Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s 5-Step Process for Less Awful Job Interviews

In a Bloomberg article a few years back Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein made a bold assertion: job interviews, as they’re generally conducted, are pretty much useless. “Some evidence suggests that interviews are far worse than wasteful: By drawing employers’ attention to irrelevant information, they can produce inferior decisions,” he claimed

Apparently, Nobel laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who co-wrote the new book Noise with Sunstein and Olivier Sibony, apparently agrees with his co-author. In a new Wall Street Journal interview, Kahneman is similarly pessimistic about how well job interviews predict which candidates will be successful.

“Good interviews might improve the likelihood you’ll be right say from 50 percent to 60 percent. If you can go to 65 percent, it is wonderful. Doing better may be impossible,” is his gloomy pronouncement. 

Still, if you’re a business owner or hiring manager, making a good hire 65 percent of the time versus half the time adds up to a ton of saved recruiting costs (and stress). So how do you nudge up your rate of success? The key is adding more structure to your interviews, and Kahneman helpfully offers a simple formula to accomplish just that: 

  1. List the attributes required for the job. Don’t go crazy and throw every “nice to have” in there. Just stick to the essentials that are make or break for success. “Pick maybe half a dozen traits needed to succeed, whether punctuality, technical skill, even anger management,” Kaheman advises. 

  2. Think of questions to test these attributes. “If punctuality is an attribute, ask each whether they think of themselves as punctual, whether they have been punctual in their work in the past,” offers Kahneman as an example. 

  3. Ask each candidate those questions in the same order. No rambling around. No going off script. 

  4. Score each attribute from one to ten. Don’t get fancy and weigh different attributes differently or invent complex scoring systems. Just write down a number that reflects how much each candidate displayed whatever characteristic you’re evaluating. 

  5. Come up with a final score. Once you’ve done your best to force yourself into objectivity, it’s OK to add a small dose of gut instinct into your final score. “I’m not advocating necessarily that the final score should be the average of those ratings. As long as you delay judgment to the end of the process, you can make an overall evaluation of each candidate that includes intangibles or intuition,” he says. 

Kahneman also advocates for using tests and job samples whenever possible, which are another way to add structure and objectivity into your hiring process. 

Will this highly structured (and, sorry hiring managers, probably quite boring to administer) approach ensure that you always hire the right candidate for the job? Hardly. “Even the best possible processes are going to be highly imperfect,” Kahneman warns. But in a world packed with inevitable human bias and wild unpredictability, this simple but structured approach is probably going to yield the best results possible. 

Interested in more insights from Kahneman? The wide-ranging interview delves into his distrust of intuition generally, the role of AI in hiring, and the value of IQ tests in evaluating candidates. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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