Computer-aided interviews

Computer-aided interviews are generally used to reject unacceptable candidates and to select those who will move to face-to-face interviews, For example , Pic’n pay stores, a chain of 915 self-service shoe stores headquartered in North Carolina , gives job applicants an 800 number to dial for the computerized interview, which they can take on any touch-tone phone. The interview contains 100 questions and lasts about 10 minutes. Applicants press 1 for yes and 0 for no. Every Pic’n Pay applicant then gets a follow-up live telephone interview, from one of the firm’s six dedicated interviewers.

Computer aided interviews can be advantageous. Systems like those at Pic’n Pay reduce the amount of time managers devote to interviewing what often turn out to be unacceptable candidates. Applicants are reportedly more honest with computers than they would be with people, presumably because computers aren’t judgmental. The computer can also be sneaky; if an applicant takes longer than average to answer certain questions, he or she may be summarily screened out or at least questioned more deeply in that area by a human interviewer. Several of the interpersonal interview problems such as making a snap judgment about the interviewee based on physical appearance are also obviously avoided with this approach. On the other hand, the mechanical nature of computer-aided interviews can leave applicants feelings that the employer is rather impersonal.

Here’s how the system works at Great Western Bank. When Bonnie Dunn, 20 years old, hired out for a teller’s job at Great Western Bank in Chatsworth, California, she faced a lineup of tough customers. One young woman sputtered contradictory instructions about depositing a check and then blew her top when the transaction wasn’t handled fast enough. Other customers had an even shorter fuse: You people are unbelievably slow, he said. Both tough customers appeared on a computer screen, as part of a 20-minute computerized job interview. Ms. Dunn was seated in front of a personal computer, responding via a color touch screen and a microphone. She was tested on making change and on sales skills, as well as keeping cool intense situations.

When applicants sit down facing the computer at Great Western’s a bank branches, they hear it say, Welcome to the interactive assessment aid. The computer doesn’t understand what applicants say at that point, although it records their comments to be evaluated later. To begin the interview, applicants touch a label ion the screen, eliciting an ominous foreword: We’ll be keeping track of how long it takes you and how many mistakes you make. Accuracy is more important than speed.

First the computer tests the applicant on money skills, asking him or her to cash a check for $192.18, including at least three $5 bills and two dollars in quarters. Then when an angry customer appears on the screen, the system expects candidates to garb the microphone and mollify him. Later, a bank official who listens to the recorded interviews gives applicants 5 points for maintaining a friendly tone of voice, plus up to 15 points for apologizing, promising to solve the customer’s problem, and, taking a cue from the screen, suggesting that in future the bank’s deposit-only line.

The touchy young woman on the screen is tougher. Speaking fast, she says she wants to cash a $150 check, get $40 in cash and put $65 in savings and the rest in checking. As an applicant struggles to sort that out, she quickly adds, No it has to be $50 in checking because I just wrote a check this morning. Then if the applicant touches the label “?” on the screen the woman fumes saying “How many times do I have to tell you?”

Great Western reports success with its new system. It dramatically reduced useless personal interviewing of unacceptable candidates. And, partly because the candidates see what the job’s really like, those hired are reportedly 26% less likely to quit or to be fired within 90 days of hiring.

“Productivity through HRIS” illustrates how firms integrate Web-based interviews with applicant tracking.

Are Interviews useful?

While used by virtually all managers, interviews received low marks for reliability and validity in early studies. However, today (as noted previously), studies confirm that the “validity of the interview is greater than previously believed, and that the interview is generally a much better predictor of performance than previously thought and is comparable with many other selection techniques.

But there are three caveats. First, you should structure the interview. The research suggests that structured interviews particularly structured situational interviews have validities about twice those of unstructured interviews. Situational interviews yield a higher mean validity than do job-related (or behavioral) interviews which yield a higher mean validity than do psychological interviews. However, structured interviews, regardless of content are more valid than unstructured interviews.

The second caveat is this: Be careful what sorts of traits you try to assess. A typical interview illustrates why Interviewers were able to size up the interviewee’s extraversion and agreeableness. What they could not assess accurately were the traits that often matter most on jobs like conscientiousness and emotional stability. The implication seems to be: Do not try focus (as many do) on hard-to-access traits like conscientiousness. Limit yourself mostly to situational and job knowledge questions that help you assess how the candidate will actually respond to typical situations on that job. Third: Understand the factors that undermine interviews.