Interviewing well is a skill. Much has been said and written about how to make a good impression at important interviews: How to smile; how to laugh; how to field tricky questions; how to talk about your past experience. One notable feature about this kind of interview prep, however, is that it sometimes deemphasizes a candidate’s actual qualifications or knowledge.
This is so ingrained in our culture that it may not strike us as deeply problematic. But it’s rooted in our tendency to like the people that we feel the most comfortable around. The problem with that is that largely, we are most comfortable with the people who are most like us. This pattern gained attention in business circles when JPMorgan Chase & Co. launched a new initiative for recruiting talent: making candidates play neuroscience-based video games as part of their hiring process for interns and entry-level positions. The strategy, while bizarre, is meant to remove the human element from the process—but in the best possible way.
Human interviews, after all, might err on the side of choosing familiarity over talent. In 2005, Clive Muir warned in The Academy of Management Executive about the “the rising ‘culture of personality’ in the workplace,” which leads to hiring teams creating teams that not only are composed of the best skills, but the best chemistry. To do this, interviewees aren’t only proving they’re the kind of people their colleagues want to be stuck on a project with. They’re also the kind of people you want to be stuck with in an elevator, or a dinner party, or a long conference call.
Muir surveyed academic findings that showed “applicants who focused more on being pleasant, agreeable, and offering compliments to interviewers were deemed better fits to their prospective jobs (and were hired at a higher rate) than applicants who focused more on their credentials for the job.” The studies showed that the key to a good interview wasn’t mastering the art of selling your skills well, or having a particularly good resume, but learning the knack of saying what your interviewer wanted to hear, or showing them what they wanted to see.
Muir warns of the short-sightedness of seeking a “cultural fit,” and creating teams that are too alike. As he writes, “any competitive advantage is likely to prove fleeting over the long haul.” He also writes, “Studies show that employees with diverse backgrounds, views, and energies may do more to help their companies’ creative output and strategic performance over time than a workforce populated by like-minded individuals.”
A homogenous workforce is the antithesis to the diverse, global, and innovative workplace so many startups and companies seek. Perhaps a video-game-assisted interview process will mean more focus on credentials, putting candidates from diverse backgrounds at a less of a disadvantage.