Intuition and formulas in interviewing

It was in the 3rd year of college at Psychology, back in 2003, when I heard for the first time about the profession of interviewer.

It was that time when Google was only a dream, nevertheless, I was eager to learn the science of personnel selection.

Believe it or not, psychology is about science of describe, understand and predict human behavior in every area of life. I remember how fascinated I was to find out that you can work with mathematical formulas, even when we talk about human disciplines like psychology.

The project at that exotic discipline called Work Psychology had the objective to learn how to work hard and smart to predict the future performers on the work place. The main stages in order to do that, were the followings:

  • define the relevant characteristics required for that particular job (problem solving capabilities, negotiation skills etc), and those will be PREDICTORS for future performance
  • decide how to measure  those predictors (P1, P2, P3, P4 etc)
  • give different weight for each predictor (m, n, o, p)
  • establish the final formula of predicting the performance of the future employees (composite criteria of selection C) with “nice” help of the SPSS application

mystery-864714_1920And that formula was looking like that:

C= m* P1+ n*P2+o*P3.  

For example: for a Sales Representative, the Composite Criteria can be:

C= 3* negotiation skills + 2* marketing knowledge + technical domain knowledge.

Scary, isn’t? To know that you can be treated by other human like a robot.

It was a real nuisance to fill in 100 scores for each candidate to test this formula and to find through statistical regression:

  • The false positive candidates
  • The false negative candidates
  • The true positive/negative candidates

After 13 years, this huge work to identify the real predictors for performance and to measure correlation between interview results and results of employees after 6 months on the job, seems really crazy.

Why? Because, in the IT domain, here in Cluj there are hundreds of open positions and apparently pretty less competitive candidates. So, the focus of the HR department in the hiring area became, nowadays pretty exclusive: how to attract talents. And unfortunately, the efforts to invest in the quality of validation of evaluation of the candidates are very scarce.
I know companies where HR doesn’t participate in the selection interview.

It’s not a problem itself that HR is missing at the interview, the problem is that the function of the interview as a method of selection of future performers is completely missing the point. In many cases, the interview for IT professionals takes form of technical exams with some “logic” questions added.

The consequences are that companies reject many candidates with potential who could become future performers or take on board employees who become really pain in the ass for leads.

The problem of not approaching the interview in compliance with its purpose – the evaluation of the candidate is sustained by a shared believe that a good interviewer has to have a good INTUITION to guess who are the winners of the long discussion in which every candidate is eager (or not) to sale his/her skills.

But it was proved, that intuition itself is not a magical gift received from the heaven by lucky people with big head and deep sights.

Intuition is nothing else than an attribute to experience.

Herbert Simon said: “The situation has provided a cue; this cue has given the expert access to information stored in memory, and the information provides the answer. Intuition is nothing more and nothing less than recognition”

So, you cannot become an Oracle who foresees the future without working hard. Intuition is just experience and recognition of one’s pattern which can be seen as chaotically signals for a novice interviewer. Like very experienced chase players who have an overview at a first sight, interviewers who saw thousands of people and heard many questions and answers, starts to quickly recognize patterns in behaviors at candidates.

But…like in a chase game, also in interviewing rules , strategies and a lot of feedback are needed in order to make the real expertise possible; otherwise, the experience of  10 years of interviewing becomes just an over and over repeated year .

So, the real tough task of HR Recruiters becomes to find a specific measurement approach for interviews and to improve continuously that method by getting feedback. Why?

Daniel Kahneman said in his book “Thinking fast and slow” that it was proved by many scientists that even simpler algorithms are superior in predicting future behavior than human intuition. For example, for marital satisfaction, studies confirm that the following formula:

“Frequencies of lovemaking minus frequencies of quarrels in the couples = couple stability” predict better couple stability in time than intuition of counselor based on psychotherapy meetings.

Another formula is Apgar score that has a better prediction of the baby’s chances to survive than doctor’s intuition.

An example of measurement approach for interviews needed to prevent failure in selecting right candidates can be:

  1. What are relevant characteristics of a software engineer who can be matched with the job?
  2. How can I measure those characteristics (behavioral questions, personality tests etc)?
  3. Who are the candidates with the highest score?
  4. Does the interview evaluation results are similar with his/her performance results after 6 months?
  5. What improvement can I make to my selection algorithm?

Although, don’t expect to read your candidates at a first glance, because predicting real potential of candidates has to be a combination of experience, science and a pack of lessons learned.

In the end, you can ask yourselves properly: “ Why bother to identify the real potential of a candidate? I will find him, I will grow him and then, he can go with all his new competences to another company?”. Indeed, it’s difficult to keep your talents in this competitive market but without a retention strategy all the other HR actions are in vain.

Our next article will be about how to retain your best employees, so stay tuned!


Article written by Florentina Ungureanu