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The Three Biggest Interviewing Mistakes of All Time

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Maybe companies should hire a CFO of Talent…

After having conducted 5,000 interviews, tracked the performance of hundreds of new hires, and trained 15-20,000 recruiters and hiring managers in the last 30 years, I can safely conclude that these are the three big reasons why the interviewing process is flawed:


  • Not everyone who has a vote knows what they’re voting for
  • People who interview candidates assume lots of things and ask lots of questions that don’t predict performance
  • The voting process is rigged



Worse, the best person is rarely seen since most companies continue to post boring skills-infested job-descriptions combined with generic boilerplate. (Here’s a legal briefing on the silliness of posting traditional job descriptions for compliance purposes.) But for now, let’s focus on the interview itself, irrespective of how the person was found.

Without knowing the actual work required, how is it possible to determine if someone is competent and motivated to do the actual work? If you’ve ever hired a competent, but unmotivated person, you’ve experienced this problem first hand. The problem starts by using job descriptions like the following (this was a buyer’s job I just found on Indeed for a well-known company):

It is required the Manager Procurement have a BS Degree and within Supply Chain Management, Business, Operations Management or related field preferred. An MBA or Master's degree preferred. A CPSM certification (formerly CPM) (Certified Professional in Supply Management) and a Six Sigma Green Belt or higher preferred. It is required the Manager Procurement have a minimum of 5 years relevant experience in a procurement / supply chain role.

Sadly, there were 10 more paragraphs just like this. How could any interviewer possible assess a candidate using this? Why not define the work before defining the skills needed to do the work? For example, let’s assume one of the performance objectives for this job is “lead the conversion of the procurement process from a legacy Oracle application to a fully-integrated SAP ERP system by year-end.” With just this, all you need to do is ask the Most Important Interview Question of All Time. This involves digging into the person’s most comparable related accomplishment to figure out if the person is both competent and motivated to do the work.

Without clarifying the performance expectations for the job, interviewers are left to their own devices on how to assess the candidate. Some will argue that a list of competencies and behaviors solves the problem, but how is an important trait like self-motivation measured? It’s simplistic to assume that getting an example of motivation in one situation implies motivation in all situations.

Many interviewers believe a good first impression and an assertive personality actually predicts on-the-job success. Neither does. If you have any people in your company who don’t make good first impressions, or are a little quiet, but are great workers, you have some proof. If you have anyone in your company who makes a good first impression and is assertive, but isn’t a great worker, you have more proof.

Trusting your gut is a little better than trusting first impressions, but not much. This is how the partially competent people get hired. They talk a good game, but don’t execute, or miss deadlines, or don’t collaborate, or they’re inconsistent. Others ask trick questions, which actually are effective if they’re job related, but most aren’t. If not, how does an interviewer determine if an answer is correct or not?

Over relying on skills and experience is safe, but incomplete. Few techies are judged on their ability to deliver results on time, organize their work, meet budgets, work with marketing people who write and change the product specs, deal with manufacturing when the line shuts down, or handle multiple projects concurrently while working for a boss who is overwhelmed. Yet it’s the lack of the these so called “soft skills” that causes them to underperform.

We then combine a flawed assessment process with a even more flawed voting system assuming the errors will cancel each other out. At it’s simplest level, it involves adding up the yes and no votes. In this case those with the highest authority, or who are the most assertive, get the most votes, whether their assessments are accurate or not. The yes/no voting system also rewards the least competent or rookie interviewers since they tend to vote no more often. When you don’t have enough information to vote yes, it’s far safer to vote no. This is why the 30-minute serial interview process should be banned. It’s a setup for a no vote, or a wrong one. You can tell if your company’s voting system is flawed if there are wide variations in the assessments. This is indicative of a process out of control.

Since the average annual cost of each new experienced hire with overhead is at least $100 thousand, the three year spend is $300 thousand. No CFO would let a company spend this kind of money without some type of formal analysis. Maybe companies should hire a CFO of Talent to create some order out of this chaos. That just might do the trick.


Written by Lou Adler (

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