Do interviews matter?

Yes, interviews very much do matter.

You may have read articles like the one that Sarah Laskow wrote a few years ago in The Boston Globe, “Want the Best Person for the Job? Don’t Interview,” or the one Jason Dana published in The New York Times, “The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews.” These and other stories make the all too familiar claim that interviews do not boost your ability to spot the better job candidates. You might then wonder whether interviews, or trying to improve your interview skills, are worth your while.

This common myth of interview impotence misses the point. At the very least, interviews can help you rule out some candidates quickly. But the main reason why virtually all top companies stick with doing interviews is that interviews yield useful information.

Most importantly, many of the research studies pessimistic about interviewing focus on unstructured interviews performed by relatively unskilled interviewers for relatively uninteresting, entry-level jobs. You can do better. Even if it were true that interviews do not on average improve candidate selection, that is a statement about averages, not about what is possible. You still would have the power, if properly talented and intellectually equipped, to beat the market averages. In fact, the worse a job the world as a whole is at doing interviews, the more reason to believe there are highly talented candidates just waiting to be found by you.

In most of the studies on this subject, interviews were more effective for higher-level jobs. So if you wish to hire an economist, Tyler believes that asking a person substantive economics questions during an interview is a good way to start assessing their competence, though to our knowledge this never has been proven or disproven in study form. Daniel believes that if you wish to fund an applicant for venture capital, it is worth asking about the business plan to see how well the basic idea is presented and defended. If they can’t make a case for it to you, they’ll probably have trouble attracting talent to help them. The anti-interview crowd, many of whom are centered in academia, overlooks these obvious truths.

Interviews also play a crucial role in recruiting candidates and helping spread a positive impression of you and your company, even in cases where you don’t end up hiring the person. So put aside any inclination to skip or devalue this part of the process. Interviews are essential, and, because so many organizations rely on mindless bureaucratic approaches, the bar is low and the payoff high.

Footnote: For one typical anti-interview piece, see Sarah Laskow, “Want the Best Person for the Job? Don’t Interview,” The Boston Globe, November 24, 2013. Or see Jason Dana, “The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews,” The New York Times, April 8, 2017, a poorly titled piece that refers primarily to a single specific study. On a meta-analysis regarding the value of structured interviews, see Allen I. Huffcutt and Winfred Arthur Jr., “Hunter and Hunter (1984) Revisited: Interview Validity for Entry-Level Jobs,” Journal of Applied Psychology 79, no. 2 (1994): 184–190. See also Therese Macan, “The Employment Interview: A Review of Current Studies and Directions for Future Research,” Human Resource Management Review 19 (2009): 201–218, for a more recent examination of the same questions.

That is all from my forthcoming book with Daniel Gross Talent: How to Identify Energizers, Creatives, and Winners Around the World.  Most of the chapter of course is devoted to how to get the most out of an interview.  Due out May 17, you can pre-order here for Amazon, here for Barnes & Noble.


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