Organizational psychologist, Adam Grant describes the traditional job interview as “broken” and falling behind behavioral science we now understand. In his podcast, Work Life, Grant shares research and insight on how we might reinvent the interview.

Grant explains how candidates tell interviewers what they think they want to hear and come into an interview feeling like they must be someone other than themselves. He discourages organizations from using brain teasers and open-ended interview questions, citing these types of questions as “useless” and a poor indication of future job performance.

Instead, Grant and Northwestern University professor, Lauren Rivera encourage organizations to build a set of interview questions based on the identified knowledge and skills required of the role. Hiring committees should ask the same questions, in the same order, of all candidates to better compare all applicants and their responses. Common behavioral interview questions that start with, “Tell me about a time when … ” are improved by switching to a situational type of question. “What would you do if … ” questions enable interviewers to ask position-specific, real life, situational questions to all candidates. Responses to this type of question allow applicants to demonstrate how they would solve problems, handle conflict, and coach others. This line of questioning not only identifies potential but illustrates leadership and interpersonal skills.

Rivera’s research found that employers make up their mind about who they will hire in the first 90 seconds of meeting an applicant. The unintentional bias that takes over our brain can derail even the best candidate for the job. Rivera’s study showed that many employers are more concerned with a cultural fit than a person’s actual skills. The idea of cultural fit is often more a question of “Do you fit with me?”, a gut feeling that looks for things you may have in common with the applicant. Diego Rodriguez, formerly of IDEO, suggests that we “prioritize cultural contribution over cultural fit.” Asking which candidate will add a unique perspective to the team might yield a better hire. Rodriguez encourages organizations to identify what might be lacking in the organization and ask where they want to grow when considering a candidate’s fit.  

Grants ends with Richard Sheridan, CEO of Melo Innovation, where they take a different approach to interviews. Using more of an audition, they have applicants work side by side with current employees and submit work samples over resumes. Sheridan encourages applicants to admit a lack of knowledge instead of trying to fake it, adding that they are not looking for deep expertise, but able learners.

Additional Resources

Why We’ve Stopped Saying “Culture Fit” and What We’re Saying Instead, Buffer

Stop Hiring for “Cultural Fit”, Lauren Rivera

Effective Virtual Demo Lessons & Interviews, SAIS Webinar Recording with Alexandra Thorson

Navigating the Virtual Hiring Process: An Overview for Schools & Hiring Managers, SAIS Webinar Recording with Jonathan Ball & Devereaux McClatchey

SAIS Link Collection – Sample interview questions and legal considerations