Unstructured Job Interviews Are Hurting Your Business

Research in the field of hiring and human capital strategy shows that a structured hiring process that includes scripted, job-specific interviews can vastly improve hiring results.  Interestingly enough, the inverse is true: companies that conduct random, unstructured interviews actually harm their hiring results.

In a fascinating 2013 study on interview effectiveness, researchers Jason Dana, Robyn Dawes, and Nathanial Peterson proved that running unstructured interviews can actually harm the hiring manager’s ability to make a sound decision.  Their specific findings merit a deeper look.

In three separate experiments, this team investigated the propensity for sensemaking – the ability for interviewers to make sense of anything the interviewee says, regardless of the content, and dilution – the tendency for available but non-diagnostic information to weaken the predictive value of quality information.

Participants were asked to predict two fellow students’ current semester GPAs by using actual, valid background information like prior GPA.  One of the students, however, was asked to use unstructured interviewing to make their prediction.  The interviewee was coached ahead of time to give completely random responses to the interview questions.  In short, the answers had nothing to do with the outcomes being predicted.

What the researchers found was that participants formed impressions of the student being evaluated just as confidently after getting random responses as they did after real responses. Said differently, the act of asking questions is what boosted the interviewer’s confidence in their decision, not the content of the student’s answer. Furthermore, the unstructured interviews actually led participants to make worse predictions about future GPA.   Even more amazingly, the students who conducted random interviews rated the degree to which they “got to know” the interviewee higher on average than those who conducted honest interviews.

These researchers also showed that participants believed unstructured interviews improved accuracy, so much so that they would rather have random interviews than no interview, despite knowing that random interviews produce a worse result.

Running unstructured interviews is a bad business decision.  Managers lean on them like a crutch, assuming that any interview is better than no interview.  The opposite is true: unstructured interviews produce a worse outcome than no interview at all.  Data gathered by Hireology, the talent technology company that I co-founded, show that less than ten percent of companies follow any kind of structured hiring process.  

There’s simply no easier way to create sustainable competitive advantage for your business than to run a structured hiring process.  Doing so immediately propels you into the top ten percent of all companies from a candidate selection standpoint. 

Need help getting started? Free tools for creating a structured hiring process can be found here.