Why Job Interviews Don’t Work (and What You Can Do About It)

The job market is in crisis, and it’s not just because of wages or job creation. It has to do with your hiring process. Specifically, it has to do with one simple truth: behavioural job interviews and the old hiring techniques don’t work.

Here’s why job interviews aren’t giving you the candidates you need, and what you can do to eliminate the problem.

The hiring crisis

Of the people who apply to a job, only 13% of applicants receive an interview. If you’re trying to narrow the pool, that’s a good thing. Except, there’s one problem.

A hiring manager spends six seconds (on average) looking at a resume.

How can you hope to get the right candidates if you barely read their applications?

To help narrow the applicant pool down, many hiring managers rely on AI and automated systems. These systems look for key phrases and qualifications in an applicant’s materials that align with the job description. That way, a hiring manager doesn’t waste time on completely irrelevant applicants.

Best foot forward, or gaming the system?

If you’re a hiring manager, you already know the problem here.

Applicants know that HR teams rely on automation. To make sure they get read, applicants learn the tricks of the system and how to make the system work for them.

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So the question is: are you seeing an applicant with their best foot forward? Or are you seeing an applicant who’s simply adept at gaming the system?

You don’t want someone who’s good at gaming the system. You want someone who’s qualified and well-suited to your company. And while almost anyone can make themselves look good on paper (or hire a consultant to do it) behavioural interviewing should help you ferret out the difference, right?


Understanding implicit bias

You see, there’s an inherent problem with behavioural job interviews, and it has nothing to do with the applicant.

In fact, the problem lies with interviewers, and it’s called implicit bias.

Implicit bias, or implicit social cognition, refers to the unconscious attitudes which shape our decisions, behaviours, and reactions. You’ve heard of this before, especially in relation to race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic class.

But implicit bias runs deeper than that.

The problem with implicit bias

The problem with implicit bias is simple: we’re predisposed to like people who look, talk and behave like us.

However, it’s not enough to recognise that implicit bias exists. You have to be conscious of it in all of your decisions when meeting someone new. And going against it runs counter to a deep-seated instinct.

Implicit bias arises from a subjective commitment to groups, which is a deeply-embedded instinct. Our ancestors passed it down to us as a survival mechanism.

Back in our ancestors’ time, it was critical to identify who was “tribe” and who wasn’t. People who were in your tribe were on your side; people who weren’t were competing for limited resources. Our ancestors made tribe-or-not decisions based on identification with common goals, or tribal loyalty.

Basically, our ancestors were making “trust your gut” decisions to identify tribe members as people who were safe.

These days, we still identify tribal loyalty, so to speak. But since our survival isn’t usually at stake and the definition of tribe is more nebulous, it tends to crop up when we need to make choices relating to other people.

Like, for example, hiring decisions.

An interview scenario

Let’s say you’re a hiring manager, and let’s say you just sat down for a job interview.

Let’s say the candidate in front of you is similar to you. Quite similar, in fact…just not in job-related ways. They’re similar to you because they’re from the same socioeconomic background or similar educational background. Even minor things like similar clothing style or manner of speaking.

All of these things cause you to subconsciously recognise the person as similar to you. More than that, these things predispose you to like the candidate. Our gut is trained to identify and like people who are similar to us because we view them as non-threatening and friendlier.

This leads us to subconsciously elevate the candidate and view them more positively. Even if they’re actually a worse candidate than someone with similar qualifications and a background different from your own.

job interviews

Image: Unsplash

The consequences of trusting your gut

When we make gut decisions in hiring, we’re relying on decision-making autopilot.

Most of the time, this cognitive bias serves us well–if we’re using it to choose a new restaurant, find new music, or make new friends. By spotting things we can identify with, it’s easier to select things that we like.

But when you’re choosing a job candidate, that autopilot system switches off your reflective brain. You stop thinking critically about whether a candidate is truly the right one for the job and instead focus on who you like.

The allure of intuition

Intuition has a certain mystique, especially in business. Just look at some of the biggest business legends in our vernacular.

Take Fred Smith, for example. Smith had an idea, one that he knew, in his gut, would work well with what he knew of the transport system. Trouble was, other people disagreed. That didn’t bother Smith, who went on to found his business and went on to become a billionaire.

You’ve probably heard of his business: Federal Express, better known as FedEx.

Stories like Smith’s are seductive for one simple reason: they make us feel special. They let us surpass the ordinary drudgery of numbers and countless spreadsheets to enter the elite few that make business an art.

It’s the implicit belief that we don’t need to know the answer. We just need to trust our gut, because our subconscious has already figured it out (even if the problem is well beyond the scope of our conscious mind’s problem-solving abilities).

So what’s wrong with behavioural interviewing?

So, back to our original point: your job interviews don’t work.

The short version? Companies rely on hiring managers to solve a complex problem with a subjective toolset.

The long version?

Hiring managers are just as human as anyone else. And they make decisions like any other human. The problem is that they use flawed decision-making processes to make important hiring decisions. Instead of choosing the right candidate, they choose the candidate they like. And they may not even realise it.

The problem with behavioural interviewing is that, at the end of the day, it’s a popularity contest. And some people are better interviewers than others.

The case for objectivity in job interviews

So, if you’re hiring for a remote company, hiring for a desk job, or just trying to bulk up your team, what’s the solution?


If the problem with job interviews is emotional decisions, then you need to create a process where emotions can’t run the show. That means using a clear set of criteria to identify patterns of success, rather than pattern-recognition of a familiar background.

For example, a clear set of criteria identifying behavioural competencies and technical skills necessary to succeed in a job. Standardised assessment tools for interviewing that remove the guesswork.

In Summary

The old way of doing interviews no longer works.

It all begins with developing a framework. Then, work with your human resources department to enforce it.


About the Author

Ben Shepardson is a small business owner and a manager of remote teams. You can read more of his content at his homepage  or check out him out on Twitter.

Team 6Q

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