Best Practices for Assessing Candidates in Interviews

By Reed Flesher

Effective candidate assessment during the interview process is a primary goal of every hiring manager. Without proper assessment, the interview process is little more than a social exercise in futility. What can hiring managers do to ensure that their interviews produce reliable, actionable results that accurately predict a candidate’s real potential?

A combination of assessment techniques is better than any single technique when it comes to predicting future employee performance. The following list of best practices can help hiring managers more accurately assess candidates in interviews.

1. Establish a Clear Objective Before Crafting Your Interview Process

Though this sounds simple, the reality is that assessing candidates must be a goal-oriented process if it is to be effective. Your overarching goal, of course, is to find the right candidate for the right position. To achieve this, it is essential to clearly define the job skills, qualifications, and desired personality traits of your ideal candidate.

This means that you must carefully assess job descriptions for each position for which you hire, and adjust your interview process to target key candidate attributes.

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2. Structured Interviews Yield More Standardized Results

In 1998, Frank Schmidt and John Hunter published a meta-analysis of 85 years of research on how well assessments predict performance. Surprisingly, they found that a job candidate’s age, years of education, and biographical data had almost no correlation to his or her future success as an employee.

Unstructured interviews, in which the interviewer asks spontaneous questions which vary from applicant to applicant, make comparative analysis virtually impossible. This apples-to-oranges approach to the interview process makes hiring largely a popularity contest of sorts, rather than a scientific approach to finding an acceptable candidate with a high probability of performing well after employment.

On the other hand, structured interviews include carefully planned questions based on a thorough analysis of job requirements and the merit criteria required to perform the job function. Each candidate is asked the same questions, and responses are measured against a pre-determined rating system. Schmidt and Hunter’s meta-study suggested that structured interviews are, on average, 34 percent more effective at predicting job performance than unstructured ones.

Advantages to structured interviews include:

  • Enhanced interviewer objectivity
  • Equal opportunity for all candidates
  • Greater predictive ability
  • Greater legal defensibility

3. Work Samples Aid in Future Performance Prediction

According to the article “Here’s Google’s Secret to Hiring the Best People“, the best predictor of how someone will perform in a job is a work sample test. The article notes: “This entails giving candidates a sample piece of work, similar to that which they would do in the job, and assessing their performance at it. Even this can’t predict performance perfectly, since actual performance also depends on other skills, such as how well you collaborate with others, adapt to uncertainty, and learn.”

For positions which are very task-oriented, a representative work sample reveals a great deal about the suitability of a candidate for a particular position. Thus, for certain types of positions, the work sample may be the single most important determinant of candidate qualification.

4. Test General Cognitive Ability

While few would argue that any position requires a set IQ point, the fact is that measuring general cognitive ability with things like IQ tests does yield important data. Why is that the case? The simple answer is that general cognitive ability includes the ability to learn, an essential job skill for most positions.

5. Include an Assessment of Integrity and Conscientiousness

Those candidates who achieve high scores on standardized conscientiousness tests tend to have qualities universally perceived by employers as desirable. Such traits include: dependability, high-level organizational skills, and perseverance.

Laszlo Bock, author of the best-selling “Work Rules” and head of People Operations at Google, notes: “My experience is that people who score high on conscientiousness “work to completion” — meaning they don’t stop until a job is done rather than quitting at good enough — and are more likely to feel responsibility for their teams and the environment around them.”

6. Include Interviewers from Several Departments and Employment Levels

Many organizations use an interview model which introduces a candidate to his or her immediate supervisor and several peers. While this is a valid practice, including subordinates and even people from other departments within an organization can yield surprising insights.

Realistically speaking, the candidate will have to work both with superiors and subordinates to be truly successful. Seeing the interaction between representatives of both groups allows the interviewer to spot potential strengths and weaknesses of candidates more clearly.

Additionally, utilizing personnel outside the department for which a candidate is applying often enables a more clear-sighted look at the true merit of a candidate and how that candidate may fit in to the company culture as a whole.

The Bottom Line

While there are a variety of interview techniques which help predict the potential of candidates, it is important to note that real interviewing success depends upon employing more than one technique to get the full picture of a candidate’s potential worth to your organization. Through a thorough and clearly defined set of objectives, structured interviews, obtainment of representative work samples, testing in the areas of cognitive ability, integrity, and conscientiousness, and involvement of multiple interviewers from a variety of departments and employment levels, interviewers can more accurately predict employee performance in the long-run.

Thrive TRM enables a collaborative interview process, giving hiring managers access to the candidate intelligence they need to identify the best candidates and streamline the interview process. Contact us today for more information about how Thrive TRM can work for your organization.