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American Idol Interviewing

Like many of you I am sure, I watched the first episode of American Idol. Of course, being the HR nerd I am, I began to think about if I could do this sort of interviewing style for jobs that I have open. I think the reason this is so attractive to people in my profession is that sometimes we die to give honest feedback to a candidate who needed just another step or two or someone who was way underqualified. I’d love to be able to say “that was awful” at the end of a bad interview. Of course, there are several reasons why judging singing is different than evaluating a candidate:

  1. Candidates typically have a skill set that you can’t spot within 10–15 seconds of them opening their mouths and then confirm over the next minute and dismiss them abruptly
  2. There are a few more consequences to choosing the wrong person or missing out on someone that was good because of your trigger fingered decisions
  3. As you’ve seen on the show, people are in denial about their deficiencies. Even under the most honest conditions, the people who are often the worst will never be convinced of this or improve

That being said, there are some things we can learn from American Idol that does apply to the interview process:

  1. Interviewers often have a hidden bias where they make snap decisions about a person before they even open their mouth. We aren’t interviewing pretty faces to be put on stage though so we must be aware of this bias.
  2. Cut the interview short if it isn’t going well. You’ve seen people being cutoff before and some legal guys will probably shake their head in disagreement. If you have the awareness to make the following judgment during the interview, pull the plug and both of you get on with your lives with less time wasted: If the interview went perfectly from this point forward, I would still not hire this person based on past questions. If the answer is yes, you can probably find something to fill the extra 15–45 minutes.
  3. Be honest with the candidate. As indicated above, many will not take your suggestions to heart but the few that you do connect with will often come back better equipped or refer people that they know because of your candor.

On second thought though, if you are going to be as honest as Simon Cowell, you may want to consult your legal department first. On the other hand, you probably shouldn’t tell your legal department about this post at all. If they hear I have suggested you subject your interviewees to a round of American Idol auditions, you may be “voted off” as they say in the biz.

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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