HR · 29 October 2015

Meet the professor who says his new interview technique could save small businesses millions

Professor Tom Ormerod said “gut reactions” were nearly always unreliable
Professor Tom Ormerod said “gut reactions” were nearly always unreliable

A new conversation-based screening method is being tested in job interviews situations by researchers at the University of Sussex to help businesses identify the best candidates for a job.

The psychologists behind the model believe it could make inroads in eradicating a common recruitment pitfall costing the UK’s small businesses around £70m each year, with one in five new hires leaving within six months.

A study carried out by Jobsite a few years ago, found the country’s small and medium businesses invested £300m a year hiring 250,000 employees, but not finding the right staff the first time round proves a costly problem. Many were effectively having to pay to recruit for the same position twice within a year – at an average cost of £1,200 a time.

The method – controlled cognitive engagement (CCE) – establishes a model for interviewers rather than relying on first impressions. It takes interviewers through three phases, which are repeated in two or three cycles.

(1) Rapport building – non-challenging questions used to “baseline” what interviewees are like when they are not under pressure

(2) Information gathering – interviewers assess the level of description that an individual gives about their skills, attributes etc. In this phase, interviewees commit themselves to an account of the truth.

(3) Veracity testing – interviewees are asked questions that they ought to know the answers to based on their answers to previous questions. Interviewers also use the baselines from the first phase to detect changes in behaviour which could point to discomfort or deception.

Professor Tom Ormerod, who came up with the model, is head of the school of psychology at the University of Sussex. He said these “gut reactions” were nearly always unreliable.

Always initially aim to put the candidate at ease
Always initially aim to put the candidate at ease

“Anyone who says they can make a good first impression judgement is a bad interviewer. First impressions very often turn out to be wrong,” he warned. “We show people how judgements based on behaviour, disposition and appearance are much more misleading than they are useful.”

Ormerod added it was important for interviewers to have a technique that gets them beyond the first impression.

The prevalence of questionable interview practice across the UK, created “a huge amount of scope” for the model to have an impact according to Ormerod.

He said it was “amazing how many interviews are conducted without the interviewers having any training whatsoever”.

“There are plenty of companies which will offer you training but what constitutes a high-quality interview is not clear. It’s seen as an art, but I’m trying to put some science into it.”

Ormerod’s research came alongside the official opening of Sussex Innovation – Croydon, the newest hub within the university’s business incubation network.

It helps entrepreneurs, startups and growing businesses to scale up their operations with strategic advice and access to a network of advisers and investors.

The original Sussex Innovation Centre has been based on the university campus for almost 20 years, during which it has supported over 300 small firms. From startup, 85 per cent of its members have gone on to become profitable businesses, with one in six achieving multi-million pound turnover.

Sussex Innovation’s member businesses will be among the first to benefit from Ormerod’s model.

Mike Herd, executive director of Sussex Innovation, said: “For growing businesses, hiring the right people is critical. Recruitment is a vital aspect of scaling up a business – and hiring the wrong people at such a delicate stage in a business’s lifecycle can be catastrophic – yet many entrepreneurs do not have the experience or deep skills in interviewing.”

Read on for Professor Ormerod’s top tips when it comes to interviewing.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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