A familiar scenario"

I just have a good feeling about this person. He just feels right for that sales job." We all make judgments about other people, situations and events based on "intuition," "gut feel," or "hunch." We all use an internal guide in making decisions.

When this intuitive approach becomes the basis for employee selection decisions or other significant decisions in HR practice, however, we are on more shaky ground. A typical scenario: Several candidates are being screened for positions in a thriving, mid-sized company. Background checks, references, and the technical expertise and educational level of the candidates are similar and all are qualified based on traditional methods. The interviews gain in significance as deciding factors in the process, since each candidate appears to be "a good fit."

The selection team meets to discuss the candidates. They have a good feel about two of the candidates, but are less enthusiastic about the others. As the discussion progresses, with the pressure to "get them in the door," the group agrees to go with the first two candidates. Six months later one candidate seems to be doing well, fitting right into the organization, bringing much-needed expertise to the team. She seems to be a great match. The other candidate does not fare as well: team conflicts have erupted around projects and responsibilities, bad feelings are taking hold, team members are grumbling, and the work is not getting done. Individuals are already talking about "lateral moves" to other teams and looking around at "what's out there."

What happened and why did one candidate do less well? Was this a poor fit? Did the HR team miss some crucial bit of information, or misjudge from the interviews? What does this cost? How can this be improved?

Filters and internal models

Decision-making is inexact. Even well-trained interviewers are influenced by a host of factors, including:

• Organizational/systemic factors: such as pressure to get the hiring completed, team dysfunction, and poor training.

• Environmental factors: such as temperature, time of day, the weather, the season.

• Internal factors: such as one's internal decision-making process, and stylistic differences in decision-making, i.e. some are more rational/analytic decision-makers, while others are more intuitive, "gut feel" decision-makers. These internal factors are the most elusive and most difficult to understand and control. Their influence is great, sometimes insidiously undermining good decision-making.

Let's briefly examine some of these hidden, internal influences on our decision-making:

• Heuristics - These are unconscious routines which enable us to cope with the complex layering of decision-making. For example, we make judgments about a person based on our own past experiences with many different kinds of people. Internal templates, or heuristics, help us to quickly size someone up and decide "too fussy" or "no sense of humor." Sometimes we are correct and sometimes we are wrong. Even when faced with our mistakes, we continue to use these same routines until such time as we are forced to modify them.

These routines do enable us to attend to many complex situations simultaneously. Most times, they are helpful, freeing us to focus our attention elsewhere. The downside to these internal, automatic routines is that we misjudge and do not learn from them. In attempting to address the issue of the bad hire in the first example, the team relied on generalities about poor team dynamics and "just a poor fit" rather than thoughtfully examining all the factors influencing the process.

• Biases - These are outright irrationalities in one's thinking, disconnected from the real world. These hardwired types of irrationalities influence one's decision invisibly, making them extraordinarily dangerous. Being biased against someone rarely results in good decisions.

• Pattern Recognition - The recognition of patterns is an essential ingredient in the decision-making process. What most call "experience" is this accrual of seeing the patterns in situations. With time, this recognition of patterns allows the decision maker to quickly move to conclusions, based on apparent similarities between the new situation (or person) and the internalized template (pattern). The thought, "I know this, I've seen it a thousand times" reinforces the decision. Over-reliance on pattern recognition, however, can sometimes lead to faulty and disastrous consequences, especially in high-stress, pressured situations.

Decision-making as an intentional process

In recent years researchers have turned their attention to the process of and the influences on decision-making. Several findings have relevance for our discussion here:

• Decision-making is a process. A genuine, good decision cannot be forced or be made to happen. It can be guided, influenced and moved along, without doing harm to the resulting decision. "Let's just get this over with and move on" signifies that the process is already influenced by something not acknowledged by the decision-making team. It would be the time to stop and pay attention to what might be causing the pressure in the room at that moment, rather than force a poorly-made decision.

• Experience, training and education help. These can have enormous impact in helping HR professionals make good decisions across a range of situations. In well-run, successful organizations, OD and leadership development programs include concentration on and training in decision-making.

• Knowledge is the key. Self-knowledge is the key to better decision-making. Knowledge about one's own irrational biases and internal templates can have enormous impact on the quality of one's decisions. What is learned in a low-risk decision-making environment, and reinforced by experience at that level, serves as a substantial base for more complex, higher risk decision-making.

• There are great variations in decision-making styles. Rooted in our personal, internalized routines - heuristics - we tend to be either more analytical decision-makers (planned) or more intuitive types (reactive). Both types together are complementary and each brings something to the process, thereby broadening and enriching the decision-making landscape. Whichever personal style one has, the aim is to make sound, informed decisions, less influenced by biases and heuristic distortions.

