Hiring Interviews Have Lost Their Accuracy — A Warning

Yes, job interviews have been a tradition for well over a century. But we now live in a world where many new developments threaten the accuracy of interviews by transforming them into more like a version of liar’s poker. For example, candidates can now easily identify their likely interview questions and even the appropriate answers in advance, using the Internet. And, it is rare, for a candidate these days not to thoroughly practice their interviews over and over on their mobile phone camera. As a result, interview assessments are now often over prepared to the point that they are tainted, and they don’t accurately predict on-the-job success.

This steady reduction in the authenticity of interviews has contributed to an ugly failure rate among new hires. Data from multiple sources reveal that within 18 months often over 50 percent of new hires will fail. And this high level of hiring failure occurs across all job levels from hourlies to CEOs. These hiring failures mean that hiring managers will not only often need to rehire but also that their team will suffer reduced business results. Obviously, these painful results indicate that something is terribly wrong with most current hiring processes. Most are surprised to learn that the main culprit is the job interview. In fact, research by HireVue revealed that hiring managers can get their candidate evaluations correct as few as 20 percent of the time. Even the best hiring managers get it right only four out of five times. And even Google found interviews often were no better than a coin flip. 

“We looked at tens of thousands of interviews, and everyone who had done the interviews and what they scored the candidate, and how that person ultimately performed in their job. We found zero relationship” … “It’s a complete random mess” (Google)

The Top 10 Reasons Why Interviews No Longer Accurately Predict On-the-Job Success 

In a simpler world, interviews were more accurate predictors. However, there have been so many changes to the job-search process that we may have already reached the point where traditional interviews now may do more harm than good. Here are some of the many factors that have over time caused the predictive value of interviews to dramatically plummet.

