Improving the Interview of Job Applicants

By: Mike Lehr, Human Resources Consultant

Never have businesses had to do so much recruiting. Never have they spent so much money on it. Yet, they have never been worse at it. The interviewing of applicants highlights this demise.

Imagine going to a team meeting. It has no agenda. It has no planning. It has no pre-work. People just “wing it.” That’s today’s job interviews. More puzzling, these “meetings” play a key role in the buying of a $20,000 to $200,000 asset annually. In contrast, how much thought and planning went into the last technology purchase for only a one-time cost of $15,000?

Research shows these interviews are a waste. It shows that most times the winner is the applicant most like the interviewers, not the most talented, skilled, or experienced. Yes, some argue that this determines cultural fit. What is that culture though? What is fit? Ask a dozen senior employees. It’s highly likely the responses will lead one to conclude that a unifying culture does not exist.

How to Improve Interviews

To improve interviews, they require more thought, planning, and analysis. That includes asking applicants the same set of questions. Ugh! Most likely, if you’re like I am, my eyes rolled when I first heard this. Much of my thinking had to do with feedback from interviewees. They described straight-jacket interviews where interviewees couldn’t ask or say anything but what was on their prep sheet. Moreover, the questions appeared very similar from one interview to another in the same company.It’s only later after digging into the original design of this approach that I found that it was structured interviews gone awry. It’s not how we should apply them.

How Structured Interviews Work

Here’s how it should work. First, think about the job and the skills it needs. Don’t make a laundry list. Start out with the half-dozen key ones. Then, come up with scenarios that can actually happen in your bank in which the applicant will need those skills. Now, devise “what if” questions around them that would require the use of those skills.

Examples of Questions in Structured Interviews

For example, take the job of branch manager. Take the skill of customer service. Let’s say the scenario is a very upset customer at the platform over fees charged to her account. She is getting loud and stressing the teller or customer service rep. The question now becomes, “How would you handle this?”

As another example, take a customer service rep or teller. The aptitude you want is conscientiousness or integrity. The scenario here could easily be that he/she is out with coworkers in a public place. One of the coworkers starts talking about a customer. Yet, it doesn’t seem he/she is talking loud enough for anyone outside the group to hear. The question could become then, “What would you do if this happened?”

The Grading of Answers to Interview Questions

Once you have these questions, come up with your own answers and grade them. This is key because you’ve thought about the answers before any bias could set in. As the research shows, if we like the person, we are more apt to look at a response favorably even if it’s one we were lukewarm about beforehand.

Now, this doesn’t mean that answers falling outside of those are wrong. It just means you’ve established a guide for determining good answers. After all, if you’re looking for creative problem solving skills, answers that aren’t like yours are important.

Practically Applying Structured Interviews

As I described in my early experiences with this, it’s easy to go over the edge. The entire interviewing team doesn’t have to ask the same questions. In fact, it’s better if they don’t. You can decide who might be best at asking a question. The circumstances, scenario, and importance of that question to the interviewer will often make the decision for us.

This also doesn’t mean that interviewers can’t ask other questions. Some might work to make the interview more conversational as in the case of exchanging pleasantries. In this case though, the answers don’t matter or they count less. After all, if the question was that important, we should have thought of it before any interviews began.

Better Interviews Yield Better Employees

According to Bureau of Labor statistics, 95% of hiring activity aims at filling existing positions. Turnover is at record highs. While many factors contribute to this, such as more employers preferring to hire from outside rather than to promote from within, some are myths, such as increased mobility. According to the same statistics, people are just as likely to move out of state for a better job as they were in the late 1960’s.

So, we can’t use outside factors as excuses. Hiring outside candidates is risky. The data shows promoting from within is better, less costly, and yields better outcomes. Therefore, to remove the risk of hiring outside applicants, improving the interview is low-hanging fruit to lowering drastically that risk.

Yet, even with this it’s easy to bypass the interviews and not take them seriously. Just think of the outside candidate that the president or other employees know. Think of employee referrals. It’s a myth that they automatically produce better employees. Research doesn’t support it. They, too, need to go through the same rigorous interviewing process as lesser known applicants.

In the end, there’s an easy way to determine if your interviewing process is in good shape. Ask this question: Does it have the same or better planning, analysis, and research that went into the bank’s last major technology outlay?

For more insights and guidance on how to improve interviewing of job applicants, including advice on questions, you can reach Mike Lehr at mlehr@younginc.com.