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To Unlearn: Consider Tying Yourself Down Like Odysseus

Posted in Business, General, Human Resources

You are about to make an important hiring decision and it is almost time for the all-important face-to-face interview. If you could only ask one of the following ten questions, which would you choose:

1.   Why should I hire you?

2.   What do you see yourself doing five years from now?

3.   What do you consider to be your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

4.   How would you describe yourself?

5.   What college subject did you like the best and the least?

6.   What do you know about our company?

7.   Why did you decide to seek a job with our company?

8.   Why did you leave your last job?

9.   What do you want to earn five years from now?

10.  What do you really want to do in life?

The answer according to Professor Allen Huffcutt – who has spent years researching the topic – is Question #6. The reason is because it is a fair reflection of the amount of time the interviewee has spent researching your company.

It is not, however, the best question.

Ironically and, somewhat counter-intuitively, the best question is no question at all. The reason is because many people believe they are better judges of character than they actually are. The solution is avoid face-to-face interviews altogether and select candidates on the basis of more objective criteria, including work samples, job-knowledge tests, peer-ratings of past job performance or even a simple intelligence test.

If you feel an interview is still absolutely necessary, it is suggested that the interview be used only after you have narrowed the field of candidates (using more objective criteria). The interview can then be used to “sell” the best candidate on taking the job.

To understand just how difficult it is to unlearn the idea of the importance of the interview, Huffcutt was asked (when being interviewed for the book, Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior) whether his own department had changed its hiring procedures based on his research, he responded, “No … I’ve made some suggestions on how we can do better on interviews, but so far they haven’t been taken.”

Why? Because most people believe, in spite of strong evidence to the contrary, that they are far better judges of character than they are in reality. It is something worth unlearning before your company makes its next important hiring decision. If necessary you may even want your staff to tie you down like Odysseus so you can avoid the Siren song in your own mind telling you that "you are an excellent gauge of character."

(For related information, read this article in Fast Company entitled “Hold the Interview: Why it may be wiser to hire people without meeting them.”)

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