Problems Regarding Subjective Interview Techniques

During many discussions that I have regarding the use of pre-employment assessments, I am usually asked if personality assessments are really that fair to the applicant.  The question itself presupposes that the interview is a more fair and equitable process, which is far from the truth.  I would rather be judged by a validated personality assessment any day than by the subjective interview process.  At least the interviewer will get a fair picture of both my strengths and weaknesses from the employment assessment report.

Having worked in Human Resources Management for my whole career, I know first hand about the pitfalls of the interview process.  I have done my fair share of interviewing and recruiting as well as having supervised corporate recruiters.  Standard interviewing processes alone are about as effective as a coin toss.  Don't take my word for it, look at some of the research.

There are many objective studies that prove that the hiring decision is made subconsciously within the first 4 to 20 seconds of meeting a candidate.  Consider that the majority of that decision is made based upon the visual impact of the candidate.  One headhunter used this factor very effectively by requiring that all of his clients wear a blue suit, white shirt and red tie to the interviews he set up and he had one of the highest placement rates in the industry!  I hope that you seriously consider what you have just read.  The implications are a real eye opener!  We are not talking about hiring the best actor, we are talking solely about the power of visual impact.

Research tells us that we will make most of our hiring assumptions before the candidate even opens his mouth!  We will even judge factors like intelligence based on appearance.  If the candidate is lean and wiry, wearing gold rim glasses, we will assume that he is intelligent and energetic.  If the candidate has a large frame (not necessarily in terms of body fat) we will assume that he is lower in intelligence, a bit awkward and somewhat on the lazy side.

The real danger here is that these are subconscious determinations that have been made without any rational process.  Since we are not actually aware of this, we are at a great disadvantage in trying to remain objective.  All of the questions asked from this point onward will be asked in a manner that will only confirm our previously made subconscious decision.  The whole process is biased from the very beginning.  That is one of the main reasons that companies use personality assessments, to add objectivity to the selection process.  Personality assessments are not at all influenced by warm and fuzzy feelings nor are they bedazzled by visual sensory perception.

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How effective are standard interviewing techniques?

The Society for Human Resource Management once did a study where Human Resource managers were asked about certain H/R functions and how valid their decisions were.  Most of the professionals rated recruiting as the top function.  Most of the professional recruiters rated themselves as having about 50% effectiveness and the best rated themselves about 60% effective.

I have always believed that I was an excellent recruiter and that at best I was about 60% effective when going it "blind" without the use of a good personality assessment.   The study also examined how effective and valid standard interviewing techniques are.  The study indicated that in the majority of cases, the interview process added zero credibility to the hiring decision.  In the best cases, it only added 10% validity to the process.  Despite this finding, recruiters still find a sense of pride in their interviewing skills.

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Other factors affecting validity of the interview process

Numerous other studies show that standard interviewing procedures add at most only 3 to 7% validity to the hiring decision.  Take the simple fact that in even the most objective interviews, all it usually takes is the discovery of two weaknesses before the candidate is rejected.  A good pre-employment assessment will give the interviewer a good sense of the overall strengths and weaknesses of the candidate.  Every strength carries a weakness with it and vice-versa.  Most interviews focus on uncovering only the negatives.  The use of a quality personality assessment will help to provide a more objective view of the candidate and will frequently show that some of the areas regarded strictly as weaknesses also have positive factors associated with them.

Consider also that most interviews for administrative and management positions last from 20 minutes to one hour.  How can we really learn enough about a candidate in that short period of time to justify a hiring decision?  For hourly employees, the time allotted is generally 15 to 20 minutes.  You would have to spend weeks with a candidate to obtain the amount of information that a premium personality assessment can provide you with in the short amount of time that it takes to read the evaluation report.  From a practical standpoint, it may take months before some of the behaviors that are discussed in the personality report become apparent.  What if you had to write a report detailing and predicting the future performance of the candidates that you interview.  How much would you be able to write and how accurate do you think it would be?

From a practical standpoint, most interviews are conducted by recruiters with very little training.  Recruiting is the hot seat in any organization and as soon as a promotional opportunity becomes available, most recruiters want out.  It is very stressful to have to sit in judgment over applicants day in and day out.  Without some objective tools such as pre-employment assessments to help a recruiter make an informed decision, his subjective judgment is about the only thing that he can base his decision on.

In most cases, the only information that we can get from previous employers is the position held and dates of employment.  There is really no way to verify many of the statements and claims made on applications and resumes so we end up basing our decisions on "gut feelings" and primitive instincts.  We know that most people will freely exaggerate and some will even outright lie on applications and resumes.  Let's face it, if you are going to make better hiring decisions in the future, you are going to have to have more and better information than you are getting right now.  A quality personality assessment can help you satisfy that requirement.

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The primitive brain at work

Every interviewer has his own "hot buttons" which will cause a candidate to be rejected or embraced under the "halo effect."  Very few interviewers can tell you what their personal "hot buttons" are because they arise from the subconscious instincts.  You have heard of left brain and right brain theories.  There is a third type of brain, the primitive brain, which controls our "fight or flee" responses.  The primitive brain has no analytical abilities, it is entirely reactive.  When a negative hot button is pressed, a switch in the primitive brain may be said to be switched to the "off" position and the candidate is rejected by subconscious instincts, much like an overload switch.

