Here Gallup provides another twist: the company does no face-to-face interviews. Instead, it conducts all interviews over the telephone and records and transcribes them for detailed thematic analysis. The life-themes approach allows companies to hire by wire.
A typical interview consists of more than 100 questions and takes at least 45 minutes. Interviewers always ask tightly worded questions that have been scripted to probe for life themes. The script for a particular job never varies from one applicant to the next. The script goes over and over the life themes being examined to ensure that no single question unduly influences an evaluation and that the responses fully and accurately reflect an applicant’s feelings.
Tom Hatton, a career interviewer with Gallup, describes the process this way: “The structure of the interview enables the essence of each individual to come through. An interviewer always asks the questions as they are written. There are never any variations or additions. The art of conducting this type of interview is in keeping the tone from becoming mechanical. It must always be conversational. The interview must also flow. We have to keep up a good pace without ever cutting off the applicant.”
Part of the reason for maintaining a good pace is to make sure that job applicants say what is on the top of their minds. According to Gallup’s interviewers, for life themes to emerge, the candidates must give answers that reflect their true feelings rather than what they think the interviewer wants to hear.
According to Hatton, some applicants at first think the idea of an in-depth telephone job interview is strange. But Hatton believes that conducting an interview over the phone rather than in person works to the advantage of most candidates. “We try to make them feel as comfortable as possible speaking to someone over the telephone,” he says. “Job applicants don’t have to put on their best suits. They can be in comfortable surroundings. People are more at ease. They give more honest answers.”
In Gallup’s system, the interviewers work in tandem with analysts. The analysts are involved in listening for the life themes of the top performers, developing specific questions to probe for those themes, and analyzing interview transcripts to isolate “listen for’s” – answers that reveal the extent to which applicants share the model’s core themes.
B.C. Christenson, a Gallup analyst, offers this description of the process. “It’s like reading a mystery novel. You know what you’re looking for, and you have to find it. It captures you as you get into it. You make hypotheses, and then you test them. At the end you have to sort through all the information and make decisions. The first decision is whether or not to recommend that the applicant be hired. The second is a series of decisions about the people who are hired – how they should be managed given their distinct talents.”
The image of a mystery novel may be intriguing, but in practice, the “listen for’s” are direct and unremarkable. The system works precisely because life-theme clues are so easy to identify. What’s important is that the answers be unequivocal. The sequence of rapid-fire questions and top-of-the-head answers encourages people to say quickly and reflexively exactly what they think – and thus, who they are. All responses are transcribed to capture every element of the candidate’s answers, including pauses and stammers. And analysts look carefully at each response. A “yes, but” or “it depends” response sends unmistakable signals about the depth of an applicant’s identification with a particular life theme.