What can undermine interview usefulness?

Hiring the right people is an essential management job, and you can’t do that job if you don’t know how to interview. Several things can undermine an interview’s usefulness.

First impressions (Snap Judgments):

Perhaps the most consistent finding is that interviewers tend to jump to conclusions – make snap judgments about candidates during the first few minutes of the interview (or even before the interview starts, based on test scores or resume data). One researcher estimates that in 85% of the cases, interviewers had made up their minds before the interview even began, based on first impressions the interviewers gleaned from candidates applications and personal appearance. In one study giving interviewers the candidates’ test scores, biased the ultimate assessment of the candidates.

First impressions are especially damaging when the prior information about the candidate is negative. In one study, interviewers who previously received unfavorable reference letters about applicants gave those applicants less credit for past successes and held them more personally responsible for past failures after the interview. And their final decisions (to accept or reject applicants) was always tied to what they expected of the applicants based on the references, quite aside from the applicants actual interview performance.

Add to this the fact interviewers seem to have a consistently negative bias. They are more influenced by unfavorable than favorable information about the candidate. Furthermore, their impressions are much more likely to change from favorable to unfavorable than from unfavorable to favorable. Indeed, a common interviewing mistake is to turn the interview into a search for negative information.

In a sense, therefore, most interviews are probably loaded against the applicant. An applicant who starts well could easily end up with a low rating because unfavorable information tends to carry more weight in the interview. An interviewee who starts out poorly will find it hard to overcome that first bad impression.

One London based psychologist who interviewed the chief executives of 80 top companies came to these conclusions about snap judgments in selection interviews.

Really to make a good impression, you don’t even get time open your mouth and interviewer’s response to you will generally be preverbal – how you walk through the door, what your posture is like, whether you smile, whether you have a captivating aura, whether you have a firm, confident handshake. You’ve got about half a minute to make an impact and after that all you are going is building on a good or bad first impression. It’s a very emotional response.

Misunderstanding the job:

Interviewers who don’t have an accurate picture of what the job entails and what sort of candidates best suited for it usually make their decisions based on incorrect impressions or stereo types of what a good applicant is. They then erroneously match interviewees with their incorrect stereo types.

One classic study involved 30 professional interviewers. Half got just brief description of the jobs for which they were recruiting: they were told the eight applicants here represented by their application blanks are applying for the position of secretary. The other 15 interviewers got much more explicit job information, in terms of typing speed and bilingual ability, for instance.

More job knowledge translated into better interviews. The 15 interviewers who had more job information generally agreed among themselves about each candidate’s potential, while those without complete job information did not. The latter also didn’t discriminate as well among applicants they tended to give them all high ratings.

In some cases there can be only one interviewer. An error of judgment on the part of the interviewer due to interviewing of one or more very good or very bad candidates just before interview in question