Originally published in HRD Magazine.

A recent article in the New York Times "The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews" understandably caused some debate in the HR and recruitment community. Well, certainly in our HR and recruitment community. Although the author only anecdotally referenced one actual job interview (which seemingly had a positive outcome), the article went on to claim that the majority of interviews were either useless or even "harmful, undercutting the impact of other, more valuable information about interviewees."

A sceptic might note that this study actually showed interviews were a poor predictor of GPAs, rather than a predictor of job performance…or that untrained university students used in the study were not equipped to conduct an effective interview. But where's the fun in that?

The article did get us thinking, however, about the role of interviews in an environment where we are relying more and more on automation and digitization. Psychometric testing has long been used in recruitment, but should standardised tests replace any and all human contact? If an interview is 'useless' or 'harmful', surely job interviews should be ended right here and right now! Unlikely.

But as HR teams look at the potential of AI to reduce the amount of work put into time-consuming processes, the role of interviews (for real jobs where people work with people) is going to come under more scrutiny. What role do interviews have in the rapidly changing employment landscape? Are they becoming less, or more important?

Process vs outcome

Interviews are far from useless; they just need to be considered critical instead of a chore that people rush through just to get through a process. An interview is the first and lasting impression a candidate has of an organization and can have either a positive or negative impact on employee engagement. If a candidate is not successful, there are other employment brand considerations that interviewers now have to take into consideration. Will the unsuccessful candidate jump online and criticise the process or people? Did the company make the experience as positive as possible?

It is critical, therefore, to equip interviewers with the skills to effectively assess a candidate based on the culture, values and purpose of the job, and more broadly, the organization. Done correctly, a good interview can be—and should be–extremely powerful.

Doing an interview properly

There still needs to be a balance between structured competency based interviews, which are consistent for all candidates, and more unstructured fluid interviews where you can assess the cultural and team fits. This latter scope is particularly pertinent in functions such as HR where the rather nebulous 'cultural fit' is so hard to assess.

With proper training, there is a lot an interviewer can pull out of candidates. There are also plenty of studies showing that humans have extraordinary abilities to detect dishonesty, to show empathy, and to assess the sorts of people they would like to work with.

It's not me…it's you

We also mustn't forget that interviews are not a one way forum. The candidates are also interviewing employers. In a competitive talent market, it's also important for the employer to sell themselves and standout, and a more unstructured interview can foster this two-way type of 'discussion'. In our ChapmanCG podcasts, in interview after interview, we have heard from HR leaders from a wide range of sectors just how hard it is to attract top talent. In the real world, for the right people, interviews aren't just about standardised questions…they are part of the sales process.

Buried deep in the New York Times article is, perhaps, the key:

"One option is to structure interviews so that all candidates receive the same questions, a procedure that has been shown to make interviews more reliable and modestly more predictive of job success. Alternatively, you can use interviews to test job-related skills, rather than idly chatting or asking personal questions."

So, interview, but interview well, and you can expect to reap the benefits. Use consistent questions, test skills, but also be prepared to idly chat to learn more about the person and assess how they will fit into a range of possible working environments. Trust the metrics that come out of standardised tests, but also trust your instincts.

In short, do a thorough, professional job.