Why Job Interviews Suck
It’s not you. It’s them. (Not them, the people. Them, the interviews).
“A bad system will defeat a good person every time.”
~ W E Deming
If there was ever a graphic illustration of Deming’s 95/5 rule, job interviews could be it. So, in this context we might say:
“A flawed approach to candidate evaluation will defeat a good candidate every time.”
I was reading this morning about how interviewers in general, and HR people in particular, value “enthusiastic” candidates, rejecting those who show little enthusiasm.
As a low-positive affect individual myself, I call this bogus. Of course, post-Kahneman we might call most of the “received wisdom” underpinning recruitment practices, especially candidate evaluations and interviews, as bogus.
“That most basic of human rituals—the conversation with a stranger—turns out to be a minefield.”
~ Malcolm Gladwell
Here’s a list of “eight reasons most commonly given by HR people for rejecting applicants” (I suspect rather an American perspective) and my observations as to the flaw(s) in each one:
Lack of enthusiasm
Low-positive affect individuals are people who appear “less cheery”.
“Even though they lack cheerfulness, [low-positive affectives] may have more engagement and meaning in life than cheery people.”
~ Martin Seligman
Related to this, “affect display” is the external display of an individual’s affect. Seligman suggests that some 50% of the general population are “low-positive affective” individuals. Can any organisation afford to exclude 50% of candidates from consideration simply because they might appear unenthusiastic, and because of the whim (bias) of their HR people in this regard? Especial when low-positive affectives may be the “more engaged” half of the population?
And then there’s the question of integrity. By setting an implicit expectation of an appearance of enthusiasm, such interview situations introduce candidates to the expectation that if hired, being dishonest with one’s feelings is an integral (sic) part of working for this particular organisation. Not perhaps the best kind of start for a new relationship?
Lack of interpersonal skills
Defined in the source list as “an inability to get along with others”. Few HR people in my experience are competent to distinguish an inability to get along, from e.g. introversion or from “a different view of the world”. Often, then, candidates of great potential value for e.g. their creativity, potential for increasing the diversity of the hiring organisation, or for helping shift the organisational mindset are passed over in favour of folks who will “fit in”. This only serves to compound the current (typically, ineffective) organisational mindset.
I suspect that one key reason HR types evaluate folks on interpersonal skills, irrespective of the need for these in particular positions, it a lack of competence to evaluate people on meaningful, relevant skills (such as technical skills) – and a near-complete ignorance of the role of mindset, and of the need to evaluate in that context.
Moreover, sociopaths are renowned for their ability to to appear highly sociable and capable of “fitting-in”. Placing value on this aspect of a candidate’s assumed character can only serve to increase the chances of hiring more sociopaths.
And again, setting an expectation that one should be less than forthcoming about one’s character – and seeing a candidate’s honesty in revealing their ‘faults’ as somehow defective, also speaks against integrity (and honesty) being valued in the hiring organisation.
What’s in it for me?
Organisations typically think they have the whip-hand when it comes to hiring. Particular at times in the economic cycle when it’s a “buyers’ market”, there seems to be a prevailing attitude that there’s little need to take a more collaborative, mutual view of hiring. Organisations that believe their offering someone a job is bestowing some great largesse or gift are laying the foundations for the violent, abusive domination relationship so inimical to engagement and a climate where people feel encouraged to give of their best.
Unclear job goals
“Don’t be a generalist.” Sigh. Most hiring organisations still look for deep and narrow specialists, not realising that the age of the specialist is at an end, and the (specialising) generalist is in the ascendancy. For flexibility in business – an ever-increasing necessity – specialists cannot hold a candle to generalists. The ability to adapt and redeploy efforts to different tasks and domains at a moment’s notice becomes every more crucial. Narrow specialisms place great obstacles in this path.
And then there’s the whole question of whether one should be hiring for skills at all or, as I suggest, mindset. “Get the right folks on the bus.”
Poor personal appearance
I agree that “poor” personal appearance might be unattractive. But does it speak to the ability to do good work? I myself have lost count of the times where I’ve seen folks wear a suit to an interview, and totally tank when they’ve come to the point of talking with technical folks – like developers – simply because they’re wearing a suit!
If an organisation is so superficial as to take undue regard of a person’s appearance, then what chance they will place much value on that hire’s ability to do good work once hired? A triumph of image over substance? Quite common, in my experience.
Unprepared for the interview
Appearing unprepared for an interview, and actually being unprepared is often two very different things. Again, we’re talking about appearances, and (biased) personal judgement, rather than substance or ability.
And don’t get me started on the know-nothings that still believe that questions like “Tell me a little about yourself” have any place in the process. Yes, time spent in preparing for the interview will be time invested wisely, but we’re kidding ourselves if we believe that preparation can, in itself, be fairly judged.
Not being clear on your strengths
“You should be able to state without hesitation, three characteristics that would make you a great candidate for any given job you are applying for.” This is flat-out hokum. From observing many (UK and European) interviews, I can say that most interviewers regard candidates that talk about their strengths as braggarts and egomaniacs. How ironic is that?
Not selling yourself
“in the interview process, you are selling yourself.” True, but – excepting, maybe, sales positions – are we saying that every candidate has to have sales skills? Am I the only one that sees the contradiction between this and the (albeit flawed) “be a narrow specialist” vibe?
How do you feel about this whole mess? Even as a low-positive-affective myself, I’m, as mad a hell and I’m not going to take it any more. #NoCV
Why Do Job Interviews Suck? ~ Igor Sutton
3 Reasons Job Interviews Suck ~ Dr Janice Presser
Thinking, Fast and Slow ~ Daniel Kahneman
The New-Boy Network ~ Malcolm Gladwell (online article)
IT Job Postings Ask for the Wrong Thing ~ Mike Rollings (online article)
The Power of Introverts ~ Susan Cain (TED video)
Interviews Can Be a Terrible Way to Identify Good Programmers ~ Andrew Wulf (blog post)