Recruitment 2.0: A case for why it's needed, and how to get there

After working for five years as a recruiter, Lucas Ruijs has got something to get off his chest: He believes recruitment interviews are a waste of time. 
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Allow me to explain.
Nearly every company in the world uses the recruitment interview as a tool for recruitment. Some organizations conduct one interview with every candidate, some organizations conduct up to four, possibly in conjunction with other forms of selection (e.g. assessments, role playing, business cases, etc.).
And yet, the predictive validity of selection interviews towards eventual job performance is limited at 0.51 — meaning that there’s another 49% of overall job performance that cannot be predicted by these interviews.
This is the predictive validity of professionally designed questions and rating systems based on psychologically valid tests and surveys. The predictive validity of unstructured interviews is even lower at 0.38, so let’s not even talk about those.
And then there’s the “predictive validity” of poor, unstructured interviews performed by inexperienced interviewers … Forget about it. You might as well flip a coin.

Why is it so bad?

Why is the predictive validity towards job performance of these interviews so low? How come recruitment interviews are so hard? We can all talk, can’t we? Yes, we can, but it turns out just talking isn’t a very valid personality measurement instrument.
Our brains are subject to many different biases, and these biases prevent us from making methodological, temporally-consistent judgments of human character and behavior.
We’re simply not wired to make such nuanced, complex assessments. What we are wired to do is make insanely quick ‘n dirty snap decisions on people, on which we (used to) base our “fight or flee, friend or foe” decisions in prehistoric times. We are no longer in prehistoric times, however.
So, why have we not yet set aside these mostly unstructured, under-prepared flip-a-coin interviews? Well, because the alternative is hard work. Tedious, time-consuming, hard work with a long wait time before visible pay-offs.
In the business world, those words generally indicate a hard sell to any CEO. And perhaps we are simply too proud of our “gut feelings,” although we rarely scrutinize our performance through long-term evaluations of our gut decisions. I’ve been guilty of it too, just so you know.
Is the new employee performing well? Kudos to the recruitment team, or the hiring manager for his keen eye for talent. Is the new employee performing badly? Then the employee is not putting in the work or, simply put, is a disappointment. Not our fault. Sound familiar?

Introducing Recruitment 2.0

So let’s agree to start working towards Recruitment 2.0, today.
What are we going to do? First of all, hire someone competent in academic-level qualitative and quantitative research and trained in psychology (or a related field). Preferably PhD-level and experienced in survey and interview development and knowledgeable in theories on competences.
Have a long and hard discussion with your senior management and freshly acquired PhD researcher on the necessary competences to be successful in the designated position. Develop an interviewing questions scheme, with probing questions and a complementary rating system. Apply this scheme, in all interviews, rigidly. Then, combine the results of the interviews with a general cognitive abilities’ test or, if possible, a carefully designed work sample test.
Research shows that combinations of a general cognitive abilities test and a structured interview results in an improved 0.63 predictive validity. A combination of a general cognitive abilities test and a work sample test also scores 0.63. The predictive validity of these three combined is unfortunately unknown, but it is expected to be higher.
And then comes the hard part: improve. Relentlessly.
Your first set of questions might be OK-ish, no matter how hard you thought them through. That means your average first hires will also be OK-ish. That’s alright. Use your newly acquired data and insights to drive continuous improvement of questions asked, probing questions and targeted competences. Analyze which hires perform well, and which do not, and why.
If you have the organizational size and resources, periodically review your pool of rejected candidates. Give some of them a second chance, and see how they fare. Use the crucial data they develop to adjust your knowledge of why new hires perform well.
Hard work? Sure. Costly? Yes, but there’s a pay-off: a vastly improved workforce.
Plus, you’ll be in good company: Google is using this approach.
Don’t want to go through the difficult above process? Fine, but then consider doing away with your entire unstructured, under-prepared interview set-up. Flip a coin. It’s almost as valid, and considerably cheaper.
Lucas Ruijs is an HR Consultant at Capgemini and a co-founder and editor at BusinessAcademy.network. He writes about scientific progress in the fields of HR and organizational development.