Why an interview provides poor evidence of communication skills

One of the flaws of an interview process lies in the selection panel assuming that the interview provides evidence of an applicant’s communication skills.

The main assumption is that the communication processes that take place in an interview bear close resemblance to what is needed on the job. This is often not the case.

A job interview needs applicants to have these skills:

Skills in observation For an applicant to present well in a job interview they need to be keen observers of what goes on at work. They need to notice what they and others are doing and keep notes for future reference.

When a person is learning how to do something they would also need these observational skills.

Most other times people don’t need to be so conscious about what they are doing at work.

Skills in job analysis An applicant must take those observations and perform detailed analyses of how they behaved in particular situations, what had the biggest impact, what results they produced. They need to equate what they do with a standard of work complexity, particularly if applying for a promotion. They also need to be able to make links between what they do and strategic objectives. Then they need to be able to articulate this information. There are few other times when a person need to do this (e.g. coaching, training).

Skills in recall Applicants need to be able to recall all these observations and analyses on cue. Outside the interview, this information can be largely forgotten.

Skills in self-promotion talk Work demands a certain way of speaking with colleagues and clients/stakeholders. It’s a professional talk with friendly overtones.

Interviews demand self-promotion talk that places the focus on the applicant who needs to be able to talk comfortably in the first person. There are few other contexts in which this skill is used. Plus our culture does not encourage this style of communicating.

A detail and/or conceptual style of speaking A person’s communicating style can be analysed along a number of dimensions. Most of us use a range of dimensions and have preferences for some over others.

One dimension is along the continuum from detailed to conceptual expression. A person may prefer detail and not be so interested in the big picture. Another may prefer the big picture and disregard the detail. Both are useful.

In an interview, an applicant needs to have an eye for the detail of their work so they can talk about what they’ve done. At the same time, particularly for more senior jobs where strategic thinking is expected, they need to be able to focus on the big picture. For some people, this is just not possible.

A reliance on auditory mode of communicating People have preferences for how they process information. Three broad approaches are referred to: visual, auditory and kinesthetic.

Most interviews rely heavily on the auditory mode. Everything is done by talking and listening. For many people, this may not be their preferred way of handling information. Nor may it be the primary way of handling information on the job.

When you take all these factors into account it is clear the job interview is a highly specialised form of communication which may have no bearing on the communicating required on the job. It would be folly, therefore, for a panel to use ‘interview performance’ as the sole evidence for judging an applicant’s communication skills.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.