A job interview is a type of employment test that involves a conversation between a job applicant and representative of the employing organization. Interviews are one of the most popularly used devices for employee selection. Interviews vary in the extent to which the questions are structured, from totally unstructured and free-wheeling conversation, to a set list of questions each applicant is asked. Research has shown that structured interviews are more valid than unstructured, that is, they are more accurate in predicting which applicants will make good employees.
- 1 Background
- 2 Interview constructs
- 3 Process
- 4 Process model
- 5 Types of questions
- 6 Interviewee strategies and behaviors
- 7 Validity and predictive power
- 8 Legal issues
- 9 References
- 10 External links
A job interview typically precedes the hiring decision, and is used to evaluate the candidate. The interview is usually preceded by the evaluation of submitted résumés from interested candidates, then selecting a small number of candidates for interviews. Potential job interview opportunities also include networking events and career fairs. The job interview is considered one of the most useful tools for evaluating potential employees. It also demands significant resources from the employer, yet has been demonstrated to be notoriously unreliable in identifying the optimal person for the job. An interview also allows the candidate to assess the corporate culture and demands of the job.
Multiple rounds of job interviews may be used where there are many candidates or the job is particularly challenging or desirable. Earlier rounds may involve fewer staff from the employers and will typically be much shorter and less in-depth. A common initial interview form is the phone interview, a job interview conducted over the telephone. This is especially common when the candidates do not live near the employer and has the advantage of keeping costs low for both sides.
Once all candidates have been interviewed, the employer typically selects the most desirable candidate and begins the negotiation of a job offer.
In light of its popularity, a stream of research has attempted to identify the constructs (ideas or concepts) that are measured during the interview to understand why interviews might help us pick the right people for the job. Several reviews of the research on interview constructs revealed that the interview captures a wide variety of applicant attributes. These constructs can be classified into three categories: job-relevant interview content (constructs interview questions are designed to assess), interviewee performance (applicant behaviors unrelated to the applicant characteristics the interview questions are designed to assess but nevertheless influence interviewer evaluations of interviewee responses), and potentially job-irrelevant interviewer biases (personal and demographic characteristics of applicants that may influence interviewer evaluations of interviewee responses in an illegal, discriminatory way).
Job-relevant interview content
Interview questions are generally designed to tap applicant attributes that are specifically relevant to the job for which the person is applying. The job-relevant applicant attributes that the questions purportedly assess are thought to be necessary for one to successfully perform on the job. The job-relevant constructs that have been assessed in the interview can be classified into three categories: general traits, experiential factors, and core job elements. The first category refers to relatively stable applicant traits. The second category refers to job knowledge that the applicant has acquired over time. The third category refers to the knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with the job.
- Mental ability: Applicants' capacity to learn and process information
- Personality: Conscientiousness, agreeableness, emotional stability, extroversion, openness to new experiences
- Interest, goals, and values: Applicant motives, goals, and person-organization fit
- Experience: Job-relevant knowledge derived from prior experience
- Education: Job-relevant knowledge derived from prior education
- Training: Job-relevant knowledge derived from prior training
Core job elements:
- Declarative knowledge: Applicants' learned knowledge
- Procedural skills and abilities: Applicants' ability to complete the tasks required to do the job
- Motivation: Applicants' willingness to exert the effort required to do the job
Interviewer evaluations of applicant responses also tend to be colored by how an applicant behaves in the interview. These behaviors may not be directly related to the constructs the interview questions were designed to assess, but can be related to aspects of the job for which they are applying. Applicants without realizing it may engage in a number of behaviors that influence ratings of their performance. The applicant may have acquired these behaviors during training or from previous interview experience. These interviewee performance constructs can also be classified into three categories: social effectiveness skills, interpersonal presentation, and personal/contextual factors.
Social effectiveness skills:
- Impression management: Applicants' attempt to make sure the interviewer forms a positive impression of them
- Social skills: Applicants' ability to adapt his/her behavior according to the demands of the situation to positively influence the interviewer
- Self-monitoring: Applicants' regulation of behaviors to control the image presented to the interviewer
- Relational control: Applicants' attempt to control the flow of the conversation
- Verbal expression: Pitch, rate, pauses
- Nonverbal behavior: Gaze, smile, hand movement, body orientation
- Interview training: Coaching, mock interviews with feedback
- Interview experience: Number of prior interviews
- Interview self-efficacy: Applicants' perceived ability to do well in the interview
- Interview motivation: Applicants' motivation to succeed in an interview
Job-irrelevant interviewer biases
The following are personal and demographic characteristics that can potentially influence interviewer evaluations of interviewee responses. These factors are typically not relevant to whether the individual can do the job (that is, not related to job performance), thus, their influence on interview ratings should be minimized or excluded. In fact, there are laws in many countries that prohibit consideration of many of these protected classes of people when making selection decisions. Using structured interviews with multiple interviewers coupled with training may help reduce the effect of the following characteristics on interview ratings. The list of job-irrelevant interviewer biases is presented below.
