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Job Interviews: Users Beware

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Job interviews are the most frequently used selection device, most organizations depend on them for making critical hiring decisions. Given their wide use, one might think that they are extremely valuable. The truth of the matter is that they are a high cost, damaging and ineffective selection device. This is true even when they are in the hands of someone who has been trained to ask the right questions.

Companies spend money to train their managers to do them well, and of course there is the time that is lost by the employees arranging and doing the interviews. For some jobs, organizations may interview 10 or more applicants. However, the greatest cost of job interviews is not the wasted time of the interviewer, it is the fact that they are poor at identifying how effective applicants will be if they are hired, and they can easily lead to lawsuits.

Years of research on job interviews has shown that they are poor predictors of who will be a good employee. There are many reasons for this, but perhaps the key explanation is that individuals simply don't gather the right information and don't understand what the best predictors of job success are. A careful analysis of the background of individuals and their work history and work samples are more accurate predictors of success on the job than are the judgments which result from interviews.

On the legal front, job interviews are frequent generators of lawsuits because interviewers often ask the wrong questions, (e.g. those having to do with age, gender, sexual preference, etc.). Furthermore, because they are not valid predictors, they can have an adverse impact on hiring minorities and other protected groups. As a result, they can and do create lawsuits against organizations. At last week's NFL assessment camp, professional teams asked college football players about their girlfriends, their art preferences, and whether they like girls. Not only are these questions unlikely to tell teams how well someone will play pro football, they are illegal. Much more likely to predict success in pro football are the skill tests they administer.

Are interviews good for anything? Does it make sense for organizations to do job interviews at all? In some cases, it may. They may be a good recruiting device. When they are used for recruiting, they should occur after the decision, with respect to hiring, is made. In short, instead of interviewing people in order to determine whether they should be hired, the best approach is to make the hiring decision first and follow with the interview. This allows the individual conducting the interview for the company to focus on acquainting the recruits with what it's like to work for the organization and answering the job candidate's questions. This may be a very positive use of everyone's time as there is a great deal of research in the field of organizational psychology that shows realistic job previews are a major contributor to employees not turning over during the first few years after they take a job. Interviews that focus on what the job is like can give individuals a realistic idea of what work will be like in the organization. After finding this out, they can decide whether or not to take the job. If they do take it, they are much less likely to be disappointed and turn-over.

There is one problem when the interview occurs after the selection decision is made. The psychological commitment to seeing that the new employee succeeds, which is often generated when the interviewer makes a decision about whether or not to hire somebody, is lost. However, this advantage that interviews create can be maintained by allowing the interviewer a veto if they feel that a terrible mistake has been made.

What about Twitter and email based interviews? Should they replace face-to-face interviews? Unfortunately, there is little research evidence on this issue. My guess is that if the job involves significant use of social networks, they should be used because they can serve as a "work sample." Otherwise, there is little reason to believe they will be more successful than face-to-face selection interviews.

Overall, research results are clear. Interviews should not be used to select employees. I am not naïve enough to think that after reading this, most organizations will stop doing selection interviews. I am hopeful, however, that some will stop and others will give serious consideration to whether or not it is worth the time and effort that they put into them and as a result, decide to do fewer and to give them less weight in the selection decision process.

Crossposted from forbes.com