  1. Knowing the questions in advance allows candidates to provide canned answers — if a student knows the questions and answers to an upcoming test, the exam obviously loses its assessment value. The same thing is happening with candidates who visit sites like glassdoor.com that list interview questions, as well as the ideal answers, categorized by company and job. There are also dozens of sites that list the most frequently asked interview questions. So, when a hiring manager asks the most common question, about people’s strengths/weaknesses, they can no longer assume that the answers that they hear are genuine or even that they came directly from the mind of the candidate. Knowing the questions in advance permanently changes the accuracy of interviews.
  2. Interview practice produces artificially polished “performances” — with the now abundant Internet job search help sites and the proliferation of career coaches, candidates are now advised to thoroughly practice their interviews. And most hiring managers are unaware that there is now virtual interview practice software. With a PC camera, it allows a candidate to practice interviewing using a library full of thousands of mock interviews. Yes, practice leads to perfect, but it may not result in genuine interviews. And because everyone now has a video capability on their mobile phone, it’s easy for candidates to capture their practice interviews and to have their friends and career coaches critique them. With so much readily available advice on dos and don’ts of the interview process, down to the micro details of how to appear genuine and even how to shake hands, interviews are now becoming “a performance.” Candidates are literally acting rather than being themselves. 
  3. Remote interviews make it easier for a candidate to cheat and appear better than they are — now that almost everyone has a mobile phone, remote interviews are becoming more common. As a result, most companies, at least initially, use telephone and Skype video interviews. The smartest candidates understand that they can improve their remote interview performance by posting what I call “answer prompts” on the wall in front of them. These visible “only to the candidate” prompt sheets mean that a candidate can now rely less on their memory in order to provide a great answer. As a result, these remote interviewees appear to be sharp and quick to respond. But that performance improvement isn’t real. Instead, it comes because they are using what in school would be considered an elaborate cheat sheet.
  4. An over-focus on cultural fit inaccurately eliminates candidates who could perform— during the last decade there has been a tremendous focus on corporate culture and cultural fit. Unfortunately, cultural fit is almost universally poorly defined and inconsistently assessed. Given this inconsistency, making fit a critical knockout factor dramatically reduces the predictive value of interviews. It erroneously screens out candidates who would likely actually fit. In addition, the search for “sameness” can also reduce diversity hiring, because diverse hires are by definition, different. This assessment of fit also ignores the likelihood that top candidates can adapt to almost any culture after they are hired. Once a candidate is rejected because a manager erroneously determines that they don’t fit, the company will never know if that fit assessment was actually accurate. 
  5. Candidates are now providing more “I did it all” exaggerated answers — in the past, it was difficult for a candidate to take credit during an interview (or in a resume) for things that they didn’t really have much to do with. Exaggerations would be caught because, during a reference check with their former employer, a recruiter could often verifywhat actually happened. But now with so many reference-related lawsuits and the addition of privacy concerns, few former employers are willing to provide any reference information beyond their dates of employment. As a result, more candidates are realizing that they can exaggerate their accomplishments, knowing that it is highly unlikely that those inflated accomplishments will be challenged at any time during the hiring process. If you can’t accurately assess such a critical factor as work or school accomplishments, those who exaggerate will be rewarded with higher interview assessment scores. However, because their actual capabilities are much lower, these exaggerators are much more likely to fail on the job.
  6. Lying on social media has spilled over to interview answers — by now almost everyone knows that social media and the Internet are full of “alternative facts” and even lies. Most candidates (and especially younger ones) are active on social media. Many have learned that exaggerations and even lies almost always go unchallenged. Therefore, many candidates have developed a low resistance to lying, and unfortunately, that bad social media behavior spills over into their interview answers. In fact, a recent survey by Crocs revealed that “an overwhelming majority of millennials don’t think twice about fibbing their way out of a tough spot.” There is plenty of data that reveals that interviewers can’t accurately spot even a significant lie or fabrication. And because some interviewers are aware of this proliferation of lying, they have learned to automatically “discount” the interview answers that they hear. Unfortunately, that means that the honest candidates who you really need to hire are often rejected. Their 100 percent accurate answers end up being discounted also, and that causes their overall interview scores to fall below the level of the candidates who exaggerate and take credit for the work of others.
  7. A lack of interviewer training makes hiring manager assessments less accurate — as a result of continuing budget cuts in HR, few hiring managers are up to date with their interview training. This lack of training can be problematic when it comes to important interview factors like unconscious bias. Untrained hiring managers are unlikely to be aware of the Google research that found that traditional brainteaser questions and selection factors like grades and colleges attended may not be predictors of success. As a result of this lack of training and up-to-date knowledge, their interview assessments become less accurate. Google found that even trained managers are so biased toward their own selfish short-term needs that they have opted to have a professional hiring committee make the hiring decision that would normally be made by the hiring manager.
  8. Candidates are coached by employees, artificially boosting their performance— employee referrals have grown dramatically over the last decade to the point where they are the No. 1 source of hire. But sometimes referral candidates perform better during their interviews for the wrong reasons. Referral candidates usually prepare more for their interviews, in part because they don’t want to embarrass the employee who made them a referral. The employee making the referral is also highly likely to “coach” their referral on the ins and outs of the company, the manager, and their interview process. Therefore, even though they might not actually be better, referral candidates do perform better during interviews. Statistically, that means that a higher percentage of them get hired than any other source. In a tough hiring market, recruiters at your own firm may be coaching candidates in order to improve their own success rates.
  9. A rosy but distorted view of the job will result in significant new-hire turnover — in order to improve external company ratings and offer acceptance rates, HR has over the last decade dramatically increased its emphasis on improving “the candidate experience.” The emphasis on the candidate experience coupled with the fact that more interviews are recorded means that hiring managers and interview teams are now continuously showing only their best behavior. But that positive behavior may be hiding the reality that the manager and the job might not be as rosy as it was made to appear. This overly positive approach means that because candidates are being deceived, they move forward instead of dropping out of the interview process. As a result of this deception, as many as 25 percent of new hires quit within six months. In part, 61 percent of candidates find that “aspects of a new job differed from expectations set during the hiring process” (Harris Interactive). Not painting an accurate picture of the manager and the job during the interview means that lack of authenticity in the interview process will directly result in more mis-hires that quickly become disillusioned, and almost immediately leave the company.
  10. More jobs now require higher-level skills and more preparation — during the last century, companies were mostly interviewing for jobs that required lower-level skills. Because less-skilled jobs pay less and attract those with less education, applicants to these types of jobs came to interviews with little preparation. However, as jobs continually became more sophisticated, candidates have learned to religiously prepare because they know that they are more likely to get sophisticated questions that required preparation. So, with these higher levels of preparation, you will likely get an even more distorted view of the candidates who interview for these critical high-impact jobs.

Other Factors That Now Make Interviews Less Effective

Some additional important but lower impact factors that are continually making interviews less accurate include: 

