You like Them but Can They Do the Job?

March 17, 2016

Much has been made in the last few years of a creeping “confirmation bias” when it comes to job interviews. In some cases, a slice of as little as the first 10 seconds of an interview can predict the outcome. It seems that if we like applicants at the start, we spend the interview subconsciously looking for reasons to like them more. If we dislike the candidate, we will use the time finding reasons to support that judgment.

The problem is that these judgments are incredibly unreliable when it comes to figuring out whether or not a person can do the job. For any hire, your reputation is on the line, so you should carefully scrutinize the process.

Emphasizing Capability over Personality

You will be accountable for any subordinates who are incapable of performing their responsibilities, so it’s critical that you fill your team with the right people.   Everyone in your organization will recognize you as a Leader if you are willing to hire someone who brings real value to the organization, but will not always be a “yes man.”

One of the best predictors of how a person will perform is previous performance. You can use behavioral interview questions to gain insight into how a candidate has solve problems in the past. This won’t be a perfect predictor of traits like collaboration or ability to learn, but it could give you a like-for-like assessment.

Questions like “Tell me about a time you…” require candidates to tie past experiences to new scenarios. It’s become conventional wisdom that extroverts will tend to do better in an interview than introverts, but that isn’t always the case. Extroverts are not always aggressive and introverts are not always meek. Moreover, the idea that these personality tendencies fit certain jobs better than others has been debunked.

Behavioral interview questions help you see past the personality to assess whether or not the candidate will be capable of doing the job.

Measuring the Capability

Conducting effective interviews does take a good deal of preparation.  You need to detail the abilities you’re looking for ahead of time and carefully construct the questions so that the responses you get will be measurable. The questions you ask should be carefully correlated to the competencies you’re looking for.

It’s a good idea to create a rubric or scorecard in advance as well. This will give you a reference point as to what you’re looking for and allow you to make notes during the interview. It helps you look past the personality. Once all of the interviews are over, you can enter the information into a spreadsheet and calculate the results. The spreadsheet will let you grade and rank the candidates, and will enable a more reliable, fact-based decision.

Managing Your Bias

When you like a particular candidate, you have to be careful that the halo effect isn’t clouding your judgment. Having a hiring committee of objective individuals is a good way protect against that bias. At the very least, having a second opinion who doesn’t just default to what you want to hear will help you let you check your assessment.

No one element of an interview gives you a perfect prediction of a candidate’s success. Effective interviews will blend a number of the strategies such as assessing past work experiences and measuring cognitive ability to get a fuller picture of a candidate’s abilities. Matching those abilities to the competencies you need in your team is the key to determining whether or not they will be able to do their job.

It’s a difficult task, and you’re not going to be right 100% of the time, but your professional reputation, maybe even your career, require that you get it right as often as possible.

 Kevin Tennant is a Senior Consultant in the Interim Management and Executive Search practice at Farber. He brings a depth of knowledge and a skill set that compliments Farber’s practices. Kevin can be reached at 416.496.3085 and