• Teamwork can correct for biases and other influences. Well-functioning teams can have enormous positive impact on good decision-making, as the team can help correct other, unseen influences affecting the decision.

• Managerial and executive-level hiring decisions have a greater likelihood of failure than mid-level and lower hires. Much of this is attributed to the unseen influences in the process, particularly more internal, personal pressures on those involved in the process. Competing agendas of the members of the team, in combination with personal, internal competing agendas, influence decisions in complex, unrecognized ways.

Next steps

There are several implications for HR to be drawn from this approach to understanding the decision-making process:

• Only by attending to the process, not relying on shortcuts or easy fixes, will the process improve.

• Those involved in the process, the team, can improve the process for each other and the team by acting as sounding boards, doing multiple interviews of candidates and creating a forum for offering constructive help to each other.

• By utilizing the suggestions of the "what to do list" (see box), a thoughtful, legitimate and not-too-cumbersome template for the entire selection process can be created.

The suggestions offered here are meant to be a starting point for a reasoned, substantive understanding about decision-making. As HR evolves as a profession, decision-making and problem solving skills play an increasingly prominent role for professional growth and need to be nurtured.

Addressing the Problem: What to do?

• Provide training in decision-making

• Use behavioral interviewing techniques

• Use metrics, personality- and skill-based testing

• Use structured interviewing techniques

• Use multiple interviewers

• Provide mentoring/coaching by more senior HR professionals

• Use a team consultation model

Based on Ideas expressed by Gerard J. Donnellan,

From Sri Lanka, Kolonnawa
Quite relevant and educative. Tks for sharing, Prof. Lakshmanan. Now, can you throw some light on • behavioral interviewing techniques • structured interviewing techniques With regards K Venkat
From India, Mumbai
As regards Structured and behavioural interviews here are some inputs taken from Arizona HR Resources


The structured behavioral interview has several strengths that contribute to reliability, validity, legal defensibility, and perceptions of fairness. As opposed to the unstructured personal interview can be one of the most unreliable and invalid methods of selection available. The validity of the unstructured interview has been reported to be lower than most other types of selection systems. Due to the potential for subjectivity and bias, an unstructured interview process leaves an organization particularly vulnerable to legal attack. The structured behavioral interview also greatly enhances the quality and honesty of information gathered from employment interviews. Listed below are the strengths of the Structured Interview:

Bias is reduced because candidates are evaluated on job-related questions, which are based on an analysis of job duties and requirements. Subjective and irrelevant questions are not asked.

All candidates are asked the same questions so everyone has the same opportunity to display knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Pre-determined anchored rating scales are used to evaluate answers to interview questions. This reduces disagreements among interviewers and increases accuracy of judgments.

A panel of interviewers is used to record and evaluate answers in order to minimize individual rater biases. Therefore, the use of a panel is a plus.

Research has demonstrated that properly developed structured interviews can have high reliability among interviewers and predictive validity for future job performance.

Job-related procedures used to develop structured interview questions increase content validity.

Procedures used to develop structured interviews are consistent with the advice of professional and governmental guidelines, and thus more legally defensible.

Structured interviews allow managers to take part in the selection process in a role with which they are familiar.

Job-relatedness and consistency of the process may increase the perception of fairness among candidates. The job-relatedness may also help candidates get a realistic perspective of the job, which can aid in self-screening.

Types of interview questions

Following the job analysis, interview questions should be developed from behaviors determined during the job analysis to be critical and essential to the performance of the job. There are four types of interview questions: job knowledge, background, hypothetical situational and actual past behavior.

Job knowledge questions may ask interviewees to demonstrate specific job knowledge or provide documentation of job knowledge.

Background questions focus on the work experience, education, and other qualifications of the candidates.

Hypothetical situational questions present the interviewee with hypothetical situations that may occur on the job and ask how the interviewee would respond to the situations. The use of situational questions in an interview is based on the assumption that a person’s intentions are related to behavior; thus, how a candidate says he or she will handle a problem is most likely how he or she would actually behave in that situation.

Actual past behavior questions require candidates to describe the activity of past jobs that relates to the job for which they are being interviewed. The use of actual past behavior questions in an interview is based on the assumption that a person’s past behaviors are related to future behaviors therefore, how a candidate has handled a problem in the past is most likely predictive how he or she would actually behave in that situation in the future.

