In recent years, many organizations have been looking for ways to make their recruiting processes less dependent on the bias and subjectivity of hiring managers, whether by using technology to hold blind interviews, making hiring decisions with pre-hire skills tests, or handing the process over entirely to an algorithm. Udemy leadership coach Lawrence Miller has a different approach, as he explains to Fast Company’s Stephanie Vozza, which entails having candidates interview each other rather than be interviewed by a manager:
Miller found the best employees for his Maryland-based management-consulting firm when he turned the interview process upside down, bringing in candidates in small groups, and asking them to interview him and his team and then each other. … When they completed their interviews, Miller gave each person a piece of paper that had these four questions:
- Who would you hire and why?
- Who do you think is most technically competent to do this job?
- Who has the best skills?
- Who would you choose to be stranded with in an airport during a snowstorm?
“The last question was a good indicator of likeability,” says Miller. “We found that question to be the most reliable, because in the kind of consulting we did, it was a really good predictor of who would succeed.”
Other experts Vozza spoke to warned, however, that this process can have drawbacks, such as putting introverts at a disadvantage and making it more difficult for candidates to get a genuine view into the organization. Another major issue with this practice is that having candidates interview each other creates an entirely new opportunity for bias.
Recruiting experts have become increasingly vocal in recent years about the ineffectiveness of unstructured job interviews, which researchers have found cause interviewers to form strong but inaccurate impressions about candidates that often have more to do with the interviewer’s preferences and biases. Unstructured interviews, especially those including generic questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years,” encourage candidates to perform rote answers or say whatever they think the interviewer wants to hear.
Behavioral interviews, which examine how an interviewee reacts to challenges in their professional life, have emerged as the antidote to the unstructured interview. These interviews typically include asking candidates to give examples from their own experience of times when they faced stress, difficulty, or conflict at work and how they handled it—successfully or not. Organizational psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant, however, believes this type of question is problematic in its own right.
Why? Quite simply, Grant elaborates to Quartz’s Leah Fessler, they’re biased against candidates who have less work experience, or who for whatever reason don’t have good stories to draw on:
“When you ask questions about the past—’tell me about a time when you…’—interviewees with less experience in that situation are at a disadvantage,” Grant tells Quartz. The more jobs you have, the more you navigate professional conflict and success, and the more workplace anecdotes you accumulate. Meanwhile, even competitive younger candidates haven’t had enough professional exposure to narrate an equally nuanced story.
Discussing his research in a New York Times op-ed, Yale School of Management professor Jason Dana argues that unstructured job interviews can be worse than useless, as “interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees, often revealing more about themselves than the candidates”:
In one experiment, we had student subjects interview other students and then predict their grade point averages for the following semester. The prediction was to be based on the interview, the student’s course schedule and his or her past G.P.A. (We explained that past G.P.A. was historically the best predictor of future grades at their school.) In addition to predicting the G.P.A. of the interviewee, our subjects also predicted the performance of a student they did not meet, based only on that student’s course schedule and past G.P.A. In the end, our subjects’ G.P.A. predictions were significantly more accurate for the students they did not meet. The interviews had been counterproductive.
It gets worse. Unbeknown to our subjects, we had instructed some of the interviewees to respond randomly to their questions. … Strikingly, not one interviewer reported noticing that he or she was conducting a random interview. More striking still, the students who conducted random interviews rated the degree to which they “got to know” the interviewee slightly higher on average than those who conducted honest interviews. The key psychological insight here is that people have no trouble turning any information into a coherent narrative.
Geoffrey James builds on Dana’s argument at LinkedIn’s Talent Blog: