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Workplace bias

Why has the Traditional Interview Survived So Long?

LaunchPad Blog

Reinventing the traditional interview

Mythical Oxbridge interview practices, taking a long car journey together, telling a joke, having the right posture. Are any of these really effective at predicting future performance? And if not, why has the traditional interview survived so long?

This was the topic for debate on the BBC’s The Why Factor last week where LaunchPad CEO Will Hamilton spoke alongside experts from the recruiting, corporate and academic worlds. While the experts all wanted to achieve the same thing - to get the right person in the right role - LaunchPad challenges the effectiveness of the traditional unstructured job interview.

Interview structure matters

It was refreshing to hear about the work of charity Smart Works that helps women get back into work with a two-hour interview preparation and style consultation service. It’s hugely successful in helping two out of every three women it supports get back into work.

In her interview preparation sessions, recruitment consultant Jessica Large, helps candidates to get “focus and clarity about what is going to be expected of them” whether it be handshake, posture or lines of questioning. Google’s former SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock talked about making interviews more structured to ensure you find people with the right attributes and who can illustrate them through examples.

Outside the corporate world, Dr Christopher Brooke, who conducts admissions interviews for Oxford and Cambridge universities, says he tries to make interviews invigorating, helping candidates to show how much they can do, how far they can go, how much passion they have for their subject.

Human inconsistency in traditional interviews

At LaunchPad, we support all these goals and what they achieve. However, we do great candidates a disservice if we don’t remove our own human inconsistency and bias from the hiring process. As some of the expert panellists demonstrated:

  • The halo effect: If you get an immediate liking for someone, every ambiguous bit of information you receive after that will be perceived in that favourable light says Professor Frank Bernieri from Oregon State University. His research found that evaluations made by untrained individuals based on a 10 second meet-and-greet of candidates predicted the same outcome as a 90-minute interview process.
  • Conscious and unconscious bias: “Classic informal interviews don’t predict performance very well” says Christina Cleary of the University of Giessen. Her research into the recruitment of investment bankers showed female candidates were asked questions that men were not, including “Do you think you are tough enough?”, “Are you ambitious?” and “How do you manage family and work?”
  • Cultural lens: Erin Meyer author of The Culture Map says culture is a heavy influence on the questions we ask and that “we use our own cultural lens to determine whether someone seems like they’d be a good colleague.” In some cultures, we should expect more silence, in others a propensity to be modest about achievements, or to talk more about theory than practice. All leading to the risk of bias creeping into decision-making.

Minimise the challenge of bias

To minimise the challenges of inconsistency, we need to make the interview experience virtually identical for everyone, and to address bias in decision-making.Technology is a great enabler for this.

At LaunchPad, our platform enables companies to create a consistent recruitment experience that is free from bias. Even for high volume hires such as those in retail and hospitality, automated video interviewing creates a level playing field for candidates, no matter where or when they are assessed.

We also use data collected during the interview process to remove bias from decision-making. For example, we know that interviewers score candidates 20% lower around lunch time. We know some reviewers consistently rate candidates higher than others. Because we can measure reviewer behaviour, we can help them make better decisions.

So why has the traditional interview survived so long? Well, until recently we didn’t have many realistic alternatives, but thanks to technology, now we do. We have the tools to be objective, fair, engaging, and to make better recruitment decisions. We’re all equally committed to the cause of getting the right person in the right role; let’s use technology to help us do it.

To listen to the full interview visit the BBC iPlayer.