Turning Applicants Down 2

An interview can profoundly affect the candidate’s decision to join or not to join a company.” —Interview EDGE, Volume 2, Number 6

Interviews are universally used by companies to make selection decisions on candidates, but, as the quote above states, candidates also use the interview to make their selection decisions on which company they will join. If interviews are so important, why is the interview process so universally bad and an unreliable predictor of the success of a candidate?

The interview is a test

The interview is a test under the Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures. It is used to determine if employers are discriminatory in their hiring procedures. The “test” must meet the standard of being both valid and reliable. Valid means it measures what it is intended to measure. Reliable means that it does so repeatedly. Issues arise when interviewers don’t really know what they are supposed to be measuring. If you don’t know what you are supposed to measure, how can you be sure of your results?

If you have ever observed a panel interview, you will know that the interviewers often have diverse opinions on whether or not the candidate possesses the necessary skills. Even though everyone heard the same question and response, they filter it through their own experience and knowledge and come up with a different impression.

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Bad questions

Another way interviewers often foil the intent of an interview is by asking off-the-wall or odd questions. Companies are notorious for asking weird questions, such as:

  • “If you were a pizza deliveryman, how would you benefit from scissors?”
  • “You are a new addition to the crayon box, what color would you be and why?”
  • “When a hot dog expands, in which direction does it split and why?”
  • “What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?”

These are actual questions collected from interview experiences reported on Glassdoor. While these questions may be interesting and creative, they probably have little to do with the tasks of the actual job. To avoid failing the requirements of the Guidelines test, you have to be able to show how they are related to the job requirements. My guess is that the answers expected for the questions above have not been defined at that level.

We are easily fooled

In his book, Barking up the Wrong Tree, Eric Barker discusses a study on confidence. He writes:

“Narcissists, the despicable kings and queens of confidence, score better in job interviews. One of the study’s authors said. ‘We don’t necessarily want to hire narcissists but might end up doing so because they come off as being self-confident and capable.”

Interviewers are fooled by what people say. Even experienced interviewers make mistakes. We try to measure things in the interview–things that cannot easily be measured.

Some things cannot be measured in an interview

Dr. John Sullivan, in his article “What’s Wrong with Interviews? The Top 50 Most Common Interview Problems”, writes:

“Some things should not be measured in an interview — few start an interview with a list of the things they want to assess. Many things just can’t be measured accurately during an interview including: many technical skills, team skills, intelligence, attitude, and physical skills.”

Dr. Sullivan says it is better to measure these in a different way: “Giving them a work sample or test is often superior.”

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Validated tests are a much better solution

A much better solution to determine if someone has a needed skill or personality trait is to use a test or profile that has been measured to ensure it meets the standards of the Uniform Guidelines. The results are not open to the interpretation of individual interviewers, who may have different levels of experience. These tests are designed to ensure that the answers are accurate representations of the applicant’s skill or personality and, unlike interviewers, are not influenced by subjective factors that may distract from a candidate’s answers–body language, accent, height, handshake, dress, or having arrived late to the interview.

Combine methods

As humans, we are unlikely to give up interviewing people. After all, we are selecting someone to work with us and we want a part in that decision. But relying solely on an interview is a potential road to disaster.We need to combine skill testing, pre-employment assessment and interviewing. I know, in my career, I have seen many employers walk down that road, including myself. So find an assessment tool or two to help you find the right person. In the long run, it will save you time and money.


Launched in 2003, eSkill Corporation has developed a focused expertise in job-based skills testing software and content. eSkill has tested millions globally since 2003 with zero legal challenges – the best compliance record in our industry. eSkill has the vision of providing the most relevant and valid tests for any skilled job. The end goals are to have employer-clients hire people who improve their team performance and to have candidates remember their assessment process as a positive experience.

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  • Terry S says:

    It is said that you can form an opinion about someone in less than 10 seconds. We also fall into the affinity bias, and, without even realizing it, we tend to like people who are more like us. Interviews alone can’t be the only method for hiring selection because of these biases.

  • Mariah says:

    I really don’t agree with the unstructured interviews, and luckily we can use another interview technique that is really effective in an interview conversation: Ask well-structured and researched questions that reveal someone’s behavior.

  • kelly says:

    I agree that we need to use pre-employment tests, especially when we are looking for hard skills, but we somehow need to reveal someone’s soft skills as well. And to do that, we need to ask candidates to describe problems they solved, by asking them about the context for the problem, what actions they took, and outcome of those actions.

  • Kristina says:

    I love that you emphasized the bad questions. As a recruiter I cringe when I work with a hiring manager who wants to use those type of questions. The interview should be used as a tool to see how successful they will be in the role you are hiring for!

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