Are Job Interviews Utterly Useless?

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Transcript

Mac Prichard:                  

Hi. This is Mac, from Mac’s List. Before we start the show, I want to let you know about my new book, Land Your Dream Job Anywhere. I’ve been helping job seekers find meaningful, well-paying work since 2001; and now, I’ve put all my best advice into one easy-to-use guide. My book shows you how to make your resume stand out in a stack of applications, where you can find the hidden jobs that never get posted, and what you need to do to ace your next job interview. Get the first chapter now for free. Visit Macslist.org/anywhere.

Ben Forstag:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m Ben Forstag, your temporary host, and managing director of Mac’s List. On this week’s bonus episode, we’re going to address an article that was recently published in the op-ed section of the New York Times, it’s called ‘The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews.’ It was published by Jason Dana, an Assistant Professor of Management and Marketing at Yale School of Management.

So, this piece affirms what I think a lot of people already believe about job interviews, which is that they are not the best standard for determining who the best candidate for a job is. Jason Dana does a lot of research in this, he shares some anecdotes about it, but most importantly he comes away with this: people’s confidence in their ability to glean information from a face-to-face conversation is highly-overrated.

In some studies, he shows that even when interviewers know that they’re being lied to, even when they’re faced with information that is inconsistent from interviewees, even when it doesn’t line up with the expectations that they had of the interviewee, interviewers tend to read what they want into conversations and make bad judgements based on that.

So, Mac, I wanted to start off our conversation, here, with your take on this. How true do you think this information is? Are interview a reliable way to judge candidates?

Mac Prichard:

Well, I think an interview is one part of the hiring process. And a successful hiring process doesn’t rely on interviews alone. It beings with a good sourcing process that looks to invite people who are known to the hiring manager or are leaders in their field in to apply, and then it also involves reference checks, tests – these could be of people’s writing ability or other tactical skills – but it’s not just the conversation alone. Because, if you’re relying just on the interview, it’s going to be hard to get a complete picture of a candidate and to make a prediction about the likelihood of success. I’m thinking very quickly of the founder of Idealist, who was talking about the hiring process and he said, hiring somebody based on just three conversations alone is like getting married on the third date, because you’re making a long-term commitment, and you don’t want to rely just on interviews alone to make that decision.

Ben Forstag:

Becky and Jessica are nodding their heads because they probably heard me tell them that in their own interviews.

Becky Thomas:

I was just thinking that!

Ben Forstag:

They thought that I came up with that expression.

Becky Thomas:

I did think it was yours – you totally, like, claimed it, too.

Mac Prichard:

Oh, I didn’t realize that.

Ben Forstag:

Exposed…

Mac Prichard:

And we’re talking about an academic’s work, here, so we’re in the world where you should give credit for others’ work.

Ben Forstag:

So, obviously, yeah, the best practice is the interview *shouldn’t* be the be all, end all of the hiring process, and most of the time it isn’t, but, if you’re a job seeker, what are you to do here? If you know you’re walking into this interview and it’s kind of a stacked deck either for you or against you, is there any way to plan around this, to think around the flawed process of interviews?   

Becky Thomas:

Yeah. That’s a tough one… I think that part of it is, as an interviewee, to watch out for an interview that’s overly casual, where they’re not asking you specific questions to the job. You know, if you’re just talking about what you’re interested in and it’s like, “oh, we’re just looking for ‘cultural fit,’” they might not know what they want. So that’s something to consider.

They talked a lot in the article about, like, for employers to ask specific questions and that will make your interview more valuable. So if they’re not doing that, as a job seeker, you should probably, maybe raise a red flag.   

Jessica Black:

I agree, 100% with that. But also, as a job seeker going into interviews, [these conversations] kind of alleviates some of the nervousness that people often feel. I think this kind of gives you that sort of “freebie” of just going in and relinquish some of that stress. Because it’s not the end all, be all, so shake it off a little bit and put your best self forward.   

