Designing an interview process is hard

2019-05-22

Interviewing is a fascinating subject. It’s amazing to see something so important done so badly.

There doesn’t seem to be any real incentive to make it better. People know biases exist, but they like their biases. They make excuses to explain that their biases give better results. They feel no drive at all to actually fix them.

When I say “fix” them, I don’t mean eliminating the biases themselves. That can’t be done. But that’s as far as most discussions of biases in interview processes go. “Here’s a list of common biases,” a well-meaning HR person says. “Try to be aware of them, and don’t let them influence your decisions.” I’ve had that meeting a dozen times.

That’s not how biases work. Knowing about them is better than not knowing, but biases are your brain lying to itself. Knowing that you’re working with a skilled liar is better than not knowing, but it doesn’t change the fact that once in a while you’re going to fall for a lie.

To make a better interview, you have to design the whole process knowing that all participants, including yourself, are unreliable at least some of the time.

It takes a lot of work and self-awareness to design that kind of process. It takes hard work to make sure everyone involved feels safe to say what they really think, and make sure they know they can change their mind. It takes extra time. It takes effort. It will never be perfect.

The alternative is to shrug, give in to your biases and make hires based on gut feel. Does that seem like a good option?