The decision is made to not hire the candidate and we move on to interview the next candidate.  The only problem is that the primitive mind switch is still set to the "off" position so no matter how good that next candidate is, he really does not stand a chance unless that switch somehow moves back to the "on" position.   These are the cases where a candidate knows that he was well qualified for a job and yet despite his best efforts, he just couldn't get the interview going in his direction.  After the interview is over, he will exclaim that he doesn't know what went wrong but he knows he doesn't have a ghost of a chance of getting the job.

Just how many candidates will be "wasted" due to this mechanism is unknown.  Some interviewers have learned to take a break when they start to feel "dull" or "brain dead."  This is probably one of the best indicators that the primitive mind has taken over and the switch is set to the "off" position.  To date, I have not read any study that examines the relationship of the primitive mind as it regards the interviewing of minority candidates but I do strongly suspect that it does have negative consequences.

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An example of the primitive brain mechanism at work

The problem here is that on the conscious level, there is no real way to know what signals the primitive brain is sending out.  I know a very competent human resources manager that has a phobia about snakes.  All someone has to do is mention the word and he will break out in goose bumps.  He does not know how or where he developed this irrational fear, he just knows that he has it.  If this manager were interviewing a candidate with a snake tattooed on his forearm, that manager is going to react to the image of the snake.  If he is consciously aware of the tattoo, he is smart enough to know that the negative feelings that he has about the candidate probably have nothing to do with the candidate's qualifications but rather his own phobia of snakes.

His conscious awareness of the problem allows him to somewhat overcome those negative feelings.  The subconscious mind is a remarkable recording device that registers many details that do not register on the conscious mind.  Suppose that the tattoo is on the lower upper arm and is not directly visible to the interviewer and he has no conscious awareness of the image of the snake.  It is quite possible that the image of the snake was observed by the subconscious mind as the candidate entered the room even though the image did not register consciously.  All the interviewer knows in this situation is that he does not like the candidate and for that reason alone, the candidate will not be hired.

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Use of validated assessments

I have observed that companies that use the better validated pre-employment assessments will learn to trust them more than they do their "gut feelings."  It becomes much easier for them to remain open and objective, at least until they see the assessment reports.  At that point they do have some objective information to start their decision-making processes with.  The use of pre-employment assessments does take a lot of the stress off of the interviewer and allows him to focus on the major areas of concern.

I sometimes have clients that call and tell me that they have what appears to be a good candidate, but something just does not "feel" right.  They are unsure whether or not it is worthwhile to have the assessment processed.  I explain where a lot of those fears originate but do not discount the fact that sometimes those feelings are based on real perceptions.  I advise the client to process the results because if there were any rational job related subconscious concerns about the candidate, they will probably be revealed in the assessment results.

Many of those concerns can be brought out into the open on a pre-employment evaluation report.  Sometimes applicants that are low in sociability do not fair so well during the interview process.  Because they do not "open up" during the interview, the interviewer does not get any of the warm and fuzzy feelings that candidates with high sociability levels deliver.  The candidate with the lower sociability level may actually be the best candidate for the job, but because the interview was a little cold, the candidate does not stand much of a chance.  A good personality assessment will evaluate a number of factors and will place the lower sociability level into proper focus.

Some applicants are prone to exaggerate their levels of achievement and performance.  Sometimes this is simply a matter of an applicant telling the recruiter what he thinks the recruiter wants to hear, other times it involves complete fabrications.  The primitive brain is very adept at detecting these situations, but there is one major malfunction that occurs.  If the candidate lies with enthusiasm, the primitive brain will accept the fabrication as true.  If the candidate tells the truth blandly and without enthusiasm it will be evaluated by the primitive brain as a falsehood.  A good personality assessment is usually much more accurate at detecting distortion and can be effectively utilized to either confirm or relieve your suspicions.

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Stay objective until all of the information is at hand....

I have had occasions where a client told me that a candidate did not work out as well as he had expected.  I will usually make a point to sit down with the employer and discuss the problem.  In the vast majority of cases, the problem is clearly indicated in black and white in the written report.  I will usually tell the employer something to the effect, "let's see what went wrong so that we can make sure that this never happens to us again."  I usually point out the behavior involved in the problem and read to him the exact wording used in the report that addresses the problem.

The employer usually wonders how he missed that particular point.  The explanation is that he did not miss it.  He had already made up his mind to hire the individual before he read the report.  That is why he only tested one candidate.  The wording in the report was just not strong enough for him to overturn his previously made decision to hire the candidate.  Experience indicates that it takes some very powerful wording to overrule a decision that has already been made.  The best advice here is to do your best to remain objective and do not make any decision until all of the necessary information is at hand.  If you were buying an expensive piece of office equipment you would certainly look at the specifications prior to making your purchasing decision.  You should use the same approach in your employee selection process.


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