Asking open-ended questions, as opposed to questions that can be answered with a yes or no, will allow the candidates to reveal more about themselves. If a question is developed to determine if a candidate does or does not meet a specific requirement, then a close-ended question could be appropriate; for example, “Do you have a driver’s license?” or “Do you have experience with Microsoft Word?” Otherwise, open-ended questions usually gather more information; for example, “Describe any experience you have had in using computer-based word processing programs.” Psychologists recommend using a variety of these types of questions.


Job Knowledge Questions

Question assessing low-level mechanical knowledge such as that needed for many entry-level factory jobs:

After repairing a piece of machinery, why would you clean all the parts before reassembling them?

(5) Particles of dust and dirt can cause wear on moving parts. Need to have parts clean to inspect for wear and damage.

(3) Parts will go together easier. Equipment will run better.

(1) So it will all be clean. I don’t know.

Question assessing specialized electronics knowledge needed for some process control technician jobs:

What is the difference between a thermocouple and a resistance temperature detector?

(5) A thermocouple will produce a millivolt signal itself. A resistance temperature detector is usually connected to a balanced wheatstone bridge. When the resistance changes due to temperature changes, an unbalanced voltage is produced on the bridge.

(3) Defines one correctly.

(1) Incorrect answer.

Background Questions

Question simulating a task and assessing low level reading ability for a forklift operator job:

Many of the jobs require the operation of a forklift. Please read this (90-word) forklift checkout procedure aloud.

(5) Reads fluently pronouncing all words accurately.

(3) Can read most words but hesitates.

(1) Reads with great difficulty.

Question simulating a task and assessing selling skills for a sales job:

Please sell me this product using basic selling techniques.

(5) Candidate simulates selling the item to the interview panel by incorporating the following selling techniques: (a) identifies and presents the product, the customer needs, and the benefits of the product; (b) demonstrates the product; (c) handles resistance; and (d) closes the sale by asking for an order.

(3) Candidate uses only three of the techniques or performs one poorly.

(1) Candidate uses only two of the techniques or performs them very poorly.

Hypothetical Situational Questions

Question assessing awareness of meeting attendance protocol, which is necessary for most managerial and professional jobs:

Suppose you were going to miss an important business meeting due to unforeseen circumstances (e.g., illness or family emergency). What would you do?

(5) I would contact the person in charge of the meeting to forewarn of my absence, and I would arrange for a responsible person to attend in my place.

(3) I would send someone in my place.

(1) Afterwards, I would try to find out what went on in the meeting.

Question assessing communication skills at a level needed by many jobs:

Suppose you had many important projects with rigid deadlines, but your manager kept requesting various types of paperwork, which you felt were totally unnecessary. Furthermore, this paperwork was going to cause you to miss your deadlines. What would you do?

(5) Present the conflict to the manager. Suggest and discuss alternatives. Establish a mutually acceptable plan of action. Communicate frequently with the manager.

(3) Tell the manager about the problem.

(1) Do the best I can.

Actual Past Behavior Questions

Question assessing willingness to work at heights as may be required by many construction or factory jobs:

Some jobs require climbing ladders to a height of a five-story building and going out on a catwalk to work. Give us examples of when you performed such a task.

(5) Heights do not bother me. I have done similar work at heights in the past [and gives examples].

(3) I do not think I am afraid of heights. I know that this would have to be done as part of the job.

(1) I am afraid of heights. I would do it if absolutely necessary.

Question assessing willingness to travel as may be required by many professional and managerial jobs:

This job requires traveling out of town at least three times a month. Usually each trip will involve flying on a commercial airliner and staying overnight. Describe the traveling requirements of a previous job and how you dealt with the difficulties it presented.

(5) Traveling is not a problem. I have traveled in previous jobs [and gives examples]. I enjoy traveling and flying.

(3) I am willing to travel as part of the job.

(1) I do not like to travel, but would do it if necessary.

Choosing interview questions

When choosing questions to include in the interview, it is wise to keep in mind the time frame within which you must conduct each interview. The number of questions should probably fit in the range of 5 to fifteen. If you want to ask a question to which you expect and want lengthy replies, you should ask fewer questions overall to keep within a reasonable time frame. Generally, interviews will be twenty to sixty minutes long. The interviewer should ensure that the situational questions developed do not require a KSAOC that will be learned on the job.

For example, do not ask candidates how they would handle situations for which your organization has specific policies that will be taught to new hires. Be careful that a question doesn’t coach the candidate in how to respond. If you tell a candidate that punctuality is required in this position and then ask if he or she is punctual, the response is going to be virtually the same from all candidates.

Also, be careful that your questions don’t give too much deference to a candidate’s self-assessment.

For example, asking, “How would you describe your interpersonal skills?” is unlikely to elicit “not so good” from the candidate. A better question in this case would be, “Describe a time when you had a conflict with a coworker, subordinate, or supervisor. How did you react to the situation and how was the situation resolved?”

