I once managed to land a job offer by casually referencing my admiration for Leonard Cohen during the interview. Also, they needed someone immediately and I was available.
This is not the right way to hire anyone, but it’s not unusual, Angela Duckworth, the psychologist and author of Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance explained in a recent episode of No Stupid Questions, a smart new podcast by the crew behind the Freakonomics growing media empire.
What social scientists call an unstructured interview—or “a random walk through topics” as Duckworth says—are common. “A person walks in, you strike up a conversation, you’re like: ‘Oh, I noticed you’ve got Phillies hat on. Are you from Philadelphia?’,” she says. All of a sudden, “an hour has gone by and the interview is over.”
The problem with expecting such an organic talk to be informative on its own is pretty self-apparent: the interviewer can give too much weight to how much they enjoyed gabbing with someone and not properly assess that candidate’s suitability. Not only do unstructured interviews “not add much predictive value to hiring the right person, but in many cases could detract value,” Duckworth says, “In other words, if you hadn’t interviewed the person at all, you’d be better off.”
Such casual evaluations that center “cultural fit” may also perpetuate structural inequalities, Quartz has reported. People are naturally drawn to those who are like them, so chatting about your alma matter, the World Series, or a famous blue raincoat, during an interview raises the risk that you will build an organization that lacks diversity.
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