Why Job Interviews Are Often Misleading

Studies show that interviewing a candidate for a job position is only 14 percent effective in determining “job fit.” On a nice day it would
be more enjoyable and just as effective to stand outside and hire every seventh person who walks by.

The steps of hiring and firing employees are similar to those of marriage and divorce. When you were dating, you were searching for someone with whom you were comfortable and who was as good for you as you were for her.

Then we enter the courting stage, when we are on our best behavior. We’re nice to her mother, buy her flowers, and refrain from burping at the table. You get the picture.

She thinks, “He’s not perfect, but when I marry him I’ll change him!” So they marry, and the wife tries to change him. If it can’t be done, the couple may separate and then divorce. Of course, divorce is extremely traumatic and often very costly.

Similar to dating, a company advertises for candidates. After sifting through many applications and resum├ęs, the remaining candidates are called for a face-to-face interview.

With the interview begins the courting. The candidate is on his or her best behavior. He or she has done his research on the company, says all
the right things, and so on.

Finally the interviewer concludes, “Well, he’s not perfect, but I’ll train him after I hire him.” Sound familiar? Have you ever regretted hiring someone on the very first day? It hurts, doesn’t it? Or someone asks, “What idiot hired that person?” Ouch!

But you don’t give up. You pay for training, trying to mold the person to do the job he will never do well. Eventually you begin the sad process of firing the employee. This too is a traumatic and often costly process. And in our litigious society, it can be very costly.

I call it “hiring rabbits to swim.” You might teach that rabbit to swim, but how effectively? Why not hire the rabbit into a running job and then train it to run faster and more effectively. In other words, hire to the rabbit’s strengths or “job-fit.”

When I conduct workshops on hiring, I ask the participants to list what they want in their ideal candidate. They often list the following descriptions: honest, good people skills, hardworking, self-starter, gets along with everyone, relevant work experience, stable, trustworthy, does quality work.

Then I ask how they determine if the candidate has these qualities. Often they admit that if the interviewee is outgoing, for instance, he must have good people skills. Or that if he maintains eye contact, he must be honest.

Except for “relevant work experience,” the traits above are hard to see, feel, and touch. Since it is difficult to determine these traits, we use behaviors (like eye contact or a firm handshake) to substitute for the traits we’re looking for.

Take punctuality, for example. A hiring official may think a candidate’s arriving 20 minutes early for the interview is a sign of integrity or good work ethic. In reality, it may be the first time the candidate has been on time for an interview in his life. He may simply have gotten the interview time wrong!

It is very important that we hire slowly and fire fast. Hurried hiring officials neglect to examine whether they are hiring a rabbit to run or
to swim. This haste to hire is a costly exercise and results in both the company and the employee being unhappy.

And when the employee doesn’t work out, the employer is slow to fire because he doesn’t want to hurt the employee’s feelings. (Obviously, legal implications may be a factor as well.) Firing fast is the best policy, unless you can come to a mutual understanding that it is best for the employee AND the organization.