  • Fewer tests mean a greater reliance on interviews — because we live in a litigious world, many companies have become wary of offering tests that cover personality, attitude, and even technical skills. With fewer tests, a higher percentage of the hiring decision is based on the interview. This makes the hiring decision more subjective.
  • More in-depth job descriptions make it easier for candidates to focus — to avoid legal challenges and to increase the attractiveness of a job, it is now becoming more common to provide detailed descriptions of the expectations for a top candidate in job descriptions and job postings. Unfortunately, this has the unintended consequence of providing a “roadmap” for a candidate’s interview and resume preparation. This allows them to more easily sculpt their interview answers so that they better fit the requirements.
  • Legal issues will continue to increase structure and make preparation easier — over time as a result of numerous lawsuits and discrimination issues, HR has been forced to require structured interviews. And as interviews get more structured, they get more consistent and predictable. With that almost universal consistency, candidates have learned that interview preparation is both easier and more beneficial. As a result of their predictability, some of the benefits of structured interviews are canceled out by a candidate’s ability to accurately prepare for this now highly predictable process.
  • Unconscious bias reduces interviewing accuracy — we are now all aware of the damage that unconscious biases can have on diversity hiring. Until HR proactively minimizes unconscious biases during the interview process, you will have less diversity and less accurate hiring because your interview decisions will be at least in part be based on biases. 
  • Unless you modify your interview process, more international candidates will be mis-assessed — in a world where a great deal of hiring is global, firms will encounter a higher percentage of international candidates. And unless a firm alters its interview process to accommodate their different expectations and often lower level of aggressiveness, firms will inaccurately screen out many international candidates whose performance on the job would far exceed their performance during an unfamiliar and extra stressful interview process.
  • The hiring decision has become more collaborative — is now becoming commonplace for many companies to involve the entire team in the hiring process in order to get everyone’s buy-in. This collaborative approach automatically increases the number of untrained interviewers involved in the process. And in addition, at many employers, a single employee can blackball a candidate solely on their subjective assessment of fit. Taken together, that means that team hiring decisions often will include more biases and errors. So that rather than helping, having everyone involved may reduce the accuracy of the interview decision.
  • Continually updating LinkedIn profiles means that candidates are more prepared to answer questions — historically few potential candidates spent much time preparing for interviews. Because of their constant prompts from LinkedIn, many potential candidates are now continually adding accomplishments to their LinkedIn profile. This continuous updating means that interview candidates will have more “top of the mind” awareness of their accomplishments. And even though today’s candidates are not more qualified, this continual updating will mean that they will provide faster and more current interview answers. Interviewers that are not aware of this top-of-mind phenomena may inaccurately over-assess these constantly prepared candidates.
  • When competition is high, hiring will fail without an expanded sales component— historically the primary goal of interviewing was to assess the candidate. But now the competition for highly skilled and diverse talent is extremely intense. Without an added sales component, few top candidates will accept your job offers. If you don’t add or expand this important sales component, your interview process will suffer an increasing rate of failure. Your top finalists will instead become another company’s new hire, not because the other firm’s assessment of them was more accurate, but instead because they made a better sales pitch. In fact, as the competition for talent increases, hiring managers need to realize that the sales component of interviewing may become more impactful than the assessment component.
  • The push for faster hiring can mean a focus on quick answers — even though the job may require a significant amount of planning and contemplation, the push for faster hiring generally means that most interview questions now only allow for short answers. You may end up hiring candidates who can answer quickly but that don’t have the capability of in-depth thinking and assessment.

There Is a Single Bright Side

Although the extensive preparation for interviews makes interview answers less authentic, it could inadvertently result in better hires because those who better prepare for interviews are more likely to do well on them. Inadvertently, you might end up hiring people who prepare for important tasks, which might be a predictor of success for some jobs. You can reduce your reliance on interviews by giving candidates real problems that they will face on the job to solve.

Final Thoughts

Psychologists and academic researchers have been warning us for years that interviews often produce hiring decisions no better than a coin flip. In fact, a comprehensive study by Schmidt and Hunter found that out of 100 interview decisions, only eight would accurately predict on-the-job performance. I have made my own contribution in my article The top 50 most common interview problems. But we now live in a changing world where new data and technologies are now forcing those involved in hiring to rethink every aspect of the process. And because many more companies are now measuring the job performance of new hires (aka. quality of hire), it’s a missed opportunity not to use that data to improve every aspect of your interview process. 

However, once your data indicates where your problems are, realize upfront that even slight proposed revisions of the process will be difficult. Interviews are “sacred cows” and hiring managers will frequently challenge with a passion even the slightest proposal for change.

So, if you are a recruiting leader, begin ignoring the “but I’ve always done them this way” anthem from hiring managers and your own recruiters. Instead, the interview process must shift to a data-driven approach which almost always reveals that interviews have the highest impact on the quality of hire, while paradoxically also having the highest error rate of any hiring process component. Because interviews are “the final decider” on whether you will hire a turkey or a star, you can’t afford in a rapidly changing world not to continually challenge every aspect of your firm’s interview process.

Author’s Note: If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, follow or connect with me on LinkedIn, subscribe to the ERE Daily, and hear me and others speak at ERE’s Recruiting Conference in October in Washington, D.C.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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