Why Job Interviews Don't Work

1st October 2020 | Reading time: 13 min
By Rakesh Singh

Why Job Interviews Don't Work


or years and years, the most standard ritual for vetting a job candidate has been in-person interview. Better hiring leads to more turnover, better working environment, more productivity and innovation. If you understand the loopholes and pitfalls of a job interview, you may end up hiring a right candidate.

Almost every individual go through this ubiquitous ritual at least once in his life. The most humourous thing about job interviews, however, is that they consume most of your time and resources without actually improving your decision to select best candidate out of it. Otherwise, it drives the workforce where everyone thinks the same.

As Ron Friedman, a psychologist and author of 'The Best Place to Work' says:

But as it turns out, interviews are disastrous tool for gauging potential. For one thing, it's because over 80% of people lie during interviews. That means the data you're collecting in a interview is suspect at best.

If you don't know how much you can get from an interview, think of the candidate being interviewed on the other side of the table. We've all been there. Right? The night before the interview, you dig out your smartest outfit, iron it carefully. Then you desperately research about the oraganization you applied in, reading every last update, every post by the CEO and every reviews by the disgruntled former employees.

After a sleepless night, you march towards their office making a small awkward talk to yourself. Few minutes later, you step into the office and answer a set of predictable questions like, 'What's your greatest weakness or failure? Why you want to work with us? Why you quit your previous job? Why should we hire you? Where do you see yourself in five or ten years? On the scale of 1 to 10, how weird are you?', and the questions goes on. You smartly reel off answers you devised last night, higlighting best of the best. And while all this happens, you constantly keep reminding yourself to sit up straight, do not bite nails or lips, avoid weird expressions on your face and keep smiling.

But don't think that the employer's job to select a good candidate is a piece of cake when you've a role to fill. You select some candidate and summon them for an interview in your office. Then you fire a couple of standard questions at them, doing a little improvise along the way as you hear their responses. At the end of the day, you make a gut judgement about the candidate who could be a right fit - perhaps the one you felt connected with most in that short course of time that you were together. And that's where the partiality and discrimination gets in the way.

It is no surprise that the job interviews don't work when the entire process is based on subjective feelings. Such interviews becomes futile and are in no way the most effective strategy of deciding who to hire.

What is a job interview?

First, let's make things clear a little bit. When we say 'job interview' throughout this post, we're talking about the traditional and standard interviews that has become standard everywhere like in industries and even in universities. A type of free-form interview in which a candidate is chosen and asked to sit in a room with one or more prospective people (often the people one might end up working with) and answer a set unpredictable set of questions. Such interviews are more gravitated towards the general behaviour of the candidate, emphasizing factors like punctuality, speaking fluency and research about the company. The questions may not necessarily be about predicting the job performance because they get more inclined towards attractiveness, charisma and etiquettes rather than candidate's actual job competence.

“In most cases, the best strategy for a job interview is to be fairly honest, because the worst thing that can happen is that you won’t get the job and will spend the rest of your life foraging for food in the wilderness and seeking shelter underneath a tree or the awning of a bowling alley that has gone out of business.”

~ Lemony Snicket, Horseradish

Taking into account the importance of a hiring and how much harm a bad hiring can cause, it makes sense to dig a little deeper and understand the most curated and effective interview methods. Let's take a look on a standard interview methods that don't work and what we can do about it.

Why Job Interviews are Futile

Bias and discrimination

Physical data like someone's age, complexion, gender, race, religion or caste should not be equated with one's knowledge - their competence should. Unfortunately that's rarely the case. Interviewers can hire the candidates they like the most or when they found something similar or common. That ultimately narrow down the range of competency. Also Ron Friedman explains that people rate attractive people as more intelligent, competent and well-educated. We automatically jump to all the erroneous assumptions about the candidate from their appearance. Some studies also showed that we see good looking people as more competent. We assume tall people as having a good leadership qualities and perceive deep-voiced people more trustworthy.

Hiring often comes down to what an interviwer likes in a candidate as a person. What if a person's charisma or charm is a fake one? Then the entire organization may be left dealing with fallout for ages.

