Rethinking Unstructured Interviews: Recognizing Errors and Improving Hiring Practices



Hiring is arguably one of the most important processes in any organization, directly shaping its present and future. Whether they are choosing structured or unstructured interviews, organizations must understand the intricacies, merits, and demerits of both to make informed decisions. Unstructured interviews, despite their popularity, are increasingly being criticized for their unreliability. Let’s explore why this is and look at the potential solutions.


The Fallacies of Unstructured Interviews

Unstructured interviews are conversations with no specific format or set of questions. While they are often viewed as a more relaxed and personal method of assessment, there are inherent issues that affect their reliability.

1. Reliance on Intuition People often assume they possess good intuition, a belief that influences their approach to unstructured interviews. But intuition can be misleading, especially when decisions need to be objective and free from personal biases. Research has consistently shown that intuitive judgments are often influenced by a host of cognitive biases, such as the halo effect, the confirmation bias, and the availability heuristic. These biases can distort evaluations, leading to wrong decisions.

2. Irrelevant Questions Unlike structured interviews, which involve predetermined, job-related questions, unstructured interviews are often plagued by irrelevant queries. These may range from personal interests to hypothetical scenarios that have little bearing on the job role. The issue with such questions is they don’t provide reliable insight into a candidate’s potential job performance.

3. Primacy and Recency Effects The information presented at the start (primacy effect) or the end (recency effect) of the interview often carries more weight than the information presented throughout. Regular assessments throughout the interview, focusing on specific competencies, could mitigate this cognitive bias, but unstructured interviews typically don’t offer this structure.

4. Contrast Effects Interviewers may compare candidates with those they previously interviewed, affecting their judgment. If the previous candidate was impressive, the next one might seem less so, even if they are equally competent. This contrast effect can lead to unfair evaluations.

5. Negativity Bias Negative information usually weighs more heavily in our minds than positive information. This negativity bias can skew the interviewer’s perception of the candidate, overemphasizing minor shortcomings while neglecting significant strengths.

6. Similarity and Appearance Bias Candidates that resemble the interviewer in terms of background, attitudes, or appearance often have a greater chance of being rated higher. Likewise, candidates who dress well or are considered attractive might be scored higher over those less physically appealing, leading to an appearance bias. Both these biases can lead to the hiring of less competent candidates.

7. Misinterpretation of Nonverbal Cues In unstructured interviews, physical cues, or nonverbal communication, can heavily influence the decision-making process. However, misinterpretations are common, leading to potential bias or incorrect assessment of the candidate’s suitability for the job.


The Shift towards Structured Interviews

Given these challenges with unstructured interviews, it’s clear that decisions on hiring should be based on more objective, evidence-based methods, like structured interviews. These are standardized, ensuring that all candidates are asked the same questions, enabling fair comparisons. They focus on job-relevant criteria, minimizing the scope for biases.

Conflict Management and High Stakes Negotiations in Interviews Conflict management skills and the ability to negotiate high stakes situations are vital for interviewers. They need to manage disagreements or disputes that may arise during the interview process, ensuring a fair and respectful environment. These skills also come into play when discussing compensation or other sensitive issues, maintaining a balance between the interests of the organization and the candidate.

Investing in Employees and Addressing Skills Gaps A crucial part of the hiring process is recognizing and investing in potential. Interviewers should have the ability to identify gaps in candidates’ skills and envision ways to fill these through training and professional development programs. Addressing these gaps is not only beneficial for the organization in terms of increasing competence but also advantageous for the individual’s career growth.

Adapting to the Evolving Marketplace With the rapid pace of change in the marketplace, interviewers need to stay updated on relevant skills and new techniques. Training programs, both online and offline, can provide them with the necessary tools to carry out effective and fair interviews. AI education is a rising trend in this area, providing insights into using artificial intelligence tools to aid in the interview process.

In Summary Unstructured interviews, while providing a conversational and relaxed atmosphere, often prove unreliable due to a variety of cognitive biases and irrelevant factors. The shift towards structured interviews, combined with conflict management, negotiation skills, and a focus on employee development, offers a more balanced and effective approach to hiring. As the marketplace evolves, staying abreast of the latest techniques and tools is essential to ensure the interview process is both fair and productive.


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