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Tell me about the swastika on your forehead? The shortfalls of the job interview

I once was hired for a professional post after a single phone interview. No sit down with the director. No follow up questions. No viewing me via Skype to see if I didn't have a swastika tattoo etched into my forehead. 

You could say I was desperate because I didn't take any of these precautions, either. No prospective due diligence on my prospective co-workers -- and there were about 10 of them on the interview panel. 

Perhaps this group believed that finding job candidates is a random process. Like many types of interviews, structured job interviews are imperfect methods to view future performance on how an employee will work, how that person will fit within your team. (Here's a great study proving that emphatically.) 

One way to beat the randomness of the job interview is to spend a lot of time doing it. That means forcing candidates to jump through a lot of hoops, partly gauging their like-ability and partly gauging their desire to work for you.

Google, the company, seems to be a master of this. From what it sounds, candidates go through a very thorough (if you work for them) and very tedious (if you're being interviewed for them) process of one interview after another. 

Google, a data company, worries that  interviews are driven by instinct. And many people, especially in high positions, feel they have that instinct. 

In an interview with the New York Times, Laszlo Bock of Google talks about how the company approaches hiring new people. 

Instead, what works well are structured behavioral interviews, where you have a consistent rubric for how you assess people, rather than having each interviewer just make stuff up.
Behavioral interviewing also works — where you’re not giving someone a hypothetical, but you’re starting with a question like, “Give me an example of a time when you solved an analytically difficult problem.” The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable “meta” information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.
On the leadership side, we’ve found that leadership is a more ambiguous and amorphous set of characteristics than the work we did on the attributes of good management, which are more of a checklist and actionable.

 Bernard Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, doesn't rely on data like Google does. But he does investigate people on three separate levels. Here's an interview with Adam Bryant of the New York Times. 

How do you hire?
I let people know that I’ve read their résumé, and then I’ll ask: “What really stands out for you? What do you want me to understand in your story here?”
And I assess all my leaders on three dimensions: the head, the heart and the guts. I want to get a sense of the head — how do you think, how do you work, and how do you take in information and synthesize it to drive forward? Then I want to know about the heart. How do you relate to people? How do you get people excited about doing something?
And the gut is the ethical compass, what guides your inner motivations. That one is critically important to me, because my executives make a lot of decisions. If I ever begin to question the ethics or the value system of an individual, then we’ve got a problem.

 

These examples are from the corporate world, of course, and the two men have enough power to make up their own rules. But my position described above was for a job at a state agency, and the very large hiring committee had to be accountable at every step of the way. The hurdles were so many, in fact, that actually speaking to candidates and hiring people was viewed as an afterthought.  

But, was the hire a successful one? Training and educating a new employee is costly and time consuming. From the perspective of the job applicant, I certainly didn't perform enough due diligence on this organization. (Should I have viewed their laissez faire attitude towards hiring as taking shortcuts in other areas, like planning or employee development?) Should they have been more thorough in their investigation of me, my work style and my strengths and weaknesses? (Laszlo Bock of Google -- and a series of academics -- would say an interview may not bring out those secrets.) 

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