What is the worst thing you’ve ever done in the office?

cativHow would you feel if a prospective boss asked you that?  How honest could you be? And would you expect to be offered the job as a result?

And what is the point to such a question?

Interviews are useless. You’d never judge whether an athlete should compete in the Olympics from an interview or two.  Football players don’t get picked or not for the team due to answers to questions about what they believe their strengths and weaknesses are.  You don’t cast a movie on the basis of the answer to a question about where the actor sees themselves in 5 years.

Yet hundreds of job interviews go on every week in our industry and decisions are made about the best fit for a team on the basis of a few hours chat and a desultory glance at a polished cv.

TV show “Who’s the boss?” suggests letting the whole team choose a candidate, via “collaborative hiring”.  Nice idea (though maybe not for the candidates), not always practical.

Interview processes vary from place to place of course.    And some questions, like the one above, can seem weird, irrelevant or even rude for example “Why are manhole covers round?”, “What do you think of lava lamps?” And “When asked about your personality, what would your best friend say you needed to work on?”

Interviewers can only know so much about someone’s actual ability from their reputation (which can we know could have been spun and polished, or the reverse) and what candidates say they have contributed in their current role.  Sometimes people who join a business turn out to be a total surprise, and only sometimes in a good way.

Studies that show that interviews are worthless writes Richard Nisbett in Wired.   The correlation between an interview and longterm success is in the region of .01 percent so you might as well print the cvs out, make paper airplanes and pick the candidate which floats the furthest.  Nisbett argues that a job interview is not representative of anything and employers just shouldn’t waste time on it.  In fact, it’s worse than that.  The job interview is all about the interviewer, NOT the candidate. If as an employer you leave the interview with a great impression of the candidate it may only mean that the candidate has used the highly powerful tactic of asking you more questions than he or she is answering.  Which means that you’ve learnt that they are good at managing upwards but possibly not much more than that.  Maybe that’s what you need in the team.   Or it might be that you need different skills and whilst the candidate may have those too, you’re taking a chance if all they’ve done is ask you what you think.

We don’t make this mistake in sport or acting because there’s either a track record – with proper stats, or an audition of the necessary acting ability.  Can an interviewer audition a candidate in media planning, statistical analysis, buying nous etc in the same way?

An interview represents a tiny sample of behaviour that you want and need in the office.   It tends to favour extroverts of course, (and a business built entirely on that behaviour won’t hack it.). We don’t get to systematically observe the candidate in an interview, we won’t have a great enough sample for proper comparison statistically and there’s a good deal of bias in how we react instinctively to people we don’t know well.

So should we scrap interviews entirely?  Or at least try and make them unpredictable with quirky or unconventional questions?

So, go ask away, what is the worst thing they’ve ever done in the office?





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