Why Interviews Fail – a List of Reasons

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Why Interviews Fail

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What is it that the business is trying to do in the interview? What are you likely to come up against in securing the role? Why do interviews fail?

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This part of the site examines recruitment from an organisational perspective. What are the processes that can make it such a long process? We also have a look at why interviews largely fail as an assessment tool.

There are certainly some good interview practises out there, but time and time again, we hear horror stories about how bad interviewers are, and how they are not such a valid mechanism for selecting candidates. 

The Things HR Has to Do When Recruiting

The following ,list is based on a medium to large organisation. It follows good practise, but some organisations will vary in their processes.

  1. Receive requisition form from relevant manager.
  2. Search files for similar job analysis, job description and person specification to the vacancy.
  3. Discuss vacancy with the supervisor to that job role. Ensure that the placement is an absolute necessity – that the job really exists and is needed.
  4. Interview present incumbent to explore reasons for leaving.
  5. Review and modify job description, job analysis and person specification and agree them with line managers.
  6. Get sign-off from relevant authority.
  7. Consider internal ‘transfer’ or recruitment options. If not, other sources for attracting candidates to that job role.
  8. Draft internal advertisement.
  9. Brief external recruiters, and negotiate the percentage of first year salary if they are not on the approved supplier list.
  10. Receive CV’s.
  11. Classify received applications into ‘unsuitable’, ‘possible’ and ’interview’. Email or telephone to arrange interview.
  12. Acknowledge receipt of application form and invite to interview (if not already completed in 7. above).
  13. Conduct preliminary interviews, and use other assessment techniques as appropriate.
  14. Compile short-list and agree arrangements for final selection procedure with the appropriate manager to the advertised role.
  15. Invite short-list candidates and write to other candidates letting them know they have been unsuccessful (and there may be a face-to-face meeting with those to coach them in getting the role next time).
  16. Conduct final assessment programme.
  17. On confirmation of acceptance, write to unsuccessful candidates. Offer to provide verbal feedback if they wish or career development coaching.
  18. Contact referee’s.
  19. Negotiate release date with their existing manager if it is an internal applicant.
  20. Possibly back-fill until offered external candidate fulfils contract notice period.
  21. Write ‘starting instructions’ letter to successful candidate.
  22. Devise ‘induction’ programme together with the line manager to that position – if you are lucky!

Although recruitment systems have taken some of the workload away from the employer, it is still a long list. After all that work, they would largely rather employ someone than not. We often call this ‘bums on seats’ mentality. That, again, is to your advantage as a candidate.

Why Interviews Fail

The failures described below are largely based on the subjective nature of humans – yes, interviewers are humans too! But it is precisely this fallibility that can be used to our advantage.

There are a whole host of reasons why the selection interview has such low validity generally in the UK. You will find some interesting data about this subject here in Personnel Today.Here are just a few of those most commonly cited reasons for why interviews fail:

  1. Inappropriate Attitudes and ‘gut reaction’ – For example, “I have a “feel” about these things. This is one of the major reasons why interviews fail. We all think we can predict the behaviour and performance of others. We size each other up when we first meet people in any situation. Yet all research shows these attitudes to be completely inappropriate in the interview situation.
  2. Allowing personal prejudice to influence decisions. We all have prejudice. It is natural. The problem comes when we actually believe our prejudices rather than seeing them and questioning them. From interviewers I have heard prejudices about the obvious, but also about the weight of a person, age of a person, and even based on how someone walked from their car to the reception! These sorts of prejudice are little better than reading the stars and basing decisions on the bumps on a persons head. Again, a primary reason for why interviews fail.
  3. Believing ‘putting the candidate under pressure’ at interview provides a realistic simulation of day-to-day work pressures.
  4. Macho Management – often manifested in talking too much. If you are talking as an interviewer, then you are not getting the evidence.
  5. ‘Halo effect’ or ‘Horns’ effect. I liked the candidate as soon as I saw them. Now I will subconsciously skew my scoring in their favour for Halo effect. Horns effect has the opposite outcome. We all know that it takes a very short time to make a judgement about a person, and I have heard numbers of between 3 and 10 seconds many times. Interestingly, a Princeton University study found it to be one-tenth of a second! To reinforce why interviews fail, I have seen many managers go through the process of the full interview for legal reasons but admitting that they had already made their mind up at the start.
  6. Recruit in his/her own image. “My kind of person.” We can also use this to our advantage as a candidate through rapport skills. This is based on the fact that similarities attract. It could be the school background, university, hobby, the interviewer and interviewee having a mutual friend, and for many other reasons,
  7. “I’ll know it when I see it.” This usually means there is no person specification.
  8. Lack of specificity – knowing what you are looking for requires an up-to-date job description and tight person specification.
  9. Untrained Selectors. A primary reason why interviews fail. Add to this, no agreed organisational interview framework, and we really have the blind leading the blind.
  10. Inadequate interview structure – research shows that ‘structured interviews’ have a much better chance of success than unstructured interviews.
  11. ‘Leaking’ by revealing your reactions to the interviewee’s appearance/answers to your questions. Leaking can be a simple smile to an answer, or by the interviewer talking too much, giving the interviewee clues to their likes and dislikes.
  12. Question types – interviewers should largely use short and open questions. Often, due to nerves, they provide signposts to the right answer. “Describe the best manager you have had?” This is a short and open question. Instead, the nervous interviewer might say, “Describe the best manager you have had? You know… were they hands-on, err, did they micro-manage…?” This interviewer has already told the candidate how to frame their response.
  13. Reliance on hypothetical questions. “If there was a…, then what would you do?” This is simply asking the candidate to guess what they would do in a situation they have never been in before.
  14. Poor Ambience – not getting the interview setting right. Often too hot or cold a room, sun or light straight into the candidates eyes, and so on.
  15. Poor Co-ordination between first and second interviews – does the line manager have the time dedicated? Are first and second interviewers using the same techniques? Have interviewers agreed which areas they will cover?
  16. Poor PR – ‘selling’ the organisation to the candidate should be a small but crucial part of your selection interview. A reason why interviews often fail is that the interviewer has forgotten that the interviewee has choices.
  17. Inadequate information.
  18. Unsupported evidence – is it real evidence or subjective interpretation?

So, effectively there is a game between two parties with differing personalities/values, needs, understanding of the role requirements, and background knowledge. How can you ensure your success in such a complex game? As stated earlier, most games are about preparation and skill. This game is no different.

If you are following pathways, move on to typical interview questions, and then interview questions and answers.

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