Via this post at HorsePigCow (a site I regularly frequent for Marketing 2.0 inspiration) comes a thought (and subsequent reference link to the wise Business-Think Guru, Seth Godin) about the job interview as an institution…and why it sux. Here’s the block quote from ‘HorsePigCow’:

Seth has an awesome post about ending the horrific job interview as we know it…really, he is right…nobody wins in that process…

I look at how I have gotten all of my jobs over the years:

1. Interview (ended up hating the position…not being at all what I expected)
2. Reference of a friend who I worked with as a third party contractor. Hired after having dinner the three of us…loved working for the guy…
3. Self-employed…found all of my clients through WOM
4. A client hired me…had been working with them for 3 months on a project
5. Hired sight unseen via a reference of someone who read my blog
6. Self-employed again…all our clients have approached us because they read our blogs

In the meantime, I’ve interviewed probably 150 times. I’ve only been offered 5 positions out of the lot. For a couple of the positions I wasn’t offered, I kept track and watched them go through several people. I’d run into my interviewers at various events (technology marketing is a small world) and they would lament that they hired wrong over and over. Secretly, I felt smug, but was relieved I didn’t get an offer.

So, for 6 jobs accepted, ‘Miss Rogue‘ took one interview. The rest of the jobs were secured through various types of networking. As such, the interview as an institution has obviously not been important for her career progression. But, the time and effort spent getting ready for and taking 150 interviews seems like an awful waste.

And, here’s the block quote from ‘Seth Godin’:

Let’s assert that there are two kinds of jobs you need to fill:

The first kind of job is a cog job. A job where you need someone to perform a measurable task and to follow instructions. This can range from stuffing envelopes to performing blood tests. It’s a profitable task if the person is productive, and you need to find a reliable, skilled person to do what you need.

The second kind of job requires insight and creativity. This job relies on someone doing something you could never imagine in advance, producing outcomes better than you had hoped for. This might include a sales job, or someone rearranging the factory floor to increase productivity. It could also include a skilled craftsperson or even a particularly skilled receptionist.

If you’re hiring for the first kind of job, exactly why are you sitting a nervous candidate down in your office and asking her to put on some sort of demonstration in her ability to interact with strangers under pressure? Why do you care what his suit looks like or whether or not he can look you in the eye?

Years ago, in order to keep the ethnic balance at Harvard the way some trustees felt was correct, the school created interviews and essays as a not-so-subtle way to weed out the undesirables. This spread to just about every college in the country, and persists to this day, even though it’s a largely discredited way to determine anything. Your company is probably doing exactly the same thing. If someone can do the cog job, what other information are you looking for? Why?

And if you’re hiring for the second kind of job, the question becomes even more interesting. Would you marry someone based on a one hour interview in a singles bar? And how does repeating the forced awkwardness of an interview across your entire team help you choose which people are going to do the extraordinary work you’re banking on?

I’ve been to thousands of job interviews (thankfully as an interviewer mostly) and I have come to the conclusion that the entire effort is a waste of time.

I couldn’t agree more…with both authors!

As someone who has also done lots of interviews…from both sides of the table…I heartily agree. Job interviews are worthless. I never gained a complete insight into a prospective employee’s TRUE personality (and those that claim they CAN do this from an interview are lying to themselves, in my opinion) during an interview I was conducting. People lie during interviews. People say what they think they must in order to get the job. People bomb in interviews. The interview is not real. At best, the knowledge/insight gained from the interview is superficial.

And, don’t even get me started on post-interview thank you notes. Sure, people will say the thank you note is important. But, as a person responsible for hiring, I don’t agree. I never gave a job to someone who took the time to write the handwritten note or email. It didn’t prove anything more to me than the person had nothing better to do after the interview was over. They got the job (or didn’t) based on impressions I would get about them during their interview (and for that I was taking a chance…or I was choosing against someone)…the note after the fact didn’t affect my opinion one iota.

But, back to the interview…

What about those people I was hiring for the ‘second type of job’…the one requiring insight and creativity? It would have been so much better/smarter if I had created a situation to assess their skills in a real-world type of atmosphere. Maybe it could be something like, “We need to update our flowcharts and spreadsheets. Please look at these and provide suggestions on how to improve them.” Maybe it could have been, “Listen in on this conference call with the clients and then at the conclusion I’ll ask you for thoughts.” Maybe it could have been, “watch this new creative with us and tell us your thoughts.”

Regardless. Anything would have been better than the HR-Mandated process I had to use at the time.

And, when considering the amount of time I have wasted taking interviews for my own personal career growth, I absolutely cringe. Few were productive. Even fewer ignited my curiosity in the company or passion for the position. Most were coordinated by an HR person more interested in weeding out the chaff or the over-worked manager too busy to review the resume beforehand. Whether they were in person or over the fone, the events were without a doubt useless. Sure, some felt ‘positive’ either during or after…some may have yielded a modest positive result. But, when considering the institution of the job interview in my circumstance, the few positive feelings/results don’t make up for the overall lack of worth.

For example, there was the fone interview I took where the person to whom I was talking kept up a steady frenzy of typing throughout the entire conversation. It was definitely noticeable. It was absolutely annoying. It was downright rude. Needless to say, I decided against taking the interviewer seriously after just a few minutes…and told him at the end I was not interested in the position.

Another time, an interviewer asked me to help him ‘shag cars’ around the city. (‘Shagging Cars’ is a term I have longed used to describe getting cars to and from vehicle display events. Agency folks end up doing it because the clients are too cheap to hire a professional…read as: licensed/bonded…transport/driving service.) So, instead of the hour or two I would have spent sitting across a table from the director or manager, I had to instead tail this dweeb through the rush hour traffic of a major metropolis. I like to think I didn’t get the job because my driving skillz exceeded his. And, while this type of real world scenario might fit with the ‘smarter type of interview’ suggested above, it instead just showed me that this particular director/manager couldn’t manage his schedule well enough to get the shagging done either before or after my interview.

Another time, I flew to NYC for an interview. They had a limo pick me up at the airport. The whisked me downtown to the impressive world headquarters for their global agency. They gave me the guided tour of the facility. Then, the manager to whom I would report proceeded to spend the entire lunch hour trying to scare me into thinking the job would require 7 days of travel every week. My personal life would end. My hobbies and activities would cease. It would suck. I told him before they had even brought the check I wasn’t interested in a) the job or b) his management style. I could have done the job in my sleep…on two days a week travel at most. And, I would have done the job WELL. He wasted an opportunity.

Or, there was the interview where the person asked me about my background as he was reading my resume. When I expounded upon my capabilities and experiences and gave detail beyond what was on the sheet, he informed me that I lacked the skills for which they were looking. When I asked him why I had been offered the interview, he blamed the HR person for not filtering better. So, I told him that he had wasted my time.

These are just a few examples. I have more…some better, some worse. And, sure, everyone probably has similar stories. I don’t begin to think I am unique in this regard.
So, why does this inane and archaic process for choosing employees persist? What’s the point of wasting so much time? Why not change it?

Unfortunately, short of an ‘influencer’ like Seth Godin getting this problem on the radar screens of every company in the world and enabling positive change (although undoubtedly there are bigger, more serious issues out there…and more worthy of a change effort), I doubt the situation will improve. Call me pessimistic and cynical. But, I doubt interviews will be replaced. For every progressive company that does use some type of ‘smart selection’ process, there are surely five that institutionalize a ‘careful and cautious’ three month gauntlet run consisting of multiple interviews and personality tests and fone conversations and background checks and an analysis of the person’s handwriting.

So…I think I’m going to change my approach to interviews…