This story was updated on July 20, 2018.
Alternative interview techniques are valuable because traditional interviewing strategies often don't assess the candidate's true capabilities or personality effectively. Interview questions such as "tell me about your strengths and weaknesses" or "where do you see yourself in five years?" only invite bland, pre-packaged generalities that don't translate into how a candidate will really perform on the job.
Other Pitfalls of Traditional Interviews
Confirmation bias or "the halo effect."
Once the interviewer makes a first impression, the natural tendency is to overemphasize information that confirms our first impression while filtering out evidence that clashes with it. As a Wired article explains, "most interviews are a waste of time because 99.4 percent of the time is spent trying to confirm whatever impression the interviewer formed in the first ten seconds." Needless to say, our first impressions can often lead us astray, resulting in bad hires.
We tend to like people who share things in common with us, and we're uncomfortable with differences. Social scientists call this homophily. We want to hire candidates who may have attended our university or who share common experiences or hobbies with us. Homophily is related to "the halo effect" because we naturally tend to favor people like us, and thus filter out counter-evidence we may confront.
To avoid these pitfalls and truly find out who the person you're interviewing is, consider these four alternative interview techniques:
1. Situational/Behavioral Interviews
These questions are based on the belief that the way a candidate behaved in past job-related situations is the best predictor of how they'll perform in the future. Make a list of necessary job skills, and then prepare questions to find out how the candidate has leveraged those same skills in previous jobs. If you want to see how a candidate will handle issues with a client, for instance, ask them to tell you about a time during which they confronted a difficult client, and how they made the relationship work. You'll hear real stories, not pre-packaged generalities.
2. Work Simulations
Ask the candidate to perform job-related functions and assess their performance. In an excerpt from "Work Rules: Insights from Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead," by Laszlo Bock, Wired highlights importance of work simulations: "the best predictor of how someone will perform in a job is a work sample test. This entails giving candidates a sample piece of work, similar to that which they would do in the job, and assessing their performance at it."
3. Cognitive or Psychometric Testing
Mental acuity tests can give you an idea about what cognitive abilities a candidate actually has, much like the SAT does for college applicants. They can also tell you about the personality of a candidate and how they might respond in certain common, work-related situations. Combined with other data, the test results can help confirm or contradict your impressions of a candidate's abilities. Of course, testing may have its own legal pitfalls and should be carefully vetted before being implemented.
4. Surprise/Quirky Questions
What the candidate says or does in an unexpected situation can reveal character, motivation, creativity and composure under pressure. Quirky questions can "create a dialogue and move the candidate away from rehearsed answers," according to Inc. You might ask a candidate what kind of cheese would best describe their personality or what superpower they would love to have. The point isn't in the actual answer but in seeing how the candidate approaches the task of developing an answer. The answer will never be right or wrong, but instead reveal a candidate's ability to think on their feet and be creative when called upon.
The goal of alternative interview techniques is to break outside of the traditional hiring box, leveraging tools that may do a better job revealing the true nature and potential job performance of candidates than bland interview questions. No matter how you go about it, getting creative with your interview/assessment techniques should lead you to better and more consistent hiring outcomes.
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