guest column

You shouldn't be just trusting your gut when hiring, says this Houston expert

Think you’re a great judge of character during interviews? You’re not alone — but you’re probably wrong. Photo via Pexels

If your startup has gotten to the point of being able to hire in new team members – congratulations! Your hard work and innovative ideas have been recognized, and you are now able to bring in others to help achieve your vision. While you may have specific ideas about the types of individuals you want on your team, interviewing candidates is not an easy feat, and deserves the same amount of strategy and organization you have dedicated to other critical company decisions. It can be tempting to rely on gut instinct when interviewing, but the science suggests there is a better way.

Organizations, regardless of company size or tenure, most commonly conduct unstructured interviews — those in which applicants meet with a bundle of organizational stakeholders and are asked a variety of questions deemed valuable for that interviewer. Questions typically cover topics such as interest in the role, experience in the field, specifics about their application, or anything else intended to develop rapport with the candidate. Interviewers may even utilize brainteaser questions intended to put applicants on the spot or try to gauge their ability to think on their feet.

Despite the fact that interviewers often feel they are a great judge of candidates during these interviews, interviewers actually obtain little usable information from them. Unstructured interviews limit the ability to gather specific, competency-based data on each applicant, create difficulty in comparing candidates along the same dimensions, and do not ensure that rating forms, if they exist at all, are being used in the same way among interviewers. The literature supports these limitations, showing that unstructured interviews can lead interviewers to focus on irrelevant information and increase susceptibility to biases, are highly unreliable are poor predictors of job performance, and can actually hurt predictive accuracy compared to not even interviewing at all. And those brainteaser questions? After years of studying their effectiveness, even Google has admitted they are worthless at predicting future job performance.

The alternative then is to adopt a structured interview. Structured interviews have four key characteristics:The first is that all questions are created prior to the interview, and are based upon a thorough job analysis — a rigorous, multi-method competency modeling process to help organizations identify key competencies required for success in the role. These data are used to develop role-specific interview questions and rating forms. Structured interviews also require that all candidates are asked the exact same questions, and in the same order to provide an equitable opportunity for applicants and reduce any primacy, recency, or contrast effects. Finally, structured interviews require that interviewers are trained not only on how to conduct interviews to maximize utility and minimize bias, but that they are also trained to use the competency rating forms in the same way.

As a result of this structure, these types of interviews have a strong evidence-base behind them. They demonstrate higher levels of reliability between raters, are better able to predict later job performance, and minimize opportunities for racial and gender bias to emerge. Importantly, structured interviews are also more efficient. Studies have shown that it would take three to four unstructured interviews to reach the same levels of accuracy as just one structured interview conducted by one interview. In summary, the structure and standardization embedded within structured interviews is important from the validity, reliability, fairness, and practicality perspectives. For all of these reasons, structured interviews meet best practice and legal standards for a high-stakes assessment method.

When building the team for your startup, it is imperative that you can accurately assess all job candidates and their alignment with your company’s goals, vision, and needs. Informal conversations are unlikely to help achieve this aim. Despite how great a judge of character you think you are, the data are clear — structured interviews are the most efficient and effective way to evaluate candidates for your positions.


Aimee Gardner is the co-founder of SurgWise, a tech-enabled consulting firm for hiring surgeons, and associate dean at Baylor College of Medicine.

Trending News