Interviews Can’t Pass The Pre-Employment Test

For some reason, many managers and human resources professionals feel employee interview screening is safe and personality tests are risky. Little do they know that the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and other laws protecting employees require that the interview questions you ask candidates must meet the same testing criteria as other employee assessments, including personality tests. But as you will read shortly, it’s nearly impossible for the interview to be a reliable assessment of a candidate’s job fit.

Generally, the first thing that comes to mind when someone hears that an interview went bad was that the interviewer asked an illegal question. For instance, when a manager asks a female candidate, “do you plan to have children?” all sorts of alarms go off. Or when the boss asks the applicant, “what church do you attend?,” it’s game over.

Unfortunately the mere avoidance of illegal interview questions doesn’t make the interview itself compliant. It just means you removed the most obvious danger.

According to the guidelines provided by EEOC and the U.S. Department of Labor Employer’s Guide to Good Practices, the interview is an employee assessment. To be perfectly clear, the term test or assessment is just another form for measurement and every method used to evaluate an applicant is an assessment. The agencies broad sweeping category includes application blanks, recruiting sources, photographs, interviews, pre-employment tests, training workshops, video interviews, and so forth. And, unless you hire everyone who applies, the interview like all the other assessments, are subject to the same criteria.

Legal Interview Questions

Now consider the employee interview. Despite little acknowledgement by business, the interview is notoriously inaccurate and unreliable. That means that the interview nearly always fails one of the two biggest factors (validity and reliability) used by psychometricians and academics to determine the compliance and accuracy of an assessment.

For example, a panel of three managers questions the candidate. Each walks away from the experience with a different perception of the abilities of the candidate. Or a candidate is interviewed over a period of a few weeks: the manager was impressed at the first interview and completely turned off at the second. The change could be the result of the candidate’s behavior, the interviewer’s attitude, or the environmental setting. It really doesn’t matter what changed. What matters is that many interviews fail test-retest reliability. If a candidate isn’t perceived the same way, especially over time, the results are not reliable. Low test reliability does not comply with EEOC guidelines or meet best practices.

But despite this obvious gap in reliability, many organizations continue to rely on the interview as their primary tool for hiring employees and doggedly scrutinize pre-employment tests to find reasons not to use them.

Would your interview process withstand a challenge if it was ever tested for validity and reliability? Why do you feel organizations continue to rely on an employee screening technique that has been proven time and again to be so unreliable?

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This article originally appeared in The Total View, a weekly online newsletter that focuses on hiring, management and retention strategies. The Total View is written and published by Ira S. Wolfe, president of Success Performance Solutions and is distributed with permission by The Chrysalis Corporation. Subscribe for FREE to The Total View by typing your e-mail address in the newsletter sign-up box on the right side of this page.


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