Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Interviews are a waste of time ?

At the end of last year I attended one of Bill Boorman's recruitment unconferences.   The basic concept is an open  and unstructured forum where recruiters can discuss and debate topics. The very  nature of the set-up attracts some interesting characters including a gentleman called Kevin Wheeler who offered a controversial idea that interviewing candidates is a complete waste of time.

My initial reaction was what a load of tosh. Interviewing is at the very heart of what we recruiters do.  If you don’t interview a candidate, how can you tell if they are right for the job ? What about the right culture fit? What about the candidate’s motivation?

He  went on explain that the results of an interview is worthless in  comparison to other recruitment techniques such as profiling, skills testing, psych testing, referencing etc. In his opinion most people who interview don’t do it very well and it allows for personal judgement and opinion to get in the way of more measurable, reliable, consistent  and less subjective results. At best, an interview adds no value to the selection process and at worse it leads to the wrong result. He painted a picture of the not too distant future whereby companies would map the background of their most successful employees which would form the basis of a software program into which a candidate’s information could be entered. The individual would be  scored against some pre-determined criteria and along with testing and referencing this would be enough to make a hiring decision. No interview– just see them on day 1.

He made some valid points.  If you have ever had the perfect candidate rejected because the hiring manager ‘just wasn’t sure about something’ in the interview, then the idea of getting rid of this subjectivity sounds great. It would certainly be a lot easier to punch a bunch of information into a programme and let it churn out the best candidate whist I made a cup of tea. It would also be a much cheaper way to hire. By the end of the discussion Mr Wheeler seemed to have convinced most people in the room, all experienced recruiters, that interviewing was pointless.

On the other hand I was far from convinced. If the interview is done by an experienced professional who knows what they are looking for, has the ability to ask the right questions, and get beyond the fluffy stuff they will come away with justified reasons as to why an individual either is or isn’t suitable. It will likely tell you much more than any test will. A good interview also serves to personally engage with the candidates and build some rapport.  I wouldn’t accept a job having not met, or at least spoken to my manager and seen the environment. Without the opportunity to engage the candidate in this manner, they may not be convinced your company is where they want to work. All the test results and algorithms in the world won’t change that.

It was to my surprise that Mr Wheeler convinced nearly everyone in the discussion that interviewing is a waste of time. What do you think? Would you be happy to employ someone having not met or spoken to them ? Does the human element just get in the way of logic and scientific reasoning ?


  1. A fair summarization of my thoughts. I am against the many, lengthy interviews candidates are usually subjected to, given by inadequately trained and harried recruiters. They are subjective and inconsistent. I do believe that a final interview with the hiring manager is appropriate and needed as a final judge of cultural fit and compatibility. Interviews with recruiters are not needed.

  2. Luke - interesting read. Thanks for posting.

    I guess it is a little like saying that any process or methodology, when undertaken by inexperienced or improperly trained individuals is going to be a waste of time. That much I agree with. I actually believe that a an interview conducted by a trained professional is the single most powerful selection tool, and in my view the more objective tools such as psychometrics are often afforded disproportionate influence over the recruitment decision. I have seen these misused more times than I care to remember. I think it is a mistake to kid ourselves that we can remove all subjectivity from the process - these are people-based decisions made by people and by virtue of that, will be inherently subjective. The key here is to recognise that, and minimise its influence over the final decision where possible.

    One final point I would like to make, which I think is almost always overlooked is that a sound recruitment process will produce a candidate that is capable of performing the role as it was presented at the time of recruitment. In many ways, finding a suitable candidate is the easy bit - inducting, training, onboarding, motivating and managing the employee after they have commenced working with you - now that's a challenge. Unfortunately many hiring managers fail to accept this as part of their role and expect the recruitment process to deliver up the perfect employee. No wonder recruiters and internal HR departments get such a bad rap when the employee doesn't work out.

  3. Thanks for the comments Kevin and Andrew.

  4. Hi Luke, good article, good topic.

    I often feel that interviewing is the most unproductive part of my day. I am extremely thorough in my resume checking and phone interviews, so the majority of my interviews is to make sure that a candidate presents well.

    95% of the time I've made my mind up within the first 5 minutes on a candidates suitability. I have often thought it would be great to be able to do "speed interviewing". Line up my 5 daily interviews 10 minutes apart and be all done within an hour - now that would be great!!

    I've worked with recruiters who spend 60, 70, 90 minutes interviewing each candidate. At the end of the day these recruiters weren't great judges of people, and hence needed the time to work the candidate out.

    Just my two cents...

    1. Hi James
      Thanks for the comment. Speed interviewing - great idea....could be the future !!!

  5. I like the idea because, apart from saving time and money (both the company's and the candidate's), it would drive recruiters to improve their strategies, tools & processes to provide the best candidates to hiring managers "sight unseen" rather than (some) relying on their HR-trained "sixth sense" or a preconceived notion of what a good candidate is.

    I used to hire UNIX systems administrators and very few of them were capable of adequately passing a standard recruiter interview. I wanted someone who knew their stuff and someone I could count on at 3am, not someone who presented well, looked you in the eye and could articulate their core values (or know what type of fruit they'd be).

    (Note here that I'm not dismissing the value of a good recruiter's interview insights, but, like hiring managers, recruiters come with varying levels of capability and a lot of the early interviews aren't given to our best and brightest.)

    I also completely agree with Kevin's comment on keeping the hiring manager interview for compatibility and cultural fit because interviews are a two-way street. The candidate will also need to feel comfortable that this is somewhere they'd like to work.

    I think if the recruiters are to add value to the interview process, it's in helping the hiring manager interpret the information and results collected on the candidate so far (e.g. pointing out possible areas of concern, particular questions to ask, etc.). If need be, maybe even sitting in the interview with the hiring manager for support/guidance.

    The whole idea works for me. Well done.

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Thoughts, comments, observations....