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Fair Enough?

Red stamp "INTERVIEW" in a red box
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Sam Manna shared an article from Business Insider that appeared in my feed this morning, and it struck me that, while the recommendations for conversation starters during an interview are generally good, they are also irrelevant in some contexts. Many organizations, especially in government or government contracting, create “fair” interview panels from a deliberately (read: legally defensible) diverse group of disinterested interviewers. These interviews follow a rigidly structured protocol – though they often use behavioral interview questions, a subject of a future post – which disallows all but the most superficial pleasantries.

More important, however, is that these interviewers are disinterested in the purest sense. They are often pulled from nearby organizations that are not involved in the work of the organization they are helping except in the most tangential way. They don’t do the work, they don’t supervise the people, they don’t know the challenges, and they can’t comment on anything other than the 3-by-5 card of information they’ve been given. They are just gathering data about the candidate and neither plan to be in a position to work or interact with the candidate in the future, nor understand the work or team that the candidate hopes to engage.

It might be okay to some degree if these were interviewing experts, but the panel members are generally not specially trained interviewers that do this for a living. They are often a mix of managers and senior contributors with no special training in psychology, assessment, interviewing, or qualitative analysis. They’re just busy people doing the work of other busy people, but without any attachment to the candidate or position being filled – they’re only motivated to get through the process and get on with their usual day-to-day.

The fundamental trade being made in the name of apparent fairness and legal defensibility is in making a good hire. Regardless of the weight placed on the interview versus the resume, this disinterested panel isn’t capable of assessing whether the candidate has the right disposition or personality to fit the desired culture within the team. Even if they were allowed to (they aren’t), they don’t have the technical foundation or connectedness to the work being done to identify what follow-on questions and clarifications need to be asked.

It’s a terrible, retrograde practice that virtually guarantees only surface consideration of candidates. At least it’s fair?

About the Author:

Dr. Philip D. Mann is an experienced trainer, speaker, and problem solver who gets things done. His primary expertise is employee engagement and the people side of how organizations grow and (resist) change. He also knows a thing or two about the government works, and those principles apply to all large, bureaucratic structures. If you need help getting things done, reach out to Dr. Mann here on LinkedIn or at

Published inBenefitsDecisions and Decision AnalysisEmotional Quotient (EQ)Employee EngagementLeaders and ManagersLinkedInMillennialsRecruitmentRelationshipsUncategorized

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