Why the Traditional Job Interview is Hurting Employers and Candidates

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As demands on the workforce grow increasingly complex, companies need a better way to assess and hire the best possible candidates. A first step: stop relying on the fundamental flaws of the unstructured job interview.

The Importance of the Right People

When companies sit down with investors they pitch their team first. No matter the industry you’re in, the success of your company ultimately comes back to the team that you’ve built to execute your vision. Significant resources are dedicated to hiring, training, and keeping top talent, but the hiring process has failed to adapt to a changing world and those dollars aren’t getting the return that they used to.

It has never been harder to find the right people to bring into your company, and many factors – from skill set, to cultural fit, to a willingness to learn – are essential to making the right hire. We now ask our employees to do more complex jobs than ever, and it is essential that they come equipped not only with the tools to do the job itself, but the capacity to adapt when things go off script.

In his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink points out that as jobs require a higher level of cognitive skills, an individual’s abilities become increasingly important points of differentiation. New hires can’t simply meet the baseline technical or specialized qualifications for the role you’re seeking to fill. They must also bring to the table essential power skills like creativity, critical thinking, and an ability to solve complex problems.

You also need to know when you hire someone to do a job that they will stick around long enough to create a positive impact. As we discussed in our blog, “Why New Hires Don’t Stick”, there are myriad reasons why people leave their jobs, but one of the most common is they don’t fit well into the role they’ve been hired for. This sort of systemic failure corresponds to the way businesses hire people. Somewhere along the way, the candidate may have poorly represented their alignment with the job requirements, or the company may have miscommunicated the job role expectations.

High turnover is more than just a huge monetary blow; it can also have a negative impact on the company as a whole, leading to reduced productivity and restricted growth. More jobs are becoming collaborative and team-focused. Companies can’t as easily “plug in new players” anymore. It takes time and commitment for every new hire to become highly effective.

Companies have every reason to tamp down flaws in the hiring process that could lead to turnover, heavy hiring expenses, and decreased team morale. The first step is to address the the number one culprit for why these problems arise: the unstructured job interview.

Why Interviews Don’t Work Anymore

Most people don’t enjoy conducting job interviews. It’s a stressful and time-consuming process. But, absent other approaches, many have come to accept interviews as the only way to get a “real sense” of the people potentially being brought onboard. We believe we can accurately read candidates based on their personality and response to our questions. What we have learned, however, is that as jobs get more complex and challenging, not only are interviews frustrating and costly, but they may not be all that effective. Interviews may, in fact, reduce the likelihood  of finding and hiring the right candidates.

A problem with job interviews is that they are a poor proxy for the work they are being considered for. Candidates put all their effort into making a strong first impression. They focus on nailing the interview rather than making their best case for why they actually suit the job. As humans, “we have a deep-seated need to feel that we can judge character.” We overestimate our ability to identify the best fit, while underestimating our unconscious biases. In this system, how often does a company hire the the most polished interviewee, not the best person for the job?

Even if we assume that every single person who walked into the room for an interview was being completely honest, there are so many ways that human intuition can let us down. Writing for the New York Times, Jason Dana tells the story of a friend of his who walked in 25 minutes late for an interview. The company did hire her, and one of the interviewers mentioned how impressed they were that she stayed calm and composed despite being late. The twist? Because of a miscommunication, she was under the impression that she had arrived 5 minutes early for the interview and would have acted very differently had she known she was late.

Psychologist Ron Friedman explains that we often make false judgements about a person based on their appearance. A tall person might strike us as inherently more authoritative, while an attractive person may be perceived as more capable. We are even prone to tailoring the questions we ask in minor ways based on our assumptions. Those subtle differences can have a surprising impact on the answers you get from a candidate, as well as your own impressions of the candidate.

Intuition simply can’t be relied upon, and the unstructured job interview continues to depend in large part on intuition to work. If we want to hire the right people that check all those important boxes outlined in the first section, we need to seriously consider alternatives. Likewise, structured interviews that strive for fairness and impartiality have drawbacks as well: They can inhibit relationship building, make interviewees tense, and prevent ad hoc follow-ups or recharacterization of certain questions if they aren't readily obvious to the candidate.

A Better Solution

In an ideal hiring scenario, a company would have the tools not only to accurately measure a potential candidate’s ability to do the job, but also those other essential power skills, like problem solving, teamwork, and critical thinking. On the candidate’s side, they shouldn’t feel the need to be disingenuous about what they are bringing to the table or feel compelled to focus all of their effort on nailing the interview.

To clear up both of these problems, an objective, third-party is needed — a moderating force that can assess new hires fairly without letting the bias, subjectivity or assumed “intuition” get in the way. Authess uses authentic assessments for that exact purpose.

