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The Case For Ditching Traditional Job Interviews

No one enjoys the traditional job interview process and it doesn’t always reveal who is the best person for the job. Here’s the alternative.

The Case For Ditching Traditional Job Interviews
[Image: Flickr user Nana B Agyei]

Put it right up there with the annual review on the list of conversations we’d rather not have. The traditional job interview where a candidate sits across from a hiring manager–or a team of prospective colleagues–and gets hammered with questions such as “where do you see yourself in five years?” and “what do you think you can offer our organization?”


As the candidate puts on a game face and tries to ignore the agita roiling in his or her belly, practiced answers come rolling off the tongue, more apropos to a pageant than a plan to push profit margins.

Most managers don’t want to hire anyone sight unseen. The paradox: though candidates are more than the sum of line items on their resumes, free flowing interviews often give the recruiter too much irrelevant information. That could sway them into hiring someone for the wrong reasons. Some researchers suggest it’s time to throw out the unstructured interview format and look for a new way to have the hiring conversation.

Jason Dana, visiting assistant professor at Yale School of Management, is one. He writes in a recently published study:


People seek to impose order on events, so much so that they often see patterns in random sequences. As such, even the noisiest interview data are readily translated into a good story about the interviewee.

Speaking of patterns, when Lauren Rivera of Northwestern studied companies who didn’t clearly define what they were looking for in a candidate started interviewing, they leaned toward applicants who were most like them, with similar outside interests, alma maters, or hometowns.

Not to mention that most job seekers are skilled at offering what they believe the interviewer wants to hear. The “right” answers could conceal problem behaviors or are so bought in to their unproductive ways that they’re “the interview equivalent of the person who can pass a lie detector test because they believe their own lies,” behavioral scientist Baird Brightman writes.

What’s the antidote?


Amanda Augustine, job search expert at TheLadders, is partial to the Topgrading interview practice. “Different positions require different core competencies or character traits,” she explains. Recruiters should work with the hiring team and other important stakeholders to identify the most vital requirements for the role. Once the group pins down a definition of their ideal employee, questions are chosen from Topgrading’s guide to help the interviewer make sure the applicant has the relevant skills.

Augustine believes there’s also an 80/20 rule that applies to hiring. “If a candidate makes it past the initial screening process and is brought in to meet with the team, it’s typical that only 20% of the face-to-face interview is spent confirming the candidate has the right skill set to do the job,” she says. The remaining 80% is spent determining whether the candidate will be a good cultural fit for the team and organization. “Think about questions that will reveal a person’s management or communication style, work environment preferences,” she recommends, “The candidate can have the best skill set in the world, but if they won’t work well with the group, everyone loses.”

Mike Deissig, HR business partner at TheLadders, says the job matching service also uses a similar method in-house. “We have transitioned to more of a competency-style interview, where we coordinate a series of interviews and map out specific questions that will solicit candidates’ core competencies,” he says. Software engineer candidates have two interviews focused on technologies and programming languages. “If he or she makes it through the initial rounds, the third and fourth interviews might focus on problem solving and analytical thinking,” says Deissig.


Shara Senderoff of Intern Sushi prefers to keep the interview but change the format. “The traditional interview questions do not allow a candidate to demonstrate their uniqueness, personality, or dynamic skillsets,” she explains, “I love to catch candidates off guard with the following:

1. What color is your personality?
This gives me a look into how a candidate views themselves without having to ask them for a list of adjectives. When you ask in this manner, you can identify traits about the candidate based on social interpretations of colors that may not have been apparent in that first interview, even when you can’t get a candidate to go into depth with his or her answer. I’ve also found this to be a great lead in question because it relaxes the candidate and allow them to think outside-of-the-box.

2. Tell me three things you could do with a brick.
This always lends itself to very original thinking and believe it or not, demonstrates experience and maturity or lack thereof. At this point I could create a list of over 100 unique responses and with each response I can understand how an individual thinks and what they’ve been through.

3. How much money does a NYC cab driver take home at the end of a day?
Walk me through your thought process to figure this out. A friend shared this question with me and I have used it ever since. It allows me to analyze strategic thinking. The end result doesn’t matter, it’s how you get there that shows me if you can think with the level of detail I’m looking for in an employee.

4. In your opinion, what are the best news apps?
This allows me to determine how somebody reads/absorbs their news. When someone tells me they don’t use apps for news, I’m able to poke at whether they watch the news or read traditional print media. When neither of those happen, I’m easily able to eliminate the candidate. My company’s culture is defined by a constant thirst for knowledge and this has proven to be a unique assessment.”

In the end, says Brandon Smith, “There is no substitute for actually working with another person to evaluate their culture and performance fit.” The Emory University professor and founder of The Workplace Therapist believes, “Referrals from someone inside the organization who will vouch for a candidate are your best bet for getting the right professional on board.”


About the author

Lydia Dishman is a staff editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.