imagine. Again, that is no crime. Not everyone who has flown in an aeroplane or owned property is especially knowledgeable.

I do observe though, the consistency with which S Oak seeks subsidies, whether through taxation benefits on property or by exploiting prospective employees. Rent-seeking is a reasonable term for it.

It is worth noting that “internship” simply represents disequilibrium in power between employer and employee. While it exists, have no truck with employer complaints about employee power or rights.

Funny phydux you make it sound like I’m a shrewd and competent businessman. Let me put it to you simply, it’s not a choice between an unpaid position and a paid one. It’s been an internship position and no job offer at all. No one is going to pay someone wages if they are losing money because the worker is unskilled and not generating revenue. So it’s creating opportunities that otherwise would never have existed. Typical left wing thinking would deny someone an opportunity to learn skills for free and rather a whole segment of the labour market remain unemployed and unskilled!

Sam Oak,
So on the one hand you claim to not want to actually spend time to choose the right candidates through multi stage recruitments.

Yet you then want to turn around and claim that employees should work for free because it’s too hard for employers to find out about their potential employees before they hire them.

Too funny.

Also apparently Sam has never heard of probation periods for new employees to allow their employers to more thoroughly vet them over a longer period to see if they are up to the role consistently.

And despite Sam’s claim around being a business owner, he clearly doesn’t understand the balance of risk and reward that businesses and employees should engage in, ideally to the profit of both.

Sam wants employees to take all of the risks by not being paid initially whilst the business exploits their labour for free taking no risk. It’s clearly inequitable.

Sam, perhaps if you are this bad at selecting employees, instead of investing no time in the process, you should invest more. You might even learn something.

Really? Do you know how many people are paid cash in this industry? No paperwork. And if she’s a young person applying for her first job, she’s unlikely to know what a TFN is. They don’t often teach you this sort of practical stuff at school.

S Oak, rest assured that no post of yours has ever suggested to me that you might be either of shrewd or competent.

Rent-seeker, yes.

Luckily I don’t seek affirmation in the comments section, my wealth and personal finances are validation I’m making the right business decisions!

As Phydeaux says above, you are clearly confusing rent seeking with “good” business decisions.

Also ironic that seemingly you haven’t realised that you could be doing even “better”, if you didn’t show the clear level of ignorance that you have above in your everyday business activities.

Isn’t it lucky we live in Australia, where even spivs and dummies can achieve personal financial freedom.

Sam – When I worked as an intern, I was paid. I was paid as a trainee which was still a livable wage and as my skills increased, so did my pay. That is what responsible business owners do. As a result they attracted some of the best staff around, all of whom worked hard for the organisation. It’s called mutual benefit, with mutual profits.

No need for exploitation at all, as the organisation gained in terms of reputation, skills and profits, with mutual respect and loyalty between staff and employers. It works, if you can think beyond short term abuse of other people’s rights.

While the heading asks the question “Do job interviews really tell you if someone is worth hiring?”, it could easily be “Do job interviews really tell you if someone is worth working for?”.

I attended an interview where the employer, a high-profile business operator, had a pile of resumes stacked up on the side of his desk. I could see the number 16, written in the corner of my resume.
Was I the 16th resume received or the 16th pre-interview preference? Either way, I was nothing more than a number. It didn’t take long for me to sum up the guy’s body language. He would have been a terror to work for and I would have been his slave. Mid-interview, I thanked him for his time and left.

In another interview, the business owners met me in a coffee shop, which immediately put me on notice. Surely the proprietors would be keen to show off their business to prospective employees, particularly the person they were hiring as a manager!

And don’t ask that stupid question ” Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. One interviewer asked me that question and being grossly overqualified for the position on offer, I responded with “In your chair”. Funnily enough, I didn’t get the job. ?.

There are numerous on line and face to face recruitment tools you can use other than interviews and I think anyone who places too heavy a reliance on them is probably costing themselves talent.

But if you don’t want to go down that path, if you’re so worried about interviews, just take them out for a coffee instead.

Wise to check the proven validity of all tools by researching the scientific literature. If you can’t get that, assume there is no evidence and look for methods that are proven to work.

Taking someone out for coffee is a useful way to help the person relax a little, although they’ll still be on their best behaviour. Candidates also need to see the workplace to get an idea of the commitment they’ll be making.

Yes I agree with that and your other comments. I find multi stage and diverse recruitment strategies tailored to the role work best. No one should rely solely on things like interviews.

People often forget that putting in a bit of effort through recruitment can save you a lot of pain with unsuitable employees down the track.

Absolutely chewy14! When it doesn’t work out, it’s painful and costly for everyone, including the employee. Smarter to make well-informed decisions at the start.

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