By Tõnis Arro – headhunter, executive coach, entrepreneur

recently shared with you some experiences from my headhunting business, focusing on how the headhunting process can go wrong and end without employment. There is another common cause of such a negative outcome: the interview. Yes, the core mechanism for hiring people is the common context for making hiring mistakes. This selection tool has been criticized a lot for its lack of validity. When it comes to predicting work success, the results of unstructured interviews have been shown to be close to or even worse than random selection. In a way, it’s like dating. It might be great fun, but it isn’t a great predictor of having a quality relationship for years to come.

Most people would still not consider making a hiring decision without a proper interview, in spite of growing evidence that the typical hiring ritual — a freely structured or even unstructured interview — does not contribute to better hiring decisions or even makes the quality of the decisions worse. There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that even most experienced interviewers cannot avoid being human with all of the biases and irrationality that comes with it. No matter how impersonal they try to be, they are still vulnerable to stereotyping, self-fulfilling prophecies, the halo and horns effects, the contrast effect, the similar-to-me effect, or the personal-liking effect. Surprisingly enough, the interviewer’s experience during the interview, and the self-confidence associated with the hire could increase the probability of hiring the wrong person.

Would you decide on the best possible new hire based on his or her birth date or eye color? Not likely. But why are someone’s hobbies, or the kind of yacht he owns, or the golf club he attends, considered a basis for such an important decision? Yet aren’t these the very things that people tend to ask about during interviews to get a better understanding of the interviewee’s personal chemistry? People tend to underestimate how often these little details actually influence hiring decisions. The decision to accept or reject a candidate is often made early in the interview process, and the rest of the time is used to rationalize the subconscious decision that has already been made.

Can we skip interviews entirely? Probably not, but we can use our time together to ask sensible questions in a structured way in order to supply us with real, valuable information. For example, we can concentrate less on what the candidate “thinks,” and more on what he or she can do or has accomplished. We can make an effort to base our decisions on facts, not on gut feelings. Most experts would agree with the following recommendations:

● Use structured interviews instead of unstructured, intuitive interviewing;

● If multiple interviews are set up, then rate the answers and compare/summarize the ratings given by different interviewers;

● Use data from references and secondary sources;

● If possible, test the skills and competencies of interviewees in job-related tests (job simulations);

● Try to find out how the candidate fits in with the people he or she is going to work with.

In general: don’t rely (solely) on your gut feelings, as this will probably result in hiring people similar to yourself, or people you just feel comfortable with. In many cases, these may not be the very people who will make the best additions to your team.