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Article: The Interview Is Not A Conversation Related Resources

The Interview Is Not A Conversation
by Rob McKay

Many times in past articles and seminars I have stressed the poor validity of the unstructured interview in the selection process. Yet the unstructured interview is still the most common selection tool. Apart from being poor predictors of work performance, interviews are also the most underrated expense item of the selection process.

Because no 'hard money' changes hands, managers see the interview process as a 'freebie'. It's just amazing that a selection tool that is so poor at predicting performance and chews up such a large chuck of expensive management time is still the most commonly used and most relied upon!

Why is it that interviews often fail to meet the needs of the organisation, and the people being interviewed?

The Illusions Of Easiness
Interviewing is a lot more difficult than people think, and many of these people think they are a lot better interviewers than they really are. There is a belief that interviewing is all about talking to people, and interviewing is just about good conversation. The selection interview is much more than a conversation, and good conversationalists aren't necessarily good interviewers.

When hiring new employees, many managers think they can play the role of a psychologist. They believe they can 'read' behind interviewees' responses and know what they are really saying. Years of research have taught us that we are poor at 'reading' people. This leads to the danger of the hiring manager believing he/she can assess the candidate's personality fit with the role and the organisation -- the old "I can pick'em when I see'em", approach.

Research does tell us managers can identify differences in personality, but they typically don't know how to match the right personality to a particular job. This is where excellent psychometric assessments like Prevue really shines.

Another reason people think interviewing is easy is that they do not distinguish between forming personal judgments and actually assessing a candidate's competency. People form impressions of each other very quickly, these impressions are usually based on speech, dress, or mannerisms. Initial impressions are not necessarily right or wrong they are simply, impressions.

The purpose of the interview, however, is to gather objective information that goes beyond first impressions. As the interviewer, your test is to predict the on-the-job performance of the candidate.

Good interviewing skills are not about judging character. You may think you are very good at this from the success you have had choosing friends, significant others or a spouse. The big different here is these choices are made on, "do I like this person?"

Selecting a new employee is about making a decision based on the ability to do the job, and not on personal preferences.

The Strategic Approach
The strategic approach to interviewing provides managers with a systematic, research-based approach to interviewing. Camp, Vielhaber and Simonetti, in their excellent book "Strategic Interviewing" outline six basic principles:

1. Developed realistic goals and manage the interview process (Job Analysis).
2. Clearly defined performance expectations needed to perform the job successfully (Build a Competency Model).
3. Ask questions that project of the candidate's ability to meet performance standards (Behaviourally based on each of the above competencies).
4. Decide on the answers you want before you ask the questions.
5. Conduct the interview in a manner that maximises an effective communication and accurate measurement (Use more than one interviewer, take notes and rate answers).
6. Use behavioural decision-making to predict the candidate's performance on the job.

Interviewing is not easy. It is time consuming and tiring, but still an important part of the selection process. Very few managers have been trained and usually conduct an interview as they have been interviewed - poorly. The keys to better interviewing include:

1. Ensure all questions are behaviourally, or situational based - "Tell me about a time..." or "Give me an example of..."
2. All candidates get the same questions.
3. Questions must be aligned to the core job competencies.
4. About 8 questions and associated probes will usually suffice (for a one hour interview).
5. Always have two or more interviewers and take notes.
6. Never conduct interviews back-to-back.
7. Design a rating sheet and "score" the interview immediately the candidate leaves.

Of course there are many more keys, but just implementing the above will greatly enhance your interview's validity from around .15 for your conversational interview to around .50 for a structured interview process as outlined above. Check out for full guidelines on best practise interviewing.

Rob McKay MA(Hons) is an Industrial/Organisational Psychologist and Director of AssessSystems Aust/NZ Ltd. He specialises in employee assessment for selection and development and has over 30 years of practical hands on business experience.

Rob McKay may be contacted at or


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