Structured interviews with Kahneman

How „Thinking, Fast and Slow“ gives hands-on ideas for improving candidate selection

I cut myself through Kahneman’s bestseller, which is admittedly a bulky book. Whereas I admire Part I-III, it is Part IV (about the way we make choices) which was a tough chapter for me. However, I can highly recommend this book to those being interested in the way humans work and how this plays into principles of economics.

Chapter 21 „Intuition vs. formulas“ covers comprehensive advise on how to improve interview procedures using concrete language beyond the human resources jargon. If you are about to have a training with line managers or a talk to management about why you need to build up structured interview competence, read this chapter first. Or send it out as a copy. It is a great way to describe the importance of structured decision-making without being at risk of throwing around HR buzzwords.

Kahneman describes that experts are always inferior to algorithms – a bold statement that most probably you are about to disagree on. He sees two reasons for his claim. First of all, experts try to be clever by making situations more complex, which reduces validity. Secondly, humans are inconsistent when summarising their judgement of complex information.

How does this apply to interview procedures?

If you are not amongst the lucky ones having well-established structured interview guidelines at hand, Kahneman compiles all you need to know in two paragraphs. The below main points are enriched by my own thoughts and experience.

  • Decide on roughly six success criteria (traits) for the position you are about to fill. They should be as independent from one another as possible and assessable by asking questions during the interview.
  • Decide on how you want to weight each trait in the overall final result of an interview. This is also one of my major learnings after I implemented my first structured interview together with a line manager. If you are unsure on how to weight, rate all traits as equally important.
  • Decide on questions you want to ask to assess each trait, decide on a rating scale (maybe 1-5, make sure to leave room for comments) and discuss, what a good/bad answer would look like for you. The last point is especially crucial, if you have more than two assessors and if you want to brief other assessors later on.
  • By leaving time for open questions at the end of each interview, you can give some power back to the line manager (especially interesting for sceptical line managers). Be careful that the answers to those questions do not interfere with the answers to the standardized questions before.
  • During the interview, each trait should be evaluated one after the other, only rate the next one after you rated the preceding one. This means: continue to the next question only after everybody has evaluated the recent trait based on the current answer to the interview question.
  • When you have several interviewers, mention, that it does not help to cheat. Rather than looking at the rating of others for help, assors should make comments about a candidate answer to justify their ratings afterwards.
  • Plan some minutes after each interview to discuss the results with all interviewers. If the results differ, ask for concrete examples from the candidate’s answers. After the discussion, average all assessors ratings per question.
  • Add up the scores based on the weighting you have agreed upon.
  • Truly believe that you will make a better decision based on this procedure. Be bold and choose the candidate with the best average rating.

The most difficult part of structured interviews and candidate assessment is actually sticking to the procedure. It demands a lot of discipline. Keep this in mind. Sometimes it takes some iterations and trials until everybody can agree on the benefits of making sound decisions. From my experience it’s worth the effort.