Questions should be worded so that candidates will clearly understand what is being asked. The use of acronyms or other terminology that may not be familiar to some candidates should be avoided. Use job-related language, but avoid technical jargon and regional expressions. Keep the questions succinct; don’t make it difficult for the candidates to understand what is being asked. Listed below are some of the more important characteristics of good interview questions:


To the point, brief, and unambiguous

Complex enough to allow adequate demonstration of the ability being rated

Formulated at the language level of the candidate, not laced with jargon

Not dependent upon skills or policy that will be learned once the person is on the job

Developing rating scales and benchmarks

A decision must be made regarding the scoring system or rating scale to be used in the interview. The rating scale can be as simple as “acceptable” or “unacceptable,” or it can be a three, four, or five-level, point-based scale. “It is difficult to define more than five levels that can be meaningfully and consistently assessed. The most critical element of the rating scale is not how many levels it has, but rather how those levels are defined”

Rating scales should be defined by benchmarks for each question. Benchmarks are suggested answers to the questions that are linked to the rating scale. Benchmarks provide a frame of reference for assessing the candidate’s responses objectively and consistently. There should usually be at least three suggested answers for each question: a superior, a satisfactory, and an unsatisfactory response.

In the Examples a five-point rating scale was used. Benchmarks were developed for five points (superior answer), three points (satisfactory answer), and one point (unsatisfactory answer). To develop benchmarks, using the guide below, ask SMEs to create answers that fit the different levels of the rating scale. If the questions have been used in interviews previously, SMEs may use actual answers they have heard from candidates.

5—What would one expect or want an outstanding candidate to give as the best possible answer?


3—What is an acceptable answer that one would expect a qualified candidate to give?


1—What would one expect as a poor answer from a candidate who has little or no knowledge or skill on this job requirement?

It is not essential to describe the 4 or 2-level answers, because the 5, 3, and 1 answers give adequate anchor points for making a rating decision on any of the levels. The 3-level benchmark is usually the easiest to develop, so try describing that answer first. Example answers should fit the requirements of the job. Superior answers should not far exceed the requirements, and unsatisfactory answers should not be so low that they do not help distinguish between candidates. Also, try to avoid making the superior answer a more sophisticated or simply reworded version of the satisfactory answer. Organizational jargon, acronyms, and slang should be avoided. Developing benchmarks is also a method of evaluating the interview questions. If it is too difficult to determine the benchmark answers for a particular question, the question should be reviewed for possible revision or elimination.

If using an interview panel

The interview panel should meet to review the job description and job analysis, design the interview questions, and set benchmarks for answers to the questions. The panel should also choose a coordinator to lead the interviews. Interview panels should have at least three persons. Having the immediate supervisor of the open position serve on the interview panel is recommended since he or she may be the best expert on the duties and responsibilities of the position. Other panel members might include the division director, a coworker, representatives of other departments, or a representative of the customers served by the position. All members of the panel should be familiar with the duties and responsibilities of the position being filled. Every effort should be made to have the panel reflect the race and gender makeup of the candidate pool, which may reduce the potential for bias.

Using a panel to conduct the interviews may reduce the impact that personal biases of individual interviewers may have on the selection of an employee. It is also important to use the same persons as interviewers for all of the candidates. Different interviewers are likely to evaluate answers differently, but if the interviewers are always the same persons then there is consistency in the ratings of candidates. Training the interviewers will increase consistency.

Trust this has been of some help



From Sri Lanka, Kolonnawa
Hi Prof.Lakshman,
Wonderful and very useful information. I feel your inputs to the citehr forum if just great! Would like to go through all your postings till now to increase my knowledge. Though I know it is difficult for you to remember what all you have posted so far, I would be grateful if you can just mention some of the latest postings on different heads so that all the new members gets benefitted.
Hope to see many more useful postings in future.

From India, Bangalore
Dear Srinaran,
Thanks for the interest shown. When you are on any article posted by me near my name you will see a profile button. When you are in the profile there is a link that will take you to all postings made so far.
Hope it has clarified the issue.

From Sri Lanka, Kolonnawa
Hello Professor
Thanks a lot for your posting. It is really educative.
Decision Making: Whatever and how much we study about it, we all go by bounded rationality model. Concepts like six thinking hats , try to see all the alternatives, consider and then take a decision simply do not hold water when we are taking a decision. whether personal or official.
We seem to take the easiest route out.
Kindly will you give your views on this .
Alsp professor I have posted a p[ersonal query in your inbox. Kindly answer it.

From India

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