Rather than relying on intuition or the limited utility of multiple-choice personality or performance tests, authentic assessments are problem-based scenarios that mimic the kind of real-world challenges a prospective candidate would have to deal with on the job. The goal with every authentic assessment is to provide a relevant opportunity for each new candidate to show, in a genuinely useful and accurate way, how capable they are for the specific job role they are being considered for.

The face-to-face employer/candidate conversation can focus on the “how and why the candidate took a certain approach to solving a novel problem in real time,” rather than elicit canned responses to inquiries about the candidate's self-reported knowledge and experience on a resume.

The value of challenging new candidates with these actual, problem-based scenarios is two-fold. First, these assessments give a clear and objective sense of a candidate’s ability to solve the kinds of problems they will be dealing with in the workplace. Second, with AI-driven algorithms that not only measure whether or not a candidate solved a problem, but how they came to their solution, these assessments end up being great predictors of all those other skill factors that Daniel Pink lays out in his book as essential to success: creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking.

These so-called “intangibles” aren’t nearly as unpredictable to us anymore, and we don’t have to rely on intuition to suss them out. The result we are driving toward is a world where every new hire is comfortable and successful in their new role, allowing them to stick around long-term and grow with the company toward mutual benefit. Reliably creating and re-creating that scenario isn’t so far away.

To learn more about Authess and the ability to assess skills and competency, please contact us  to see a demo of our assessment platform in action.

Helping Students Apply Their Knowledge

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Students routinely struggle to apply knowledge from the classroom in real-world situations. Authentic assessments can solve the problem at scale by encouraging engaged, critical thinking.

The Knowledge Transfer Problem

For any learner exposed to new concepts or disciplines, it is normal to think of the knowledge they pick up in a narrow way. Core concepts and foundational principles are typically contextualized in a specific domain or use case, and learners are encouraged to apply it to that context. This narrow focus, especially when it comes to assessing students knowledge, may limit a learner’s thinking about alternate application of these core concepts.  A history student studying 14th century Europe and the Black Death may not think long and hard about how the spread of that disease applies to modern day population density, and a classics major studying a Greek tragedy might not link these 6th century themes to contemporary politics. As a negative consequence of the narrow perspective that students are taught and tested on, newly acquired knowledge may be viewed by the student as static and irrelevant to their career aspirations.

Marketing majors and engineering majors, for example, aren’t inherently more valuable than degrees in any other field. They just have an advantage in that their real-world application is more explicit. It’s much easier to craft contemporary, real-world scenarios to test these students and prepare them for the challenges they will face in their chosen careers.

In truth, acquiring knowledge independent of career tracks has just as much capacity to be useful and relevant, but only if educators have the tools to help students cultivate skills to think critically and apply logic and reasoning to real-world problem solving — beyond mere memorization and the occasional essay. There is tremendous potential for a history major to help understand modern day challenges, research effectively, and write convincingly. When students are given the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge beyond its original context, there is no limit to how useful it can be.

A Path to Applying All Knowledge

Traditional studies need to adapt, in terms of how they are taught. When students are trained to see the acquisition of knowledge as information to be memorized for a test, it’s no surprise that they have trouble thinking critically about its wider application. But, the ability to transfer knowledge from one arena to another is, some would argue, a primary objective of higher education.

The first step to successful knowledge transfer is putting students in a position to really comprehend the ideas they are being taught. There is a big difference between “knowing the name of something and knowing something” as Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman put it. When a student’s only objective is to memorize names and dates, it’s much harder to gain an appreciation for the deeper, underlying concepts. And only with that true comprehension can students begin to understand how those ideas might be applied in the real-world situations they will experience when they graduate.

A great way to drive engagement and ensure knowledge transfer is by providing practical examples of how meaningful their studies can be in a variety of contexts. Those concrete cases will help get the juices flowing so that students can come up with ideas of their own. Sometimes it takes just one illustration for students to recognize how valuable the knowledge they are learning can be — in many contexts.

Finally, giving students an opportunity to come together and work out concepts as a group fosters necessary communication and collaboration skills. Rather than simply being fed information, they really have to think critically about the material and communicate their knowledge to build an understanding together. Not only does this strategy aid comprehension, but it also helps transfer one of the most valuable power skills: teamwork.

Enabling Real World Challenges at Scale with Authentic Assessments

The challenge is that these proven approaches to driving relevancy, engagement, and knowledge transfer are often impossible to achieve reliably, at scale, or in the virtual classroom. Imparting deep understanding of subject material is only the first step to applying knowledge. The next and most vital part is to put students in a position to employ that understanding in real-world scenarios. Authentic assessments, aided by data-driven machine scoring make this approach actionable and affordable for any institution.

