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Why I don’t rate formal job interviews.

04 Apr 19:00 By Vicki-Anne Craigen

Vicki-Anne Craigen Formal Job Interviews

Any employee selection exercise worth its salt involves a process of investigation. As a member of the team responsible for choosing the best candidate (or candidates) for a role, you take the part of detective. In a way.


Your task is to delve into the character, work ethic and (in a totally non-sinister way) history of your shortlisted aspirants. Like a sleuth, you’ll need to enquire, observe and trust your gut.

The objective is two-pronged: to discover which of the candidates demonstrate the traits most likely to ‘work’ in your organisation and, at the same time, to determine who definitely won’t be the right ‘fit’.

This might all seem fairly obvious, and reasonably easy. But it’s neither. 

Why not obvious? Because many organisations don’t treat the process like an investigation at all. Some treat it as a formality – a tick-the-boxes exercise – while others treat it more like a gentle medical examination: lightly prodding and softly pressing, but never getting to the bottom of anything.

Why not easy? Because even those who do approach the process as an investigation regularly fail to grasp the complexity of ‘the problem’. They don’t realise that candidates can display both outstanding characteristics and at the same time be totally wrong for the role.

Let me explain in a little more detail.

The problem is that as hard-hitting, “scary” and penetrating as we wish formal interviews still were, unless they’re delivered in a fresh and cliché-free way, they rarely scratch the surface. They certainly don’t daunt experienced professionals.  

Think of the hundreds of millions of blog pages and newspaper articles dedicated to formal interview tips and perfect question responses.  Think of the professional services devoted solely to coaching interviewees. Think of how easy it is to prepare for an interview, rehearse answers and walk away having given only the tiny part of you you’re willing to give up.

Formal interviews are a game these days, and smart interviewees have had the upper hand for years. They come ready, they put up a veneer and they breeze through. And that’s the genuine ones. The fakers – the ones who will turn out to be an absolute disaster once their probation period ends – tend to go through the whole process even more smoothly and with even less consternation.

Even a middling formal interview isn’t so much an investigation as a rubber stamp for a really cunning candidate.


I don’t rate them, but does that mean I think they’re totally worthless?


Not necessarily.

They’re as good as a waste of time if you make them a paint-by-numbers activity where you ask a candidate to tell you about a time they solved a problem, an instance when they dealt with a difficult client and what their greatest weakness is. Offer stock standard questions and you’ll receive stock standard answers in return.

It’s true that a well-structured, well-considered formal interview is a useful accompaniment to a more casual meeting (as well as other elements of a rigorous employment process). A good one will test how a person performs under pressure, and that may be important for some roles.

But I’d argue some of the most important information you gather about your candidates will come when they’re not wearing corporate attire, when they’re not facing a panel of strangers and when they’re not telling you about performance metrics and action plans. In fact, I’d argue it may have nothing at all to do with work.

It will be their personal story.

And that may be difficult – or impossible – to get during a conventional, in-office interview. Most candidates, whether entirely authentic or intending to deceive, will put up their guard in a formal setting. That’s only natural. It’s why a follow-up chat in a more relaxed environment is essential.

A casual ‘interview’ shouldn’t be a final, token catch-up before you give a person a job. It should be one of the central components of the process. Why? Because it gives you the chance to observe and question a candidate when they’re not in surroundings regulated by corporate decorum.

Here’s where good interviewers – in fact anyone with a good understanding of human nature – flourish. It’s impossible to be coached or prepare for a friendly discussion. A sincere and interesting interviewee will likely tell an absorbing and generous story about themselves that gives an insight into the person they are and the colleague they will be. A person will little depth – a person who has feigned their way through a formulaic interview – will likely give their game away without the familiar structures of formal setting to hold on to.

This is where the really deep investigative work gets done. This is where you expose the imposters and unearth the gems. This can be – believe it or not – the difference between a good decision and a disastrous one. 


Contact Vicki-Anne Craigen on 0413 453 563 or