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So, you are using face to face interviews when hiring executives. Why?

By Barry Conchie

February 11, 2019


The typical practice for interviewing executive candidates is the “round robin” interview process where interviewees are subjected to a series (typically a long series) of face to face interviews with other executives and a whole bunch of different people, sometimes including Board members. An hour here, two hours there, trotting from office to office, I’ve heard of candidates experiencing 20 interviews over 2 to 3 days, and then suffering the ignominy of being invited back a week or two later for even more. Why? What are you trying to achieve? At best each interviewer gets a partial glimpse of a candidate…an imperfect picture. Do you think assembling all this imperfect glimpses creates a picture? It’s surprising to me how few executives know how to prepare for these interviews, crammed as they are into an already busy work day. And whether submitting comments via email, or meeting to discuss (extremely rare in my experience) what everyone thinks afterwards, confidence in a candidate increases or decreases based on the variable volume from different interviewers. I’ve sat through too many of these interview “feedback” sessions to believe that they are anything more than a superficial “Well, they said X and I thought that was nice” sharing of erroneous comments with no real relationship to rigorous candidate evaluation. Executives are busy people. Interviewing is hard, and few do it well. The candidate certainly has more recent experience than most interviewers. It’s a dog’s breakfast of an approach, yet embarrassment at this is surprisingly absent. Indeed, claims rationalizing its effectiveness maintain the status quo. We need to be honest.

Despite what participants in this process might feel, this methodology is on a par with a coin toss in determining whether a candidate is up to the job. I’m surprised more candidates don’t walk away in disgust – needing to make a living prevents many from doing so. The fact that this approach doesn’t work has been known for over 15 years. It’s as though Schmidt and Zimmerman’s research “A Counterintuitive Hypothesis About Employment Interview Validity” (Journal of Applied Psychology, 2004) had never been published. But having been published it certainly hasn’t been read...for the last 15 years. Whatever HR leaders have been busying themselves doing, it certainly isn’t keeping up to date with critically important research findings like these. Let me put it simply – 1:1 interviews are a waste of everyone’s time and you shouldn’t be doing them. You aren't very good at this even though you pretend you are. In their place you should conduct panel interviews and it would seem that 3 interviewers is optimal (the attached table from the research paper shows why).

But then you need to do two other things. First, have the 3 panelists score each interviewee on previously agreed criteria immediately after each interview, and before they discuss the candidate. Second, have only one panel member ask the questions – the other two just listen and complete their scoring. Once all candidates have completed the process, the candidate with the highest overall aggregate score is appointed, with the usual veto power for the CEO or executive whose hire it is.

So, this is a start - get on with it. You have no excuse. When you subject candidates to your current approach you are really telling them you don’t have a clue what you are doing or what you are looking for, and they all know this. Press the “restart” button. You can do this.

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