Most companies and managers believe that they are able to interview people for jobs effectively based on their own experience and intuition (1). Specifically, they prepare for conducting interviews by reviewing resumes and then tailoring questions based on the individual, essentially 'free wheeling". This is referred to as an unstructured interview.
I, as well as the vast majority of the research, argue that a structured (or planned) interview is your best bet for hiring a candidate. A structured interview is one that is planned through standardized questions, trained interviewers, a controlled length of time, and specific response evaluations. That is, every candidate gets asked the same questions and are evaluated on the same rating scale. An unstructured interview, on the other hand, is generally a more 'off the cuff' approach where interviewers ask tailored questions to the individual to understand their specific experiences and to get a 'sense' or 'vibe' of the person (1).
Research shows that people perceive the unstructured interview as the most effective way to understand a candidate, when, in fact, it is the least (as compared to planned interviews, cognitive tests, and personality tests; 2; 3). Planned interviews are twice as likely to predict outcomes such as how well candidates do in training orientation, how successful they are on the job, and how long they stay with the organization (4; 5)
So let's go through the potential arguments against planned interviews and my rebuttal...
Argument 1: In a small company/team, we need to get to know people and ensure that they will get along with the group.
Rebuttal: Sure, by taking an unstructured approach, you are unintentionally (or intentionally) examining how much the candidate is like you (6). However, this reduces the diversity of who you are hiring, not just in terms of gender and ethnicity, but also in thoughts and experiences.
Additionally, you are likely only measuring how charismatic a person is (7; 8), not how well they work within a group. Generally, those with good physical appearance (facial attractiveness, attire, weight) and non-verbal cues (eye contact, smiling) is what you are hiring (7; 8). And, no surprises here, these attributes don't show to predict job performance (9).
People shouldn't be 'fitting' in with your team, they should be 'fitting' into your strategy. That is, candidates should provide a complementary skillset to help you achieve your strategy. Diverse thoughts and styles will likely get you to your strategy better than hiring a 'mini-me' which can open yourself up to biases such as groupthink.
When hiring for really small teams, perhaps no one person will have all the skills necessary to help, so some will argue ‘fit’ is more important. But in these situations you aren’t hiring a technical expert, but a generalist or 'chameleon'. That is, you are hiring for different skills such as agility, problem-solving skills, proactivity, etc. which can all be assessed with planned questions. This is to say, you can still hire for collaboration or influencing skills (rather than the intuitive sense of fit), but what you choose to assess needs to align with the strategy and/or values of the company.
A word of caution: as you increase diversity decision-making will take longer and conflict will increase, however it also bring about more innovation and better financial results, so it's worth it (10).
Argument 2: A planned interview seems impersonal and candidates hate them.
To help ensure a good candidate experience, leave time for candidates to ask their own questions. Additionally, they will see the experience as even more fair if they have advanced knowledge of what the questions will be, even if just a few hours before.
Argument 3: Well I can 'read between the lines' the things that a planned interview will miss.
Rebuttal: When you are hiring, you may think that a planned interview doesn't address the uniqueness of the person's background or the role. Therefore, you may think that because you are adapting to the individual or the situation you will be able to detect patterns and links that a planned interview never could (14).
However it's important to remember, with a planned interview, each candidate is still being evaluated as an individual. From a question like "tell me about a time you received a complaint from a customer", they can respond in a way that is unique to their experiences and their own learnings. The only difference is with a planned interview you have (a) decided that customer service is important ahead of time and (b) you want to see how all candidates respond to the same question and (c) you can evaluate their responses across one another. A trained interviewer can also begin to pick up on subtle patterns. For example, are they self aware? Do they see the errors they make and learn how to overcome them the next time? Do they use the same approach or style each time?
Argument 4: But I've hired good people in the past without a planned interview.
Rebuttal: Have you? Do you have data that supports that? Check your attribution bias. That is, do you think your good hires are a result of your skills? And what about bad hires? Was that not your fault because they must have lied in the interview or become unmotivated once hired? You are more likely to attribute any success to yourself and the failures to others (15).
Attribution bias is compounded by other biases and memory issues. For example, research found that hiring managers only remembered half of the answers to interview questions (16). Additionally, hiring managers' perceptions are heavily skewed by negative information (17). Research shows that hiring managers adding their intuition or instinct along with a planned interview actually REDUCED the predictability success (18) showing how negatively impactful human error really is.
If you are feeling uneasy at this point, it's okay. Research has found that it's not just hiring managers that aren't effectively choosing the right people - similar results have been found with clinicians, social workers, parole boards, judges, auditors, admission committees, marketers, and business planners (19; 20; 21; 22). We are all subject to human error and biases.
Argument 5 - We don't have the time or money to make a planned interview
Rebuttal: Planned interviews create an approximate savings of $40,000 annually per manager role (23). Creating a planned interview will cost a fraction of that. Planning an interview will only add a few extra weeks to the process, but once the interview is created it won't add any time for future candidates who are being evaluated on the same competencies.
Furthermore, replacing an employee costs approximately 1/3 of their salary (24). In Canada, that's, on average, $18,000 (25). This cost is because it take at least a month to fill the job, it costs money and time to train new hires, plus the productivity lag to get them up to speed. Having a good planned interview will reduce the cost by approximately half based on the value gained from its ability to predict job performance and tenure (4; 26).
So what is the solution?
Well, if it hasn't been obvious already, create a planned interview. Here are the basic steps to do so (27):