Structured Interviews

In regards to structured interviewing (, I’d say that it’s a technique that is being damaged by its own power. I went through some job interviews that were just plain daft. I’m guessing that the interviewer read a book on the topic and then sort of applied A Little Knowledge ™ to the task. The questions weren’t quite exactly “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” but I would not have been surprised had it been asked.

That being said, every job I was hired for was preceded by a structured interview. However, in those cases, I was not led ‘round a garden path. Instead, the interviewer let me know up-front why a specific question was being asked. Maybe it’s got something to do with the whole “informed consent” thing that gets drilled into many life scientists’ heads.

I once worked for a larger corporation with a very structured interview format.

They actually gave out boxed sets of interview questions (If you were a tree, what kind of…) and hints about what certain kinds of answers meant. One of the dumbest things I ever saw.

Did I mention that the cards were color-coded? And I had to sign an NDA before playing with them?

At that corporation, like everywhere else I’ve been, hires were based on the whim/expertise of the person who needed to fill the slot. The color-coded card group made as many hiring mistakes as any other group I’ve been in. The only advantage was that when someone turned out to be a bad idea, the lengthy interview loop forms provided a handy paper trail so my friends and I didn’t have to take a fall for stupid decisions.

The staffwriter who wrote about behavioral interview in job placement did not give his own personal observations and sympathies, after writing per longum and latum from other people’s texts.

This is my impression about staffwriters (I may be wrong, of course): I would appreciate more personal views from staffwriters, after of course the term-paper work they expatiate on. Can you guys adopt the method and maybe if possible style of Cecil Adams.

Before i give my personal opinion, I must admit that I do have my bias against interviews as a gauge for job placement, namely, it makes of the interviewer a judge and of the interviewee an accused or a respondent, at any rate, a petitioner. And I believe that such a kind of a posture from the part of the interviewer and the correlative posture from the part of the interviewee is not the best atmosphere that will enable the ultimate employer to get the best man for the job involved.

Here is what I think about job interviews: they should be done away with totally, for the purpose of getting the best man for the job involved; because the proof of the pudding is in the eating, not in the talking.

My suggestion and advice to people who are in a position to hire other people, adopt this system:

  1. Give a written test to all applicants, to find out their literacy and functional intelligence.

  2. Get the top twenty percent of the successful candidates from testing.

  3. Put them in the job itself or in a contrived on the job situation, and observe if they deliver.

I am absolutely certain that you will get the best men for the job involved in this very simple manner.

Susma Rio Sep

“If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?” Is this really one people ask?

Regarding the history of this question, people recall it being used by Barbara Walters. However, most people don’t know the circumstances. Out of context, it sounds pretty dumb. But it wasn’t out of context. In the interview in question (I can’t recall whom), the question was not asked out of the blue. Rather, the interviewee mentioned something about having a dream where she was a tree. Thus the follow up question about what kind of tree. People give Barbara Walters a lot of flack over that question, but in the context of the interview it was a natural question.

And this will be paid for how? Out of what budget?

<< The staffwriter who wrote about behavioral interview in job placement did not give his own personal observations and sympathies, after writing per longum and latum from other people’s texts. >>

Interesting comment, Susma, since I thought I did a pretty fair job in summarizing the field (the “texts”), providing my own comments, and showing some statistics to back up the general opinions.

But, FYI, the staff of the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board often don’t have opinions on subjects – we do research and present findings. And we are not necessarily experts in the field. (In this case, I teach Human Resources to MBA students, so I do have some expertise in the field.) But our instructions are very deliberate, that we should NOT try to emulate Cecil. In fact, most Staff Reports are a recounting (with appropriate citation) or synthesis of research done by others.

Following up on what Dogface wrote, I’ll just add that, if I asked ten people to come work for me for a week, and that after observing them in the job for that week I’d take the best five, I doubt seriously I’d get many takers. Nor, frankly, are you going to be any better at judging the likelihood of success by a candidate after observing them in a simulation over a short period of time than by engaging them in a well-thought-out structured interview. After all, it’s the thought process one is interested in, and the personality, not the physical follow through.

Re Susma:
I agree with you completely.
Absolutely the first order of business should be testing for literacy and ability to communicate. This should start with scanning the resume or job application for any misspellings and punctuation errors. Does it really matter if a guy who’s applying for assembly line work can punctuate? Not really, but the applicant should be able to spell at a level appropriate to the education needed to do the job. In these days when there’re so many people whose jobs include communicating in writing, it’s essential to determine that they can string two sentences together without breaking a sweat, and, more importantly, not depend on Spell Check. You wouldn’t believe how many emails I’ve gotten from major companies proclaiming Your A Winner! I got one just today from a major beverage company regarding a sweepstakes that is Open to US Residence Only.

Regarding your suggestion of having people perform the job, I think that’s the way a perfect world should work. The problem is, in the world I live in, it brings up even more complications. For someone who is applying for a job in which things are accomplished, it would be straight forward. When I was young, I had several interviews where one of the requirements was to type a letter. No problem, that’s what secretaries did. But what if I was applying as an auto mechanic? I could do a lube and oil, but would I be paid for it? Sounds like a great opportunity for an unethical businessman to exploit the system for free or cheap labor. What if the position didn’t result in anything being produced or done and the essential element of the job was working as a team on some project? In the world I live in, I can’t devote an entire week out of my job search for a trial run on a job I might not get, assuming I’m even geting paid for it. And in the real world, this is gonna screw up my unemployment benefits on top of it. Wealthier applicants have the luxury of taking the time they need for a temporary intern position, but the rest of us have to pay the rent. And just because someone gets along great with kids doesn’t mean they’d be the best teacher.
Your ideas are interesting and sound in many aspects. Unfortunately, they’re just not practical. But please keep working on it because I think you’re on the right track, and I believe this is an area where improvement is without a doubt needed.