Don't always trust your gut feeling

Gut feeling aren't precise. We all are accustomed to think that we can trust our intutition. The problem is that intuitive decision tends to work only in areas where feedback is fast. And job interview do not fall under that category because the feedback is slow. In a study entitled Belief in the Unstructured Interview: The Persistence of an Illusion; participants were asked to predict the future GPA of a set of students. Participants were either received biographical information or both the biographical information and an interview. In some of these cases, the interview responses were entirely random.

But before participants made their predictions, the researchers informed them that the strongest predictor of future GPA is their past GPA. By knowing the past GPA of students, the participants factored it heavily.

What result came was a little surprising. The participants who were able to interview the students made worse prediction than those who only knew biographical information. But why? Because the interview introduced a lof of noise. It distracted the participants with pointless and irrelevant information, making them to forget the most significant factor: GPA. This study clearly revealed that interview do not automatically lead to a better judgements about a person.

We tend to think that gut judgements are superior. But they aren't and the above study supports this.

Expertise in interviewing ≠ Experience

Studying the efficacy of an in-person interview is a difficult task and hard to manage from an ethical standpoint. We cannot give different people the same job under same conditions. We need clues from fortuitous occurences and its subsequent lessons learned. Without any legitimate change, the interviewer would never know the calibre or competence of the candidate they rejected were of equal comptence to the ones they accepted. That's why buliding up experience in this arena is difficult. Even if someone has gained a lot of experience while taking or conducting interviews, it is not easy to transform that into expertise. Having a certain expertise means having a predictive model in head, not just knowing a lot of stuffs makes someone an expert.

An interviewer do not know a slightest thing about what would happen if they hire an alternate candidate and if the new hire doesn't work out, then that tends to fall on them, not on the person who chose them.

Making interviews more effectual

You see it is easy to understand why job interviews are so common and ineffective to gauge a candidate's potential. People want to work with people they like and such biased interviews allows them to scope out possible future coworkers. Won't you feel a little peeved if you are hired by a company without the requisite 'casual chat' beforehand? And it can be very hard to come up with a feasible alternative to interviews.

But it is possible to increase the efficacy or the final step in the hiring process to gauge candidate's potential with more accuracy. Remember, doing what works should come prior to what to looks right or what has always been done.

More structured interviews

Because unstructured interviews don't work, structured ones can be the solution.

In the book 'Thinking Fast and Slow', Daniel Kahneman describes how he completely redefined the Israel Defense Force's interview process being a young psychology graduate. Back then, recruiting a new soldier involved a series of fitness and psychological test followed by interviews to evaluate their personality. Then interviewers select the candidate for a particular role based on their intuitive sense, which was quite similar to the strategy of hiring most companies still follow even today and later it proved to be in vain. Being a member of hiring team, Daniel Kahneman introduced a new style of recruitment in which a candidate answered a set of predefined questions that were devised to measure relevant personality traits for a particular role (responsibility and sociability for example). Then he asked his fellow interviewers to rate each candidate based on each of their traits and also tasked them to only assign a number as their score but not to make any final decision.

At first, his new style of conducting structured interview was disliked by other members but pretty soon it became the most effective and standard process for IDF. The key idea was to evaluate every candidate through a set of questions, specifically fabricated to test job oriented skills and then ask them to every candidate.

The best thing about structred interviews is that everyone gets the same pattern of questions with same wordings, and interviewers doesn't improvise.

Stop interviewing and start auditioning

Is there any other way better than to test an applicant for the job? Right now, we don't. Assign applicants some tasks that are the part of their jobs. Conducting blind auditions where candidates are asked to carry out certain task or any assessment they would typically carry out in the job they applied for. Auditions provide a better overview about candidate's potential and restrains biasness influenced by someone's physical data like charisma and past engagments. Blind autidtions provides a more clear and accurate predictions of future performance because the interviewer can assess candidates on their problem solving skills in real time.

And because of the higher accuracy of results gained from an audition and when compared with a traditional interview, auditions reduces possible errors and unnecessary recruitment costs for the company. Although, auditions are already quite common at various companies through online or offline test. But most interviewers are inclined towards not giving sufficient importance to it. A bad interview can override a good competence test. But they should be considered far more important than any other step involved in the entire hiring process.


If any company or organization blindly relies on the traditional job interviews for its employees, it simply won't get the best employee out of the crowd. But achieving the tipping point is the only goal of any organization which requires a right hiring techniques. And the ultimate key to find those people is using the hiring strategies that truly works.

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Tagged: PsychologyDecision Making

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