Why Interviews are Worse than Graphology

If you currently have a job doing anything, chances are you got the position through an interview. Interviews are the common method of talent selection in the world today. Its application ranges from college admissions to screening Supreme Court judge candidates. Interviews are weighted heavily in hiring decisions and can sometimes override rigorous quantitative data. For example, an interview can break a kid with a 2400 on the SATs, or it can make an applicant with great charisma but less than average qualifications. We seem to put a lot if faith into interviews, believing that a face-to-face impression would provide insight into a person’s competence and character. One obvious question to ask is: do they really?

Do interviews predict job performance? The answer is, quite frankly, no. Studies after studies show that interviews work about as well as flipping a coin — 50/50. Considering the amount of time and money required to maintain an extensive talent acquisition team, companies will be significantly better off if they’d actually flip a coin to hire people.

The dismal result of interviews calls to mind graphology, a now shunned psudoscience widely popular for more than a century. In its prime, graphology was applied in employment, psychological profiling, marriage compatibility assessment, and even medical diagnosis. Graphology involves judging a person’s competence, personality, breed, etc. via one’s handwriting following strict guidelines. This sounds absurd to us now but it’s really not that far away from judging a person’s competence, personality, breed, etc. via one’s manner of speaking, which is what an interview really is. A successful interview has little to do with content (that’s for the resume) but everything to do with delivery.

Speaking of content, every interview is a little different depending on the unique combination of interviewer and interviewee, situational factors, and confounding biases. It is impossible to equate them. Furthermore, the unstructured nature of modern-day interviews makes it impossible to develop a criteria to judge whether one interviewee is better than the other. How many different answers are there for the question: “Tell me about yourself”? Therefore, not only do interviews work as well as graphology in predicting job performance and competency(i.e. chance level), interviews also fail to establish an inter-rater validity within itself due to ambiguous criteria and lack of structure.

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