The Interviewless Interview

22 February 2007 Stephen Harvard Davis

Is the use of interviews as part of the candidate selection process one of the least effective forms or recruitment? Steven Harvard Davis, author of 'Why do 40% of Executives Fail?' explains the interviewless selection process.

With all the time and effort devoted to selecting the right person for a job you would think that executive failure would be a rare event. However you couldn't be more wrong and it often turns out to be quite expensive.

Too many CEO's have experienced welcoming a new recruit into a company and then later having to remove them with a considerable amount of bitterness, substantial cost and after expending valuable management time.

Research shows that only 60% of senior executives succeed in a new job, despite a previous track record of success. So could a CEO recruit a team that is effective in the job by using a recruitment process that takes up as little of the CEO's time as possible?


To understand the reasons for 'selection failure' it's important to understand why the use of interviews as part of the selection process is one of the least effective forms of candidate evaluation.

Firstly there is interview bias, prejudice, and the halo and horn effects. These undermine the objective assessment of the applicant's suitability. Walt Disney understood his own prejudices when looking to cast the role of the voice of Snow White. That's why he had every actress who auditioned speak her lines from behind a screen thus not allowing her appearance to cloud his judgement.

Yet despite this many interviewers reject any such bias and will maintain that they can detect a suitable or unsuitable candidate as soon as they walk through the door.

Secondly too many senior executives find that they don't have the necessary skills and practice at interviewing. The CIPD undertook some research in 2006 and discovered that 21% of those that conduct interviews have never been trained in doing so. In addition most CEO's and senior executives tend to interview perhaps two or three times a year. Hardly enough practice to ensure that skills are highly tuned.

Thirdly there is the repetition factor. Most CEO's when looking for a senior executive will hire the services of a headhunter or recruitment firm. The recruitment firm will search for suitable candidates, interview them and submit a shortlist for consideration. Then the organisation repeats the process all over again by inviting the candidates for an interview with a panel of highly paid senior staff. This repetition significantly increases costs and the time spent on one aspect of the selection process and increases the negative aspects described above.


Could the selection process for choosing a senior employee be made more efficient by dispensing with the interview altogether? Consider the following:

"Interviewing is one of the least effective forms of recruitment."

Step one: a search company or headhunter is asked to submit a list of potential candidates for a senior post having been given specific job requirements, for example, past experience, qualifications, negotiating ability and political skills (if required).

The brief supplied to the search firm needs to be highly specific and should also include details of the challenges that would face a successful candidate.

Step two: each candidate is told the selection process and that that there would be no second interview (in the traditional sense) but that they would be required to supply specific information, undertake certain (online) tests and submit a written paper of job-related solutions on a topic supplied by the recruiting company.

The candidates would complete or submit the following data to the company:

  • CV
  • Personal statement answering specific questions such as why the position is attractive and the personal skills that the candidate could bring to the job
  • Completed company application form
  • Personality test (completed online)
  • Numeracy and verbal capability test (completed online)
  • Proof of qualifications or degrees held (certificates)
  • Written actions the candidate would undertake to a business problem posed by the recruiting company

In turn the company would supply the candidates with a job description, terms and conditions of employment, and detailed information relating to the history of the business, its aspirations and how the candidate would be expected to contribute.

Step three: the information supplied by each candidate is analysed and compared with the job requirements and each of the other candidates. A 'preferred candidate' is chosen to move through the remaining steps (or two candidates if results were close).

Step four: the preferred candidate is invited to meet with colleagues that he or she might be working with. The objective of this stage is not to undertake an interview but to ensure that the personality fits into the existing culture, and that communication ability and listening skills are consistent with requirements.

"Could the senior employee selection process be made more efficient by dispensing with the interview altogether?"

Step five: a task would then be set for the candidate to demonstrate their capability. For instance a potential training director could be asked to deliver a 20-minute talk on learning methods, a project manager could talk on the process of change, and an operations director on capacity planning and control.

Step six: no selection process can remove the need for the CEO to meet the preferred candidate altogether but in this instance it is to meet one candidate only. The preferred candidate has been measured and the measurements matched against the job requirements. At this stage there should be few questions that need clarification, they can be asked at this meeting.

The real purpose of stage six is to negotiate terms and conditions of employment, discuss questions that the candidate might have about the company and for the company to continue to sell itself to the candidate.

It's a fact that a candidate that has been subjected to such a battery of tests, however thorough, would not feel that he or she had made the right decision unless there had been substantial contact with people within the recruiting firm. As such steps four and six are vital for transferring information to the preferred candidate.

The effect of such a recruitment process is to minimise prejudice whilst maximising the time spent with the preferred candidate in a more social setting without repetition of process. Choosing the right candidate first time will ultimately result in fewer instances of executive failure.