Interviewing thoughts

So last time we talked about Interview Bias and the types of bias that we can all run into. In today’s iteration of HR for (y’)all I want to talk about interviews themselves.

It seems that in recent years, HR people have become more and more obsessed with having what are commonly known as structured interviews – i.e. those interviews where you have a standard set of questions and you do not veer from them one way or the other. HR people are especially fond of them because they help to ensure consistency in the process. If you are asking the same people the same questions, it is more difficult to claim that you are treating someone unfairly. I sort of see the point, but I also think that sometimes it is just HR being lazy.

You heard me. Now HR peeps, before you start searching for paper bags, dog poop, matches and my front door, I am not saying that this is always the case. Just most of the time. You see, it is easier for us HR geeks to create a heavily structured interview process, give everyone a set of questions, and then go on about our other duties as assigned rather than take the time to train people on HOW to conduct interviews – i.e. how NOT to ask stupid questions.

When I conduct an interview, I prefer a conversation. I usually have a few questions I want to ask, but to be perfectly honest, these are more prompts than anything. I usually get the answers I need through general conversation.

Here’s the deal. If you go in with a script of sorts, you are setting the interview as a formal process, and the problem with formal processes is that they are so dang formal! If someone is taking time out of their day to sit down and talk with you, chances are they are at least somewhat interested in the job. If they are even somewhat interested in the job, they are going to try to impress you. If they are trying to impress you, you are not getting a full glimpse of the person you are actually going to be working with.

This isn’t to say that if you go in and approach the interview as more conversational that the candidate is going to put their guard completely down, but I can all but guarantee you will see more of the true person than if you go in with a script and a 1-5 scale. I have had people say unbelievable things when they were comfortable with me.

Is there more risk with this approach? Yes, and no. Yes, because you lose the consistency defense. No, because you get a better idea of the person you are interviewing and that leads to better hiring decisions which is why you are doing this in the first place. There is far greater risks IMHO to making a bad hire than being sued for discriminatory hiring practices.

Now, let’s be clear here – if you either: (a) haven’t been, or (b) have no desire to be trained in proper interviewing you are better off sticking with a script. But if you have been trained in what you can and cannot say and combine that with an ounce of common sense, give it a try.

I have used this approach for most of my career and while nothing is fool-proof, I am confident that this approach has saved me from making some nasty mistakes. You see, when someone gets comfortable you see more of the whole person, warts and all. You may find that you really like their personality, and feel that it would be a good fit. At the same time, you may see an ugly side because when people are comfortable, sometimes they say things – things that you would much rather they say to you and you alone in a private conference room, as opposed to at their workstation to their co-workers. Things that simply wouldn’t come up as a result of a canned interview script.

One final caveat: I am not saying that if you go in and take this approach you will make better hires and everyone will live all hunky-dory, because that ain’t going to happen. There are no guarantees in life except death, taxes, and angry letters to HR Bloggers (and occasional flaming bags of dog poop).


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