Why we Lose at Interviews

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Although many executives think they have a nose for talent, or good intuition about a new person’s character, the sad fact is that 47% of job interviews result in mistaken choices – a world-wide statistic for a very expensive error of judgment.  That is, 47% of new hires are unhappy or are looking for new opportunities in 6 to 12 months after being hired.

To answer “Why do I discover 6 months after hiring, that this person is not what I expected?” we offer an explanation of what is often going wrong.  Firstly, no effort is made by the employer to describe the job in terms of the temperament required.  Although the skill may be present in the applicant, rarely is the person screened for temperament and just as rarely is the temperament of the job or the work environment defined.  Yet it is temperament* that will determine if the person fits the job.  Of course the individual must have the required skills; that is a given.

Since skills are a given, most employers, instead, conduct job interviews that focus on the character of the individual.  The employers seek answers to: Will this person fit in with our other workers?  Is this the kind of personality we value in this company?  

But let us explain where things go awry.  When we interview a person, two errors occur.  First, we tend to hire people in our own image whether that character-set is required for the job or not.  We think the way we are is pretty sound, whereas people who are very different from us are not as appealing.  Thus we tend to hire more ‘just like us’.  The reality is that we need a balance of characters**, not to have everyone cast from the same mold.  

The second error is more insidious.  We judge a person based on a few character traits that we spot in the course of an hour-long interview.  What we learn in an hour or two is but an ounce of a person’s real character.  Yet, our intuitive brain quickly associates what we see with what we know.  So if we see a good characteristic that we know in someone else, we assume the stranger being interviewed has all the good (or bad) characteristics of the associated person.

As experience has taught on many occasions, the short sample is rarely representative of the long reality (such as we discover about a person on the job after six months or so).  As common sense tells us, a few associations cannot reveal the full character. YET AT THAT INTERVIEW TIME WE BELIEVE IT DOES.  We are strongly convinced that we are right.  So we make a commitment based on what has to be very limited information about the individual and project the good characteristics onto that person – all the things we think we see in the candidate about to be hired.  

Whether or not you believe the logic of the above paragraph, its practicality has been proven by psychological testing and experimentation over the long term – leading to a Nobel Prize for Dr. Daniel Kahneman, one of the proponents who outlines the mechanics of such human behavior***.

Parts of the brain force us to make hasty decisions on limited information and compel us to believe we are right.  Did you know that this is the same mechanism that had the caveman choosing between fleeing the sabre-toothed tiger or waiting to establish if such a beast poses a danger?  And today, we are just a few geological seconds from the primordial human .

This quick-responding part of the brain influences decisions  about almost everything we do today including the decisions based on the interview of a new prospect for a job.  

What can you do about this fallibility?  Put less weight on the face-to-face interview.  Put more weight on other factors such as having the person respond in writing to some questions as to why they want this job or want to work for you.  As much as possible, avoid meeting the person so as to not give your emotions a chance to make an intuitive decision for you.  Lastly, and more importantly, conduct a one or two-day test for the candidates on the work site that measures their ability to do the job expected, and let the winning candidate be the one you hire .

Good luck.

Bill Caswell

Caswell Corporate Coaching

* Temperament is covered in detail at the Practical MBA course by CCCC.  The course commences September 5 and runs about 8 hours per week until November 30th, 2013.  Register at www.caswellpmba.com

** Character balance is covered in detail at the Practical MBA course by CCCC.

*** Human behavior is covered in detail at the Practical MBA course by CCCC.

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