Why Interviewing Is Broken

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Why Interviewing Is Broken

Congratulations. You have gotten through the funnel of the applicant tracking system. Maybe you have already made it past the recruiter screening. Maybe you have networked or been referred to the hiring manager. However, you have gotten there, you are now speaking with or meeting with hiring manager or talking with someone from the team who will be evaluating you. You have the skills they say they want. What can go wrong?

Oh! You want proof that something is wrong!

According to the Society for Human Resources Management, half of all hourly workers resign within the first four months of a new job, and half of senior hires crash within just 18 months. Hiring managers have a similar perspective of buyer’s remorse after a hire, reaching almost 60%.

  1. Everyone is on good behavior. We all know that job applicants are on good behavior but we forget that hiring managers are on Why Interviewing Is Brokengood behavior, too. I did recruiting for more than 40 years and never heard of a hiring manager ever say to a job hunter, “We have problems here. The last 4 people hired for your job quit. In addition, the last two people who sat in my seat were fired and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that my butt is on the line and need to hire someone to help me save it from a similar fate.” Instead, companies put on these charades of happy smile button faces where they talk about “career opportunities,” and “a terrific team of people,” lots to learn . . . “Did I mention we’re like family here?” It mirrors the old saw from recruiting, “They all lie. Employers. Candidates. Recruiters.”
  2. 2. People try to screen beyond their abilities. When staff try interview for skills competence, hiring managers are rarely clear about what they want this person evaluated for. It is not enough to say, “interview them for Java skills,” or “Find out what they know about . . . .” Managers need to be specific with their teams about the very thing they want critiqued and how they want it screened for.” I remember people I represented being impressed or turned off by fringe questions that someone might need to know once every 18-24 months. Anyone ever hear about Google?
  3. Managers want people who “fit.” People have made it through the sausage maker of the applicant tracking system. You talk with them on the phone or in-person. You are on good behavior and so are they. How can you tell that someone fits? Tell me about your credentials to evaluate for fit. Tell me about how you have administered personality profiles to your existing staff before you began interviewing in order to assess how the new hire’s personality would mesh with theirs. Even when a potential hire is personality tested, the staff is never retested hence using old data to work with. People change from when you hired them to when you are interviewing for new people based upon the environment they work in and other factors in their lives. You never go back and check for that. Hence hiring managers are left to whim to assess for fit, rather than data. In doing so, bias creeps into the process. That bias can include educational bias (I like people with degrees from this school or who have particular degrees, rather than those who have online degrees from the same universities), class bias (they live where? They don’t have a degree or achieved it at night because their family could not afford a particular university), race or gender bias (need I say more about these), national origin (immigrants have it harder than people born in a nation, even though they may have the same knowledge). There are many more biases that show up including the bias of only hiring people who agree with us.
  4. Different constituencies in the organization may have different opinions as to what is needed. When I still did recruiting, I remember being asked by a midwestern firm to speak with an executive within the firm about a search they wanted me to do. I listened to the usual canned presentation, started to narrow them down and asked about the interview process and whether business units being served by this role would participate in the hire (they would). I asked, “Do they agree with the qualifications you’ve out lined to me?” Met by silence, I was soon told that they didn’t and had a very different view of the role. How do you hire someone when the participants disagree about what is needed? You enter into “The Land of Perpetual Interviewing.” Suffice it to say, I did not accept the search.
  5. People on the assessment team disagree about who the best hire is. A firm I recruited for ten years ago would fly people in for “meatgrinder” interviews. 4 hiring managers plus HR. 30 minutes per manager. Put them in a car. Fly them home. The managers would meet afterwards and decide who to hire. People disagreed forcefully about who to hire. Why? If everyone is clear about the criteria to be used, a person either has the knowledge and has already successfully engaged in the work to be done or not. It is very simple. But comments often included the ever popular, “too light,” “too strong” and “I’m not sure they would fit in.”


The result is that by the lowest measure imaginable, employee engagement (employees are engaged in their work), there is a 22% employee engagement rate in the US . . . and that is high by international standards.Why Interviewing Is Broken

In other words, you are either picking the wrong people for your jobs (and/or you are picking the wrong company to join) or employees are being turned off by your firm, their manager or their work.

Does that sound like good decisions are being made? Remember, almost 4 out of 5 employees are DISengaged.

Here’s what you can do instead.

  1. Give up the idea of their being “the perfect hire” or “the dream job.” Folks, we are human beings with foibles. We make mistakes, some of them pretty stupid mistakes. The country smokes, overeats and eats foods that are remarkably unhealthy. Given our national history of making bad choices, is it any wonder this extends into the realm of work, too?
  2. Get clear about the qualifications of the job and how you will assess for them. If you are a hiring manager, it is not enough to create a list of qualifications without creating a list of measures for how you want these qualifications evaluated for. Otherwise, too much freedom is given to staff (and yourself) to ask arbitrary questions based upon unrecognized biases,
  3. Stop evaluating for “fit.Only evaluate for qualifications. Admit that you are incompetent to assess for fit and are making arbitrary decisions where you are rationalizing projections (projecting thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions or judgements onto someone else, rather than admitting to having these thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions or judgements) as to what a person is like. You are on good behavior and so are they. You have no real idea about what they are really like.
  4. Start to “overshare.” I left one interview having decided to reject an offer when I was told that there was nothing wrong at the firm. People failed because of themselves. Nonsense. There is always something wrong at an organization, just as you as a job hunter or you as a human being have flaws. Employers need to start to “overshare” their flaws as do job hunters.


Let’s stop lying to one another and start to join organizations and hire people based upon honesty, not BS. I bet your staff retention and hiring manager remorse will improve.



© The Big Game Hunter, Inc. Asheville, NC  2017



Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves life coaching, as well as executive job search coaching and business life coaching. He is the host of “Job Search Radio” and “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” both available through iTunes and Stitcher.Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

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