When It Comes to Job Interviews, Employers Are Doing It Wrong

The most egregious offenses include ghosting applicants, unprepared interviewers and putting candidates through tests that have nothing to do with the job.
job interviews

Normally I avoid “You’re doing it wrong” stories that chastise people for failing to cut fruit a certain way or follow specific steps to being more productive.

But when it comes to hiring, I’m making an exception. Despite near record unemployment and constant competition for top talent, the methods companies use to conduct job interviews can only be described as dumb and dumber.

Organizations spend enormous resources planning, researching, buying and implementing technology platforms for recruiting. The harder it is to find the ever-elusive top talent, the more they load up on applicant tracking systems, mobile-friendly career sites, employer brand marketing platforms, social recruiting, text-bots and more. All told, companies spend an average of $4,000 per hire on recruiters, technology and related processes, according to a 2015 report from research and advisory firm Bersin by Deloitte.

Then companies throw it all away by bombing their end of job interviews. How do they bomb? Let’s count the ways.

They take a process that should take weeks, maybe a month or two tops, and drag it out ad infinitum.

They require people to fill out online job applications that are too long and complicated, can’t be saved or finished later. They use applicant tracking systems that discriminate against older workers by excluding date ranges for people who finished college before 1956.

If job candidates don’t make it past the initial stage of the process, recruiters ghost them like a first date that never makes that promised follow-up call. Close to half (47 percent) of job seekers are still waiting to hear back from an employer two months after submitting an application, according to a 2016 North American recruiting research report from The Talent Board, a nonprofit group that audits companies’ hiring practices.

That’s not the worst of it. Only 20 percent of candidates ever get an email from a recruiter or hiring manager notifying them that they aren’t being considered, and just 8 percent get a call to that effect, according to the report.

Irrelevant, Inappropriate and Illegal Interview Questions

Hiring abuses don’t end there, however. The worst are companies that put job seekers in a room with interviewers who are unprepared, uninterested or who ask irrelevant, inappropriate or illegal questions like “Are you married?” or “Do you plan to have kids?” Tied for worst place are interviewers who put candidates through a meat grinder of tests meant mainly to intimidate.

A recent Twitter thread drove home the enormity of the problem. A tech recruiter asked software developers to share their worst interview experiences. She got dozens of worst-case scenarios. People shared about hiring managers, human resources staff and even CEOs who were unprepared to speak to job candidates. That includes candidates that companies actively courted and in some cases paid to fly from other parts of the country for an interview. Examples from the thread:

For software developers, an especially egregious part of job interviews is the coding test, often called a whiteboard challenge because candidates have to show on a dry erase whiteboard how they arrive at an answer to a coding question. Whiteboard tests can demonstrate a person’s ability to problem solve on the fly. Like other types of workplace simulations, they can also show whether a coder’s work in real time matches finished work in their portfolio.

But whiteboard challenges are widely misused. Job seekers who’ve participated in them describe being asked trick questions or given problems that are impossible to solve or that have nothing to do with the requirements of the job they’re applying for.

To make a single hire, companies have to find 225 job candidate profiles and contact 63 people, according to data from Social Talent, the social recruiting platform. When companies waste candidates’ time during applications and interviews, it eats up resources that could be better spent on other parts of the process.

Leaving Coding Challenges Behind

Some companies have stopped using whiteboard challenges in interviews. Jon Toelke took Paycor, the HR tech and payroll vendor, from 300 to 1,500 employees over the past six years, including hiring 300 developers, engineers and other technologists. Coding challenges are “ridiculous” and only feed interviewers’ egos, says Toelke, senior manager of talent acquisition at the Cincinnati-based company.

“We’re not about putting someone in front of a whiteboard in front of a bunch of senior developers and humiliating them,” he said.

Bitfusion Chief Executive Subbu Rama also bypasses coding tests. The only thing they’re good for is determining how fast someone works, said Rama, co-founder of the Austin startup, which makes GPU virtualization software. “And some people might need help but are good engineers,” he said. Basing hiring on a single thing like a test doesn’t account for everything else a candidate has to offer, he said. Developers interviewing at the company take untimed tests. And Bitfusion also offers paid internships to coding school students to try people out before making them a job offer.

Good job interviews don’t just happen. One of the first big stories I wrote for Workforce, Talent Economy’s sister publication, was a profile of leadership consultant Brad Smart, who teaches a system for identifying the very best people, whether job candidates or current employees. For hiring, Smart’s “topgrading” system depends on rigorous interviews where all candidates are asked the same lengthy set of questions about their past jobs and achievements, strengths and weaknesses. Interviewers are taught to familiarize themselves with interview questions ahead of time, conduct interviews in pairs and stick to a script so that during post-interview assessments candidates are scored on the same criteria. It’s a long process.

Smart created his topgrading system more than 40 years ago; my article appeared in 2008. In the decade since, HR technology has exploded. Venture-backed startups and major tech players offer cloud-based services for every inch of the hiring process.

It’s easy to get sucked into thinking that tech alone will lead to better hires. But that’s doing it wrong. In reality, planning ahead and giving job candidates the respect they deserve — before, during and after interviews — makes organizations more desirable as employers than all the recruiting platforms money can buy.

Michelle V. Rafter is a business journalist in Portland, Oregon, reporting on workforce and tech for Talent Economy and other publications. If you have a comment or a column idea for her, email editor@talenteconomy.io.