Skype interviews… formal interviews… group interviews… working interviews…
While there are many types of interviews, there is no set script to use for any given method. This will always be true because every company has unique needs for each role which should be reflected in the questions asked in order to reveal the greatest individual for your team. One of the best ways to thrive as a company is to have a dependable, knowledgeable, and diverse staff along with a fair and welcoming work environment. The only way to achieve this goal begins with the hiring process, and the main pillar for a great interview is to create structure.
Surprisingly, many employers seem to approach interviews with an unstructured method believing they are getting a better feel for their candidates in a more relaxed atmosphere and basically relying on their gut to decide the best fit. I find the frequent number of unstructured interview stories I hear to be alarming. First and foremost, research shows that this method does little to predict job performance. Aside from hardly giving you a true insight into the person you may be hiring, there are a bundle of issues that come along with this practice.
With such a loose game plan that receives little insight, relying on unstructured interviews can result in a waste of time, resources and money to hire someone who may unexpectedly quit or prove to be inept in the role they were hired to do. After meeting with numerous candidates for the same role, it becomes very difficult to fairly rank and judge applicants when no two interviews are alike.
A crucial step for a successful interview is to be socially conscious and to eliminate bias of any form whenever possible. There are the obvious topics that are irrelevant to work performance and are off-limits to discuss such as age, gender, religion, etc. but many people do not realize how often a seemingly harmless question is not okay. Unfortunately, the casual nature of an unstructured interview can open the door to topics that incite unconscious bias, or even land an employer in hot water legally due to anti-discrimination laws. An example of an honest-to-goodness mistake that is inappropriate would be a candidate finding themselves telling a story from their high school days and the interviewer simply asking when they graduated high school, now the interviewer may be in violation of age discrimination laws. The questions in this approach are often open-ended and feel like a natural conversation which can be unpredictable, an applicant could even expose improper information unprompted.
In some cases, the interviewer may not even ask an inappropriate question, but may have “fun” questions (ex. If you had to choose one food to eat for the rest of your life, what would it be?) where the candidate can expose details in their reply which triggers personal likes and dis-likes that are unrelated to the job, such as an interviewer discovering they both have the same favorite food. In the event of unintentionally hearing information, it is advised to move on and not make note of those slips when evaluating, but try as you might, the reality is that you cannot erase your memory. Laszlo Block, former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google had the right idea when he wrote about the fun appeal to ask “different” questions: “The point is to identify the best person for the job, not to indulge yourself by asking questions that trigger your biases.” If we are to eliminate all incidents of bias, we ought to not put ourselves in situations where there is so much room for a problem to arise.
A reason that so many shy away from structured interviews is the time and commitment it takes to map out a plan that contains relevant questions that are easily ranked, and making sure interviewers actually use them, but it’s worth it. I’m not saying that employers solely need to adhere to a strict, dull and basic structured interview, but they should find out what form of structure works for them in their hiring process, to find the perfect questions or assessments that allow the applicant to see the value in joining your team. Finding out what works for your company is paramount for success. Define the roles and reflect the culture of your company in the questions you ask, and it should be enough for the candidate to imagine the type of place they may be working at. If it will save you money in the long run, why not try to think of ways to even out the playing field and create long-term success? Save the casual conversation for another time once you know who your best choice is.