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Job Interviews Are Ineffective, Or Worse, Harmful

May the interview odds be in your favor
Rilee Yandt

They’re awkward and grueling, and they don’t always help us make the right choice. So, why are job interviews still often the standard by which we judge potential employees?

That’s a question Jason Dana has been asking.

“That impression of having gotten to know someone is very powerful and very seductive,” said Dana, an assistant professor at Yale University’s School of Management. “It’s hard not to listen to. It’s a siren song.”

But, it’s a siren song we might want to ignore. “Too often, interviews are veering off into stuff that if you really thought about it, is almost irrelevant,” said Dana. “It’s not essential features you need for the job.”

So, if employers aren’t always making hiring decisions based on measurable, specific criteria, what are they basing them on? That isn't clear.

And, Dana said, “That’s troubling because it opens the door for personal biases or ... injustice.”

It’s actually not easy to figure out whether job interviews are good predictors of a job candidate’s success. That’s because employers usually only know how the candidates they select turn out. They never see how the candidates they might have selected would have performed. The people they rejected could have been superstar employees.

But there are a few cases in which we can compare how successful candidates might match up against unsuccessful candidates. In 1979, the Texas state legislature forced the University of Texas at Houston’s medical school to admit 50 more students than were initially accepted. After meeting a certain academic criteria, admission was heavily dependent on interviews.

Later, researchers went back to see how well the 50 initially rejected students did in school.

“It turns out here that no matter what you looked at: grades, awards, even ratings in clinical, which are about people skills, dealing with patients, dealing with supervisors, dealing with a team... There were no differences between the initially-accepted students and the initially-rejected,” Dana said.

So, what’s a good alternative to the outdated job interview?

Dana suggested a skills assessment.

“There should be some idea of exactly what the skills are and what kind of person you are to succeed in the job,” he said. “So [have candidates] basically perform job duties.” And if the skills aren’t able to be tested, Dana suggested using the interview to test as many relevant skills as possible.

Another option: see if interviewees can juggle toasters. That skill is sometimes just as relevant as those tested in a job interview.

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