5 Reasons Everyone Sucks At Interviews

Don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s the strange ritual that is the job interview. Can it be fixed?

5 Reasons Everyone Sucks At Interviews

Job interviews are strange rituals: both sides of the table are fidgety, anxious, alert to the weightiness of situation, and if you were showing up to be interviewed by Google, you might have been subjected to one of their synapse-snapping brain teasers.


Which, as we discussed earlier this week, the company recently ditched. Why? As, people operations SVP Laszlo Bock told the New York Times the brain game scores never predicted performance. Ever more jarring, a Google study found that the ratings that interviewers gave candidates had “zero relationship” with how they’d do when they were working.

It’s perplexing stuff: Google, the army of geniuses and master of the world’s data, doesn’t do well with interviews–aside from one tactic that we’ll get to in a second. But first, we need to understand why interviews are so bad at their job–to suss out whether a candidate will do well. Maria Konnikova, writing in the New Yorker, helps us to see why.

We’re all “decontextualized”

Interviews are clumsy tools, Konnikova observes, because they take place “in a generalized environment, as opposed to the context in which a behavior or trait naturally occurs.”

How so? During an interview, you’re seeing a candidate in a situation that prompts her “to make an impression that speaks to her qualifications in a limited time, within the narrow parameters set by the interviewer,” Konnikova says, which is not nearly the same pressure or requirements of a particular job. In short: the work of the interview–like impressing someone with your brainteasing ability–is not equivalent to the work of the gig.

We take “thin slices”

The interviewer’s personal impression of the candidate forms in a minute or less, Konnikova reports–call it “thin slice” judgment, where we’re always making sweeping judgments of others without actually knowing much about them. An interview, then, is one such slice, and one that, again, doesn’t necessarily carry over to a job setting.


We’re suckers for first impressions

You start making impressions within a minute (or seven seconds) of meeting someone, plating the seed of how you relate to the other person. Konnikova explains:

“first impressions are paramount. Once formed, they reliably color the rest of our impression formation. The exact same interview response given by two different candidates, one of whom the interviewer preferred, would be rated differently.”

We’re tired

If the interviewer is food-coma tired, we’ve learned, they’ll give you a harsher rating.

We’re averaging it out

If you’re the fourth amazing candidate in a day, you’ll be rated lower than the first one, research suggests.

So what can we do about it?

If you’re doing the hiring, ask people for examples of what they’ve done and how they did it–plus standardize and systematize your hiring process.

But if you’re the one trying to get hired, do yourself a favor and show up early.


Hat tip: The New Yorker

[Interview Image: Tom Wang via Shutterstock]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.