Andrea Belk Olson headshot Andrea Belk Olson

Why we shouldn’t interview job candidates

Job interviews are mostly nonsense. According to Ron Friedman, a psychologist and author of “The Best Placed to Work”, 80% of people lie during their interviews — so if that’s the case, the information you’re hearing is likely fiction, or at best, inspired by real-world events. Job interviews mean you may hire the best actor on the day — not the best candidate. So don’t do them.

Instead, audition. Just like the same way actors are auditioned for a movie. In auditions, candidates perform real-world exercises to assess how they think about problems. This helps you discover how the candidate critically thinks, problem solves, and innovates. It also helps you see a candidate in an environment where nobody from your company knows anything about what’s on their resume.

This allows you to eliminate as much bias as possible from the recruitment process, and it really helps when it comes to hiring more diverse candidates.

There are three phases to candidate auditioning:

1. Initial screening – A 30-minute phone or zoom call to work out basic logistics. Things like salary expectations, working rights, hours, etc. In addition, a bit of prep for the audition.

2. Audition – A hour where the candidate (in-person or virtual) answers 3 simple questions – a creative question, a strategic question, and an analytical question. Allow 15 minutes per answer, and 15 minutes in the end for Q&A.

3. Executive Interview – A quick, 20-minute interview to give the candidate a sense of what kind of stakeholders they will engage within the organization. This includes stuff like company history, culture, etc.

While the process is quite simple, the 3 questions also follow a clear framework:

The Creative Question: Meant to test lateral and creative thinking skills. For example, creative questions could be: Design me a fridge for a blind person or design a better way to clean teeth every day for less than $100 a year. This is more about creativity than a product or service itself. If it were me being auditioned, I’d ask things like:

  • What kind of fridge is needed?
  • How many do we need to design? Is it just one?
  • What kind of blind? Color-blind? Are they blind from birth? Blind in both eyes?
  • Is this concept for a fridge-designing company or another manufacturer?
  • What challenges do the users have? Find my food quickly? Know how old my food is in the fridge? Avoid knocking over anything in the fridge?
  • Why do you even need a fridge, why don’t we start a food program for kids where refrigeration is not required and instead we cook everything fresh?

The Strategic Question: Tests how well the candidate understands our mission, our values, and our goals, and how well their ideas align with them. This tends to be an authentic back-and-forth dialogue. Examples of strategy questions are things like:

  • Should we be concerned about competitors like X, Y, and Z?
  • Will software platform X be something we should invest in?
  • What would be our biggest threat in the next 10 years?

The Analytical Question: This is a bit of a painful one. It is designed to help candidates quickly work out the market size of an idea and calculate large numbers quickly. Examples of analytical question include:

  • How many ABC platform users are there today in the world?
  • How many of those users could we convert to our services?
  • How many leads will we need and can we drive that?
  • Will different people in cohorts want different pricing buckets? ie, should we have pricing plans?
  • Should we care about profit for now? If not, when?

How to Score Candidates – Begin by looking for candidates who exhibit 5 traits:

  • Creative
  • Analytical
  • Strategic
  • Persuasive
  • Curious

After you’ve scored them on these dimensions, it’s a matter of ranking them on one of 4 dimensions:

  • Hire them
  • Maybe hire them (leaning positive)
  • Probably don’t hire them (leaning negative)
  • Don’t hire them

What you’re looking for is consistent scores in a positive direction. Getting lots of ‘maybe hires’ is fine, and some interviewers will be tough critics but if the numbers are all over the place, something has gone wrong.

When the auditions happen, we don’t tell the interviewers who the person is. We don’t say where they’ve worked, what they’ve done, or anything like that. It’s a blind date in many ways. So, the person comes in, does their thing, and gets judged on what happens in the room. What’s fascinating about this whole process is candidates walk away feeling like they’ve been evaluated fairly, and organizations get better, more innovative, and diverse talent.

(some excerpts from fs blog)

About the Author

Andrea Olson is a speaker, author, applied behavioral scientist, and customer-centricity expert. As the CEO of Pragmadik, she helps organizations of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500, and has served as an outside consultant for EY and McKinsey. Andrea is the author of The Customer Mission: Why it’s time to cut the $*&% and get back to the business of understanding customers and No Disruptions: The future for mid-market manufacturing.

She is a 4-time ADDY® award winner and host of the popular Customer Mission podcast. Her thoughts have been continually featured in news sources such as Chief Executive MagazineEntrepreneur MagazineThe Financial BrandIndustry Week, and more. Andrea is a sought-after keynote speaker at conferences and corporate events throughout the world. She is a visiting lecturer and Director of the Startup Business Incubator at the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business, a TEDx presenter, and TEDx speaker coach. She is also a mentor at the University of Iowa Venture School.

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