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The "Romance" of Interviewing

The July 24, 2006 issue of Fortune, featuring ...Image via Wikipedia

What if there were an even better way to figure out which candidate was most likely to succeed in your open position? Is there a better way than behavior-based interviewing, which about half of the Fortune 500 employers use?

There is.

At least there is according to Malcolm Gladwell, author of  "The Tipping Point," "Blink" and "Outliers." Behavior-based interviewing, you know, is based on the premise that what a person has done in the past is the most reliable predictor of how they are likely to perform in the future. So, using behavior-based interviewing, you might ask an applicant, "Sometimes things come up that get in the way of achieving our goals. Tell me about a time when your plans or schedule were seriously interrupted. What did you do?"

Sounds like a really good question, right? Now you're going to learn whether this person can adapt and stay focused on the goal! Not so, according to Gladwell's latest book, "What the Dog Saw." Supposedly, the problem with behavior-based interviewing is that it's too obvious what the interviewee is supposed to say. The interviewee can simply spin his example to fit what he knows the interviewer is looking for.

Gladwell tells of Justin Menkes, an human resources consultant from Pasadena who asks: "What if those questions were rephrased so the answers weren't obvious?" For example: "At your weekly team meetings, your boss unexpectedly begins aggressively critiquing your performance on a current project. What do you do?"

Wow! He's right. Suddenly I have to fess up. My focus is no longer on trying to figure out the "right" answer. Instead, it shifts to seeing myself in that situation and describing what I'd most likely do - without being able to anticipate how my response might land on the interviewer's ears.

This interviewing approach is known as structured interviewing. According to Gladwell, in studies by industrial psychologists, it's been shown to be the only kind of interviewing that has any success at all in predicting performance in the workplace.

  • The format is rigid
  • The questions are scripted
  • The applicants are rated on a series of pre-determined scales

Hmmmm...so if it's such a reliable predictor of success, why aren't half of the Fortune 500 using structured interviewing rather than behavior-based interviewing? According to Menkes, structured interviewing just doesn't "feel right." For most of us, hiring someone is "essentially a romantic process." Kind 'a like dating. "We are looking for someone with whom we have a certain chemistry, even if the coupling that results ends in tears, and the pursuer and the pursued turn out to have nothing in common. We want the unlimited promise of a love affair. The structured interview, by contrast, seems to offer only the dry logic and practicality of an arranged marriage."

What do you think? You've undoubtedly interviewed applicants a some point in your career. Would you be willing to give up the subjectivity and chemistry we often base our hiring decisions on? Gladwell and Menkes say you should,..let go of the "romance."

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