You can interview anyone, easily and quickly once you align your expectations of what an interview can accomplish and the reality of what it does accomplish. Any interview offers no real visibility on their ability to do a job.

Successful interview-and-selection processes start long before the interview. Ideally, your process produces a shortlist of professionals who represent a diverse range of people who could be successful in the role. Even with a balanced shortlist, the next step is the broken interview game.

No staged question-and-answer game will help you understand how someone will perform once you put them on the job. Through our body language, the tone of voice and wording of our questions, we often help an observant interviewee give us the answer that we want. Once we have decided on someone, we hear the answers we expect.

Self-reported survey data and interview data is problematic and of limited use. People are good at lying even to themselves. We continue to develop increasingly complex self-reporting personality tests and competency based exams which give us more of what we want to hear.

Rather than using tests and pre-hire evaluations as a way to find people whom we would not normally hire (but who could do well in the job), we use them in three ways:

1. Blind Filters — automated testing can filter down a large number of interested people through predetermined assumptions about what you want in the final group.
2. Positive Confirmation — personality and competency tests offer us the ability to reassure a decision that we have already made about someone who we want to hire.
3. Negative Confirmation — these same exams offer us enough balanced information that we can use it to confirm that this is not the right person to hire.

This is frightening for any employer, manager, recruiter or job seeker.

As a job seeker, if my name (and indirectly race), how I look, gender and accent are the real judgement on whether I get hired or not, then what is the point of an interview, personality and competency assessments?

As an employer, I’m at direct risk for discrimination lawsuits, often hire slower and less effectively than I could and I’ll fail to retain people.

As a recruiter, I deal with an additional variable — the unvoiced discrimination preferences of my clients which means projects are more likely to fail or take much longer than expected until I “get” what my client is looking for.

As a manager, I’m in trouble because I’m asked to interview large numbers of people to make a selection and not given the tools and systems to hire the right people who produce the best outcomes long-term, and I don’t know how my unconscious bias(es) influence the decisions I do make.

We are all blind mice, stumbling forward towards the work objective. Never really knowing if I am hiring the right people; simply hiring the people that I know I can work with (because they are like me), or I’m hiring by luck.

This would all be fine if there wasn’t so much riding on this system of interviews. Too much of the hiring process depends on a single activity that we get wrong; every-single-time. And when we get it right, it’s by self-justified luck.

What can you evaluate during a face-to-face interview?

  1. How the person looks and sounds in person.
  2. How well you understand them and they understand you.
  3. How do you both handle verbal conflict.
  4. How well they “perform” in staged environments.
  5. How well they control their body language.
  6. How they make you “feel”.

With enough training, I can lie about anything. I can manipulate anything. I can become an actor. Interviews cannot predictably test job performance. Interviews are an opportunity to meet potential hires face to face and see who they are in person.

Feelings of discomfort with someone you are interviewing often aren’t related to their ability to do the job. Are you uncomfortable because they are older than you? The other gender? A different color/race/nationality?

Always ask yourself, “am I feeling this way because there are legitimate concerns with this person or because I don’t know that many people like them or I haven’t seen people like them do well in this kind of job before?”

Approach an interview like any other social interaction and discussion. Cultivate a sincere interest in that person, their life and what makes them who they are. Ask about who they are:

  1. Ask about their day, what they want to do long term, their life, social topics of the day.
  2. When they answer, ask follow-up questions: what? when? why? how?
  3. Understand how they think and who they are as a person.
  4. If they say something that you don’t believe, tell them that.

The interview is an opportunity to understand how you communicate, share views and opinions. Find and discuss areas where you disagree. Disagreement on facts is an important part of any interview. “I’ve heard of this. That seems different than what you just explained. What do you think?”

You will disagree on the job and seeing how you discuss disagreement during the interview. If they avoid conflict or readily agree with you. And you think this is them trying to “pass” the interview, tell them that. See how they react and discuss that. The entire interview is an opportunity to discuss and explore.

After the interview, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Did they understand what I said?
  2. Did I understand what they said?
  3. Did they understand my view when we disagreed?
  4. Did I understand their view when we disagreed?

If you answer yes to all of these points, put them forward to a work-experiment where you can simulate and test how they do the actual work, environment and projects that the job requires. If you answer no to any of these points, use that as the feedback structure to the person. It gives them clear actionable feedback and the opportunity to challenge you back.

You can interview anyone successfully by having a sincere discussion and aligning your expectations of the interview process with reality. Interviews can only really test communication and chemistry. Everything else needs an experiment.