As the most relied upon way to assess candidates for a job we ought to have got it right, but there is a lot of debate and discussion about how effectively interviews enable us to assess job applicants and predict their performance once in role.

I thought I’d do some digging around to see what seems to be going on here and in the main opinion is that because of all the social factors going on in the exchange of conversation between the people involved, this influences our analysis of the information we glean from a candidate during an interview and as a result, impacts on our decision making.  We end up taking account of information that has nothing to do with whether or not they will be great at the job.

I think though that a starting point in trying to minimise the effect of the subjectivity and bias has to be to know what these might be and then to be aware of and keep an eye out for them happening.

Some of the most common ones are:

Contrast Effect: When stronger candidates are interviewed after weaker ones and the stronger ones end up seeming to be even better than they are because of the contrast.

Confirmation Bias: When we establish a pre-conceived belief about a candidate before the interview and then we look for information to support this belief.  This can cause us to have a narrow view of an individual.

First impressions error:  A very common one that means the person interviewing is quick to make a judgement about the interviewee and then lets this affect consideration of information gathered from the individual during the interview.

Anchoring: When interviewers place high or low expectations on a candidate.  Those given a high expectation anchor are analysed and seen in a more favourable light than those with a lower expectation anchor.

Similar to me:  Choosing candidates with personal characteristics that are shared with the interviewer rather than focusing on the criteria for the role. 

Being aware of and watching out for these biases and subjectivities is a great help but there are other things that can be done to try and reduce the impact:

• Define the job and set criteria so that you have a structure to follow.

• Prepare questions in advance as this reduces the chance of introducing irrelevant questions.

• Ask questions that relate to the criteria to help avoid subjectivities in your decision making.

• Take detailed notes so that decisions can be thought through properly and justified.  Putting a structure in place for note taking, perhaps using forms, will also help to focus this.

• Allow sufficient time to analyse and make decisions so that all the information gathered is taken into account and is properly thought through.

Finally, given the low predictive value of interviews as a single assessment technique, it is vital to support this with other techniques such as presentations, other job skill tests or aptitude testing.

Julie Gordon heads up the team at cHRysos HR Solutions, an organisation specialising in the delivery of HR and Leadership-related training, professional qualifications, as well as HR and business consultancy services. With over 20 years’ experience in learning and development within the private and public sector, Julie’s key strengths are now in the management of the learning and development process and in work-based learning. As well as working in industry, Julie has held various academic teaching posts and has published journal papers in the field of learning and development.

For further information call 01302 802128 or email [email protected].