Why a Stress Interview Isn't Right for Every Organization

Looking stressed during the interview process

Looking stressed during the interview process

I spend a lot of time on social media engaging with others in the HR space. Engagement in social media allows me to hear from HR leaders, business leaders, and job applicants. Recently, I discovered the story of Olivia Bland, a young woman who went through an incredibly challenging interview experience referred to as a “stress interview”. She posted a series of tweets describing her interview with the CEO of Web Applications. Olivia’s descriptions of th interview show a lack of strategic forethought about how the organizations selection process would be perceived by job applicants. This lack of strategic focus shows a lack of care for candidates’ experiences in the hiring process. Someone in their HR department determined that this stress interviewing process was appropriate for this position and then allowed their CEO to conduct the interview in such away as to cause an applicant to cry afterwards. After reading about this experience I immediately remembered the clip from the show Human Giant called Escalating Interview (embedded for your NSFW enjoyment below). Sadly, I have grown accustomed to hearing these types of stories from job applicants whether its from Glassdoor, Twitter, Reddit, etc.

When I first started working on consulting projects in graduate school, stories like Olivia Bland’s were very surprising to hear. I could never imagine that anyone in an organization with even the slightest knowledge of HR would develop their hiring process without considering standard practices like structured interviewing. In this case, aligning the interviewing technique with the job or even reviewing job analysis data to develop an appropriate style of interview and selection process related to the job. After many years of working with clients and being a part of the HR, I-O, and training communities, I have learned that best practices are not always used. I have seen many practices in organizations that are not helpful to the organization and are often detrimental.

Interviewing is the area where I have heard and seen some of the worst practices. The attitudes towards interviewing as a selection tool seems to be “well anyone can do it any which way they like and it’ll be fine”. I have spoken with reporters who have asked the question “what are your best interview questions?” as if some questions will provide insight into job applicants skills regardless of the job. I have spoken with organizational stakeholders who feel they can interview without any training or planning their questions. That their skill in interviewing will win out over their biases. This lackadaisical attitude towards interviewing leads to unstructured interviews which can cause many problems. Researchers and practitioners like Nicholas Roulin who are committed to structured interviewing hate to hear these stories of poor candidate experience because we know the interview process could be improved to: 1) give the candidate a better experience and 2) provide better information for managers to use in hiring decisions.

A picture of me every time I hear about unstructured interviews or poor interview practices

A picture of me every time I hear about unstructured interviews or poor interview practices

Here’s my general advice around developing a selection interview.

1)      Conduct a job analysis-Base your interview questions, interview style, and medium around a job analysis. In order to hire someone for the job, you need to know what the job is. That’s the first step and is the core of good HR practice. Once the job analysis is complete, identify what knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) you plan on assessing using the interview. Interviews are good for assessing knowledge of a job, or customer service skills, but interviews on their own cannot tell you everything about a job applicant. Be ready to use other selection tools as needed.

2)      Develop questions-Select questions that allow you to assess the candidate on relevant knowledge, skills and abilities. In addition to writing questions that are related to the job make sure that you have a scoring system and an idea of what the correct answer should be for these questions. You cannot assess candidates without a sense of what the correct answers might be to your questions. Create a rating scale for responses and you will be able to assess candidates effectively.

3)      Create a protocol for your interviewers. One of the clearest mistakes in the Olivia Bland debacle is that there was not a clear protocol for the CEO to follow. His HR team let him do what he wanted. Protocols allow for consistent experiences across candidates. An effective protocol would have avoided many of the “personal questions” that Bland complained about during the interview

4)      Be aware of your employer branding-When developing your interview protocol, be aware of your organization’s employer brand. What is the message that you hope to send to candidates that apply to your job? A secondary goal of a job interview is to provide a realistic job preview to candidates. Ideally, this realistic job preview represents your organization’s employer brand.

The steps I have described above are not earth shattering and can be found in a variety of places. I often wonder why unsupported methods of interviewing continue to thrive. How can some HR departments continue to use tools and approaches that have no basis in evidence or accepted practice? How can some organizations design training using the latest fad in technology without a thought regarding best practices and evidence-based approaches? There’s a time and a place for the use of stress interviewing but the practice in the case of Olivia Bland’s interview at Web Applications seems poorly planned and implemented.

One of my passions has been my involvement in the HR/I-O/training communities. I have met many wonderful professionals through my involvement in ATD Long Island, ATD NYC, GSC SHRM, Metro Applied Psychology and other organizations across the NYC Tri-State area. Professionals want evidence-based practices. By participating in these organizations, I have been able to reinforce effective practices through my consulting or through communication with colleagues.

If you are a HR professional that is struggling with how to implement training, hiring, wellness or compensation practices, my suggestion is to look to your community. Find the experts that can help you through that process.Use this handy guide from CIPD to learn more about how to evaluate evidence or reach out to me or any other human capital consultant and we will be happy to talk about effective practices with you. All evidence/research-based practitioners are out here trying to put a stop to harmful practices!

Everyone knows I can’t resist a good meme or gif

Everyone knows I can’t resist a good meme or gif

If you are an HR professional who has expertise in a specific area, please share it with your community through your local groups. I have met so many amazing HR/human capital/training professionals that can serve as subject matter experts. There are many who could share their expertise that I have taken on content curation roles with ATD Long Island and ATD NYC to give access to these experts to the local community. I enjoy being able to give evidence-based practitioners a platform upon which to speak. It is one of the benefits of serving as a volunteer in a professional organization. .

Some organizations that you can be involved in!

Some organizations that you can be involved in!

If you are an organizer or volunteer in SHRM, ATD, SIOP, Disrupt HR, or any of the other HR related organizations thank you for your efforts. Do your best to curate content effectively and make experts known to your professional organizations. Active community involvement with a group of talented experts can help you avoid the practices that can lead to negative outcomes for your organization and for job applicants.

If you’re looking for support look to your local organizations whether its SHRM, ATD, or a local I-O psychology group. If not there, try the social media hashtags #IOpsych, #ebmgmt, #HR #HumanResources, #HRTribe, #futureofwork, and many more! Get involved and stay informed so you can avoid embarrassing gaffes like the one Web Applications experienced.