May 28, 2021

Selecting the Best Applicant: Are Interviews and References Sufficient?

The Managers’ Corner:

The “Report on Business” section of the Toronto Globe and Mail on Monday, May 24, 2021 contained an interesting set of observations on a number of human relations topics that Bendel Services has attempted to bring to the attention of Human Resources and Managers since its inception.  The article was written by Lara Zink, President and CEO of Woman in Capital Markets and Katie Squires-Thompson, Chief Strategy Officer of the same organization.  Among the several areas on which they comment is one on staff selection.  They make the following point:

Workplaces need to implement a results-oriented and output-based evaluation [and recruitment] system.  For recruitment, this can look like preset standard interview questions that are asked of every candidate, and the utilization of a quantitive scoring system to evaluate candidates.  Consistency is key:  managers must be trained to ensure gender-neutral language is used throughout the hiring process, and that diversity requirements are established and met both by recruitment teams and candidates before moving forward in an interview process.” 

Bendel couldn’t agree more — at least with some of the points made by Zinc and Squires-Thompson in their article.  Chief among these points are the need for consistency in asking the same questions of each candidate, the use of quantitive scoring, gender-neutral language and the necessity of training the members of the team in these all-important conventions.

Once again, however, the article skips over the question of the real value of interviews in predicting future performance.  It is just assumed that the process for gathering information is the standard interview.  The truth of the matter is that too often the interview rewards the effective interviewee, not necessarily the best prospect.

Given the status of the interview in the world of staff selection, however, Bendel Services has long given up the idea that the interview should be replaced.  The fact of the matter is that it will not be replaced.  Its presence is just too ingrained in “the way we do things”.  Bendel continues to lobby, however, for the addition of other methods of gathering information on a candidate to support the information gleaned from an interview.

Let’s draw an example from your old high school English classes.  Remember when your English teacher (I was one!) talked about how a character is revealed?  The refrain was:  “What a character does;  What a character says; and What others say about the character.”  The truth of the matter is that an interview uses only “what the character says” and does not take into consideration the other two.  Why not go back to that old English teacher’s convention and gather information in other ways — and then triangulate the data that had been collected?

Some of these additional methods include self-evaluation, third part interviews (not just reference checks), the submission of a highly structured and quantitively regulated professional portfolio, a site visit (virtual or otherwise), 360-degree feedback mechanisms,  an artifact collection or something that Bendel has constructed called an “essential task observation.”  There are other possibilities (like a full scale assessment centre for senior positions) as well but these represent a good place to start.

Now before readers wilt under the possibility that this takes time management staff does not have, let’s be clear about two features of our selection procedure:  

  1. Bendel strongly suggests using only two of the additional strategies identified above (in addition to the interview which is seen either as the last element in the selection process or the one before the gathering of additional information using alternate methods noted above).
  1. Bendel suggests the use of an outside agency to do the “spade work” of gathering data from the other sources and presenting the selection team with a multi-page report on all candidates, a report that can be used to add additional information to the candidate’s profile as well as to reduce the number of candidates that will be interviewed by the selection team if the interview is the last phase.  This reduction would, of course, follow an initial screening that would likely be done by the organization itself using its own screening software.  In other words, it’s no extra time for the company once the first screening is done.  

Finally, the selection is made easier by the fact that that all the instruments from the 360-degree feedback mechanism to the self-assessment to the third party interviews are all aligned to the job description and to the equity and diversity considerations espoused by the organization.

When people talk about the time involved in selecting staff, they rarely comment upon the time (and money) required to address the fact that the people hired under a quickly contrived set of interview questions cost the organization a great deal more time, money and productivity.  One cannot help but return to the old question:“If you don’t take the time to do it right in the first place, do you have the time to do it over?”

Dr. Dan

Need more information?  Take a look at under Management – Group Webinars for the list of services related to selection and appraisal.  You just might be impressed.