No matter the field of study they choose to pursue, authentic assessments give students the opportunity to practice how they will use that knowledge in the careers ahead of them. By engaging with real-world scenarios, students can develop and hone valuable power skills like communication, critical thinking, and information literacy. They can see clearly how the skills they’ve acquired transform their use of knowledge and facts beyond the basic parameters of traditional testing. In doing so, knowledge becomes success.

Authentic assessments unlock the potential of every student. They give students the experience and skills to succeed and the motivation to engage at a higher level with their learning. If you want to see how much of a difference authentic assessment can make, reach out to Authess for a demo of our real world assessments.

What Recruiters Can Learn from Moneyball

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Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, chronicles the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team, who, despite being at a serious economic disadvantage, were able to compete with a big market powerhouse like the NY Yankees. Their general manager, Billy Beane, made it work by using an analytical and evidence-based approach.

For most of its history, baseball was considered an unfair game. Without a salary cap to create parity, big market teams dominated the competition because they could hook and sign all of the top talent. They had the big bucks, so they fielded the best teams and won consistently.

Everything changed when Beane realized that baseball insiders (scouts, coaches, and general managers) were using an antiquated and ultimately flawed approach of assessing the best talent and the best teams. Despite having access to new, advanced metrics to benchmark talent, they continued to rely on subjective opinion to gauge player ability.

Moneyball was adapted into a film in 2011. In one powerful scene, GM Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, sits in the Athletics war room with his team of scouts and assistants. He proposes a radical new strategy to sign players that the league thinks are washed up or otherwise deficient in some way. Every scout in the room is shocked by his audacity, but he shuts them all down again and again with one phrase: “He gets on base.”

Beane didn’t rely on conjecture to pick the ideal talent. He didn’t let sentiment cloud his judgement and limit his ability to make the right calls. He signed people who could do their job — who could get on base — and he fielded a team that won 103 games, topping the American League West. Despite only having a third of the money as the Yankees to spend on players, the A’s won just as many games in the regular season.

This same kind of efficient, analytical approach employed by Beane can be just as effective for recruiters in business as in baseball. Historically, companies have had a problem assessing the ability of their new hires. New employees are leaving at a higher rate than ever, often because they simply aren’t suited for the role they’ve been asked to fill.

Like the scouts in Moneyball, recruiters rely too heavily on proxies for performance: the college or university you attended, your GPA or letters of recommendation. The problem is exacerbated by subjective tools such as intuition, and flawed systems such as interviews to assess potential hires. Employees aren’t judged properly, they leave, and companies spend thousands of dollars replacing them and funneling new candidates through an antiquated hiring process.

Jason Dana recently wrote a piece for the New York Times where he stressed that job interviews are essentially useless. He makes the core point that “interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees, often revealing more about themselves than the candidates.” Recruiters listen to the way that candidates answer questions, and they draw their own, often false conclusions about what the answer says about the person.

To make matters worse, candidates often misrepresent themselves in interviews. They don’t speak truly about themselves; they say what they need to say to get hired. Recruiters believe they can use intuition to suss out these discrepancies, but it’s a subjective, flawed, and often unsuccessful approach.

Unilever has radically changed its hiring practices by ditching time-consuming and costly strategies like visiting college campuses and subjecting candidates to round after round of interviews. Instead, they use algorithms to sort and recommend the best possible candidates from the pool. Unilever has found that with this process, 80% of the people who make it to the final round get a job offer.

Authess uses the same kind of AI-driven, analytical approach to gauge the best possible hires. Rather than relying on intuition, recruiters can authentically assess whether or not their candidates are right for the job. By pre-screening an applicant’s ability to organize information, solve problems, and communicate effectively on an authentic, real-world task, recruiters can ensure that every candidate they consider is capable of handling the demands of the job.

Authentic assessment is affordable, scalable, and has proven to be a better predictor of ability than the traditional, subjective approach. You don’t need the money of the New York Yankees to find, hire, and keep the people who can get on base.

In that same scene where Billy Beane proposes his new strategy to make the Oakland A’s the best possible team they can be, he is confronted by one of his scouts who just can’t believe that this analytical approach could work. Billy only has this to say to him: “Adapt or die.” We have the advanced metrics and the tools to measure an individual’s skills and abilities. It’s time to adapt or face the consequences of sticking to an old and failing model.

If you’d like to see how Authess helps you field the best possible team, request a demo.

Addressing Onboarding Shortcomings

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The turnover problem that many companies face starts with how they onboard new employees. Data-driven assessment can help encourage the development growth that is essential to effective onboarding.