Ben Forstag:

I think one interpretation of this could be like, you go to an interview and didn’t get the job, you could take away, like, ‘it *doesn’t* really matter,’ right? This wasn’t about me, personally, it was because some existing narrative happened with the interviewer and, again, it’s the essential randomness of the conversation is what the data is showing: there’s no winning combination for it, necessarily.

Mac Prichard:

Well, two thoughts come to mind. There’s so much in the hiring process that you as a candidate don’t have control over – most of it is out of your control – but, you can control the questions that you ask in an interview. And, I know we’ve talked about this on the blog and in previous shows, that, one way to stand out in an interview process is to understand the employer’s problems and walk in with questions and stories and examples that illustrate you not only understand those problems, but you’ve got ideas or experiences or skills that can help solve them. And so few candidates do that. Again, we’re talking about structured research, here. If you’re a candidate and you want to be successful and stand out in an interview, that’s one way to do it.

The other option you have – something you have control over – is looking for ways to build relationships with people before you walk into the room. And sometimes in really formal hiring processes, particularly in government or large corporations, that’s difficult to do, people won’t see you or take your calls, but if you’ve always wanted to work at a particular organization, you should be building relationships with the people inside that organization now, so that when you walk in the room, you’re not unknown. Again, people hire people they know or are recommended to them by people they trust. And that can trump your responses, or responses of other candidates in an interview process. So think about how you can move ahead in the interview process, recognizing that it’s imperfect so what can you do about it?   

Ben Forstag:

Yeah. And I’m not going to take credit for this because we know I get in trouble for that kind of thing, but someone on one of our recent episodes said something like, if you’re interviewing for a job and you know the job includes skills X, Y, and Z and they’ve not asked you about those skills, it’s incumbent upon you to present a question in which you can talk about your skills there. When the interviewer says, “Do you have any questions for me?” You say, “Well I know you didn’t ask me any questions about podcast management. So can I talk a little bit about my skills in podcast management?” Just so you’ve got that out there and you’re hitting all the key points, because interviewers are not always the best at interviewing. So I think that’s one approach you can take. I think the other one to keep in mind here is, information abhors a vacuum. So all the things that are never mentioned, there’s a narrative that the interviewer’s creating in their head about that. You know, they’re filling in the gaps if you’re not doing it. So just being so proactive in the interview and filling in all the gaps or all the questions that could be there, whether it’s about some gap in your resume or about some skill that you haven’t talked about or anything else, I think that’s really a good approach to take.

Jessica Black:

Yeah, I think that’s a great point because I think that was the key takeaway from this article. There are assumptions that hiring managers make that are not true but are just sort of snap judgements.

Ben Forstag:

Any other thoughts on this article today, guys?

Becky Thomas:

I really just think that the onus is on hiring managers. You know, if you want to really hire the right person for the job you need to do more than just interview them. You need to really research them, really put the work in so that you don’t get a lemon when you hire somebody.

Mac Prichard:

I agree. Hiring managers have a job to do. So do candidates. And when both are doing their jobs well, that’s when successful professional relationships begin and eventually flourish. So if you’re a candidate don’t walk in just prepared to answer questions. Think about that employer’s problems and how you can address them. And think about how you can connect with people inside that organization before the job gets posted.

Becky Thomas:

Absolutely.

Ben Forstag:

Awesome, guys, well thanks for your feedback. And we’d love to hear what our listeners think about this article. We’ll have a link in the show notes. And if you want to share your comments please do so on our blog.

On today’s bonus episode of Find Your Dream Job, the Mac’s List team discusses a New York Times article, The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews, which highlighted the flawed nature of using job interviews to make big hiring decisions. Surveys revealed inherent biases and blind spots for hiring managers in the interview process. So, if job interviews are useless, what’s a job seeker to do?

It’s important to remember that an interview is only one part of a multi-stage hiring system, including the initial application process, background and reference checks.

So what can you do to do well in a flawed interview system?

  • Do structured research about issues the company may be facing.
  • If possible, build relationships with employees of the company before your interview.
  • Be proactive and fill in the gaps about important items not addressed by the interviewer.
  • Recognize the interview process is imperfect and don’t take it personally if you don’t get the position.