I recently read an article titled “Science Proves Job Interviews Are Useless.”

That was a catchy headline, but the real message was that unstructured interviews don’t work.

As I read this article, I thought: if interviews don’t work, the next logical question is “How do we assess potential candidates?”

There are a couple of ways to do this, but they don’t apply to all industries.

For example, say I wanted to hire a writer. I could hire someone by having them submit a writing sample to me. This would give me a great idea of their output, but it’s never going to speak for that individual. It won’t speak to their writing process or their research process, and it certainly won’t speak enough to whether they fit with the culture or not.

The only way to get that information is through some type of interview process. That’s why I’m a big fan of a semi-structured process.

When it comes to assessing talent, we must have a blend. If we lean too heavily into the structured side or into the unstructured side of interviewing, the recruiting process breaks down.

At TurboExecs, we’re currently hiring an associate. The first interview a candidate has is with our recruiter. I know that if the person gets to me, they have the technical capabilities to do the job. Then, it’s up to my business partner Patty and me to have a chat with him or her to decide if the person is a good cultural fit.

That type of dual interview process satisfies both sides of the equation.

There are people out there who will state that cultural fit is important above all else. I don’t completely disagree.

However, in a small business like TurboExecs, we know that we need more than just an absolute culture fit. Because all of our folks wear a lot of different hats, we also need that person to have the necessary technical capabilities. That’s why we like to have 2 distinct types of interview experiences for folks.

When Patty and I talk to candidates, they often show up with their resume to talk all about it. I love seeing their reactions when I tuck their resume into my billfold and say, “Let’s just talk.”

Some people aren’t comfortable going “off script”, which tells me a lot about them. In the consulting world, there isn’t always a script. How well they can just sit and have a conversation with me says a lot.

Where that conversation goes is up to both parties and obviously I do have some questions I ask, but they are extremely open-ended.

Some of the general questions that I use to open the floodgates are:
• How do you feel about your current job?
• What has you intrigued about this opportunity?
• What makes you get out of bed every day?

I find that you can typically weed out a lot of folks with just those first two questions. They don’t speak to technical capabilities of course, but they speak volumes about the individual’s state of mind with regards to next career steps and why they’re taking them.

The answer to the third question may not be job related, and that’s okay. The important thing is that it speaks to a person’s values.

They may say that their family is why they get out of bed every morning. For TurboExecs, I’m okay with that. I’m looking for someone who values flexible hours, so there’s alignment there with our cultural values and the individual’s values.

Patty and I recently interviewed a gentleman who was so technically qualified for the position we were hiring for that we would have been fools not to hire him. We started discussing this question and he talked about the thrill of the chase and the rush of business. He told us that he loved to go full speed ahead, working fifty to sixty hour weeks to “grind it out.”

That’s not necessarily a bad answer. But for our business, that’s a fit problem. We really value balance at TurboExecs, so his answer told us that even though he was the exact right person from a technical standpoint, he wasn’t a cultural fit. In a typical interview, we might not have hit on that belief system.

My personal interview style is clearly less structured. But it can only be that way because there was another step in the process that covered the structure.

Where a lot of interviewers, especially small business owners, fail with their recruiting and hiring efforts is that they look for technical competence on the resume and then want to talk to them about fluffy stuff, like…
• Our kids play on the same sports team or go to the same school
• We have the same alma mater
• We both love to travel

I call these things “fluffy” because while they’re fun to talk about, having these things in common doesn’t tell me if you’re a cultural fit or not. It can actually be detrimental to talk about the fluffy stuff, because it can create a halo effect.

The halo effect happens when something that I like about you (that we went to the same alma mater, both love to travel, etc.) influences me and puts blinders on me. Less savvy interviewers fail to recognize when that’s happening, and it changes who and how they hire.

The opposite of the halo effect is the horns effect, where a candidate can’t impress you no matter what. I’m not as concerned with this, because if something a prospect says during the interview rubs you that wrong, then there won’t be a fit no matter how good they are!

The halo effect is much more dangerous because it leads to hiring people that may or may not be a fit and may or may not be technically competent.

So many business owners get caught up in just needing bodies in seats so they’re looking for a reason to hire somebody, any reason. I think there’s something to be said for a healthy view of trying to find a reason not to hire someone. Going in with this attitude isn’t pessimistic; it keeps your guard up and ensures that the halo effect isn’t kicking in. It creates a healthy level of overturning every stone.

Ultimately, the conversation needs to come back to these two things:
• Do their abilities match our needs?
• Does how they want to use those abilities fit with how we need our challenges met?

At TurboExecs, we recently interviewed a woman for a position and really hit it off with her. One of the things she loved about the opportunity we presented was the flexibility it offered. She also wanted to move to a different part of the county even closer to the client we wanted her to work with.

The more we talked, the more the dots connected. She started to tell stories about the kind of work that intrigues her and it was similar to the types of situations we would be putting her in. So, we knew that we had a match.

In contrast, we had what I like to call a “sandwich interview” with a gentleman we interviewed a few weeks back. It started out like a stale piece of bread with a bad first impression. As the talk went along, I started to think he had potential. We had some good filler in the bread.

But then as we closed, we got to the other stale piece of bread.

He was technically competent – that’s why he made it past the recruiter. But it was clear that he wanted to stay focused on those competencies, and getting into the softer areas of cultural fit made him uncomfortable. That made it clear to us that he wasn’t a fit. Being a small business, we need to be okay with pushing each other’s comfort zones a little. That’s important.

That comes to your ability to interact with other people. Nearly every position has some level of interaction with people, even the computer programmer who works from home and writes code all day. He still has a client or a supervisor.

Even positions where people skills aren’t necessarily critical, we still have to figure out whether the candidate has the basic interpersonal skills required to get along with a team. That’s where the unstructured side of the interview comes in.

Despite the fact that we have talked about all of this from an interviewer standpoint, one of the biggest opportunities when talking to a candidate is also to let them interview you. In many cases, that will tell you more than any of the questions you might ask them.

I’d like to encourage folks, as you go through the interview process, to think about the optimal balance they can strike between structured and unstructured. Remember to allow interviewees to ask questions as well. That’s a critical piece to figuring out cultural fit.

So, no, I don’t think we should throw out the interview as a part of the hiring process. As with everything else in HR, we should mold the process to what will give the biggest benefit to our business.

What are your struggles in interviewing/hiring? Comment below/hit reply to share your experiences.