What is Onboarding Really For?

In a 2014 survey with BambooHR, one-third of approximately 1,000 people surveyed said that they quit their last job before they hit the sixth-month mark. Approximately 17 percent of respondents said that they left between the first week and the third month of working their new job. This costly statistic is often the result of one or two factors: inadequacy in the assessment of potential hires, and/or systemic issues in the way that new employees are brought onboard. We’ve already talked about how authentic assessment helps smooth out the hiring process.  Now we’d like to turn a critical eye toward the onboarding process and how we could do better.

To begin, it’s worth considering what onboarding intends to accomplish in an ideal scenario. Effective onboarding should do two things: (1) prepare the hire to take on their new responsibilities and (2) integrate them into the culture of the company. An early exit may indicate that the onboarding process has failed to do at least one or both.

It’s important to remember that onboarding is about much more than just training. While training plays a critical role in onboarding, the culture component is just as important.  When people enter a new company, they want to know how they will fit in. As seen with many Millennials, when new hires aren’t able to develop a sense of purpose, or they feel isolated from the rest of the team, they are much less likely to be productive and happy with their work. At the end of the onboarding process, the new employee should be able to say confidently that they are an integral part of the team and have a definitive understanding of their role to guide their growth and development.

Why It Matters

Turnover can get in the way of a business’s growth and success.  The financial cost of losing and replacing a new hire can range from 25 percent to 200 percent of their annual salary while high turnover can further be profoundly damaging to employee morale. It’s hard to feel like you are part of a team when the composition of that team is in a constant state of flux.

Onboarding may be the antidote to a high turnover rate amongst new hires. A 2013 report by the Aberdeen Group found that 91% of employees stayed through their first year in companies with best-in-class onboarding programs, illustrating the link between an engaging, effective onboarding process and a reduction in turnover.

More than just turnover, quality onboarding has also shown to have a direct impact on profit growth. It’s not hard to see why. Employees who are genuinely enthusiastic about their job do better work, and that quality of work translates to greater success for the company as a whole.

How to Make Your Onboarding More Effective

Many companies over think onboarding. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a gauntlet of team-building activities to get people excited about working for you. While those things might be a nice bonus to help build team experience, the most important thing is to clarify the new hire’s purpose from day one.

New hires should have clear goals and at least one obvious thing to accomplish each and every day. Employees get off track when they are either given too little or too much to do when they start out. Effective onboarding is all about steadily ramping up responsibility as employees get more comfortable. Not only will starting small help them learn their job, but a clear focus better equips them to solve complex problems on their own.

One way to position new hires for success, and to help them understand what is expected of them, is to have them work through a standard role-based task (a typical authentic workplace problem relevant to the corporation and the new hires’ job role). This is exactly the kind of exercise that the Authess platform is equipped to provide companies struggling with their onboarding.

Because Authess captures problem-solving, approaches and strategies in addition to the final answer, Authess’ Insight reports can show new hires how their performance compares with that of top performing employees. This reporting can capture culture, behavior, ethical decision-making, creativity and other hard-to-measure characteristics that are essential to a successful onboarding process.

Above all, the most important thing you can do is give valuable feedback. It’s an obvious thing to say in concept, but much harder to implement in practice, especially in terms of the employee to manager relationship. Managers are busy with their own jobs and responsibilities and being asked to foster a new employee often leads only to stress and frustration.  

Assigning critical path work with a deadline to an employee, having to evaluate that work, then explain to that employee how their work was excellent, satisfactory or deficient, all while providing feedback that is actionable and constructive, can be extremely time-consuming.  Often, the manager is too busy to be this involved, so the new hire gets frustrated, the manager gets frustrated, and no corrective action is suggested. In other cases, the manager may be ill-equipped to evaluate the work and give constructive feedback. Inevitably, the new hire quits and goes somewhere else.

The idea behind integrating authentic assessment into the onboarding process is to provide a  low-risk and low-stress opportunity to solve the kinds of problems that the company is actually dealing with on a day-to-day basis.  With Authess, new hires get actionable feedback and a development path without burdening the manager or having another person on the payroll completely devoted to learning and development. Authess’ version of authentic assessments would take no time for the manager to administer and limited time for the new hire to complete, and the reports are auto-generated so the new hire gets feedback without burdening the productive capacity of the management team.

These tenets of feedback, growth, and problem solving are essential to why we built Authess. We’ve created a framework to help make this process of onboarding easy with a clearly articulated path and data-driven feedback to help new hires grow into their role. If onboarding is a persistent issue for your company, consider giving Authess a try.