Updated: Jan 3, 2022
Handling the inevitable objections to a structured interview process
Welcome to the third and final installment of the three-part series on structured interviews. This post is all about common objections to structured interviews and how you can overcome them. If you haven’t already, please check out Part 1, The One Thing (the “what” and “why” of structured interviews), and Part 2, “Now What?” where I discuss how to implement them.
I got quite a few new subscribers this week. It’s great to have you all, and welcome! You can find the most popular posts here.
Now, on to the objections!
You might be thinking, “Why bother with objection handling?”
Here’s why: structured interviews are a near-perfect recipe of many things most people hate: change, accountability, long-term focus, and the oh-so-subtle implication that they’ve been doing something important incorrectly.
If you’ve been reading this newsletter, you also know that structured interviews are worth it. They’ll make you, your team, and your organization much better at identifying, attracting, and evaluating talent. In short, they’re worth investing in.
To prepare you for the inevitable, here’s a list of the most common objections I’ve heard:
I’m not a robot
We already use structured interviews
We don’t have the time
Candidates will game our process
Now let’s look at these objections individually and figure out how we can overcome them.
“I’m not a robot.”🚫🤖
The godfather of structured interviews and Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman had to deal with this objection when developing a structured interview rubric for the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) way back in the 1950s.
We can learn a lot from how Kahneman handled the resistance:
First, he redefined a “win” for the interviewers. Kahneman recognized if an interviewer complained about being a robot, then they were most likely valuing their own ability and intuition over the goal of finding the best officers. To combat this problem, Kahneman instead celebrated the collective win of finding demonstrably better combat-ready officers. In other words, he emphasized the interview committee’s larger group goal rather than their individual, ego-centric, personal ambitions.
Second, he allowed the interviewers to give their intuitive take on the candidate but only at the end of the interview. Originally Kahnmen made space for the interviewers’ intuition to appease the complaints. But he learned something interesting in the process; when interviewers were allowed to use their intuition at the end rather than the beginning of their candidate evaluation, they were much better at predicting candidate success than if they just used the process alone. It was a rare and legitimate win-win-win for the interviewer, the candidate, and the organization.¹
“We use structured interviews.”🙄
Say it with me “An interview question bank is NOT a structured interview process.” Why?
When people say, “we use structured interviews,” I can virtually guarantee that there’s no scoring rubric. This means there’s no data, and thus no accountability, no serious attempt to minimize bias, nor any real way to improve hiring outcomes down the road. What these people typically have is a question bank. Here’s an example of one. They are not good.
There’s (usually) no suggested question order, so every candidate has a different experience, and interviewers can pick and choose what they ask. If that’s the case, there’s too much space for unconscious bias to enter the picture.
“We don’t have the time.”🚫⏰
I’ll concede that creating a process is more time-consuming than just winging it. And sometimes, it feels like the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. I get that.
But if you’re hiring at any scale, you’ll want to invest the time upfront. Here’s why:
The more people reporting to you, the less your success depends upon your efforts. Don’t you want to know what traits and skills you need your team to have so YOU can be successful?
A process saves time in the long run. If everyone on the hiring committee knows what they’re looking for, how to measure it, and how to discuss it, you’ll save tons of time discussing candidates, training recruiters and sourcers, and generally figuring out who to hire.
Your recruiters will love you. Imagine being able to help your recruiters, sourcers, and other HR partners succeed because you’re able to tell them, in detail, what traits and skills you’re looking for and how you measure them. By spending a little more time setting up structured interviews, that is what will happen, and again, you’ll save time by not having to wade through candidate subjectivity.
“Candidates will game our interview process.”🚫👺
First off, I doubt it.
Second, if they try to game your interview, is that so bad?
If a candidate knows what skills and traits you value, how you measure those qualities, and what your process is and then prepares well enough - isn’t that OK?
There are literal interview coaches who specialize in specific roles at specific companies. There are mountains of students taking computer science classes because they think that’s what will get them high-paying jobs at Google/Amazon/Facebook/TikTok. My point is that people are already trying to game your system left and right; they’re just doing it in more socially acceptable ways.
If you have candidates that care enough to put in the time to learn the skills you need, develop the traits you value, and effectively prepare, won’t they also be pretty great employees?
Let’s think of it another way: I know EXACTLY what I need to do to win Olympic gold in the 100-meter sprint. That doesn’t mean I can do it.
Now dishonesty is something else altogether. If a candidate intentionally deceives, that’s a problem, and you shouldn’t hire them. But if you’re evaluating candidates based upon who they show you they are, and not strictly off their resume or what they tell you they did and can do, then dishonesty won’t be much of an issue.
Again, using structured interviewing isn’t easy. At first, it ruffles feathers. But, over time, I’ve found that even the most skeptical people recognize the benefits. I hope this post helps you advocate for implementing a structured interview process and gets your organization to a place where you’re using data, not gut feelings, to make your most important people decisions.
1 I find the concept of delayed intuition pretty fascinating, expect more on the concept soon.