- Attractiveness: Applicant physical attractiveness can influence interviewer's evaluation of one's interview performance
- Race: Whites tend to score higher than Blacks and Hispanics; racial similarity between interviewer and applicant, on the other hand, has not been found to influence interview ratings
- Gender: Females tend to receive slightly higher interview scores than their male counterparts; gender similarity does not seem to influence interview ratings
- Similarities in background and attitudes: Interviewers perceived interpersonal attraction was found to influence interview ratings
- Culture: Applicants with an ethnic name and a foreign accent were viewed less favorably than applicants with just an ethnic name and no accent or an applicant with a traditional name with or without an accent
The extent to which ratings of interviewee performance reflect certain constructs varies widely depending on the level of structure of the interview, the kind of questions asked, interviewer or applicant biases, applicant professional dress or nonverbal behavior, and a host of other factors. For example, some research suggests that applicant's cognitive ability, education, training, and work experiences may be better captured in unstructured interviews, whereas applicant's job knowledge, organizational fit, interpersonal skills, and applied knowledge may be better captured in a structured interview.
Further, interviews are typically designed to assess a number of constructs. Given the social nature of the interview, applicant responses to interview questions and interviewer evaluations of those responses are sometimes influenced by constructs beyond those the questions were intended to assess, making it extremely difficult to tease out the specific constructs measured during the interview. Reducing the number of constructs the interview is intended to assess may help mitigate this issue. Moreover, of practical importance is whether the interview is a better measure of some constructs in comparison to paper and pencil tests of the same constructs. Indeed, certain constructs (mental ability and skills, experience) may be better measured with paper and pencil tests than during the interview, whereas personality-related constructs seem to be better measured during the interview in comparison to paper and pencil tests of the same personality constructs. In sum, the following is recommended: Interviews should be developed to assess the job relevant constructs identified in the job analysis.
A typical job interview has a single candidate meeting with between one and three persons representing the employer; the potential supervisor of the employee is usually involved in the interview process. A larger interview panel will often have a specialized human resources worker. While the meeting can be over in as little as 15 minutes, job interviews usually last less than two hours.
The bulk of the job interview will entail the interviewers asking the candidate questions about his or her job history, personality, work style and other factors relevant to the job. For instance, a common interview question is "What are your strengths and weaknesses?" The candidate will usually be given a chance to ask any questions at the end of the interview. These questions are strongly encouraged since they allow the interviewee to acquire more information about the job and the company, but they can also demonstrate the candidate's strong interest in them. When an interviewer asks about the weaknesses of a candidate, they are acknowledging the fact that they are not perfect. However, the interviewer is not really interested in their weaknesses but how they may make up for them. It also displays the skill of self-reflection and the pursuit for self-improvement.
Candidates for lower paid and lower skilled positions tend to have much simpler job interviews than do candidates for more senior positions. For instance, a lawyer's job interview will be much more demanding than that of a retail cashier. Most job interviews are formal; the larger the firm, the more formal and structured the interview will tend to be. Candidates generally dress slightly better than they would for work, with a suit (called an interview suit) being appropriate for a white-collar job interview.
Additionally, some professions have specific types of job interviews; for performing artists, this is an audition in which the emphasis is placed on the performance ability of the candidate.
In many companies, assessment days are increasingly being used, particularly for graduate positions, which may include analysis tasks, group activities, presentation exercises, and psychometric testing.
In recent years it has become increasingly common for employers to request job applicants who are successfully shortlisted to deliver one or more presentations at their interview. The purpose of the presentation in this setting may be to either demonstrate candidates' skills and abilities in presenting, or to highlight their knowledge of a given subject likely to relate closely to the job role for which they have applied. It is common for the applicant to be notified of the request for them to deliver a presentation along with their invitation to attend the interview. Usually applicants are only provided with a title for the presentation and a time limit which the presentation should not exceed.
A bad hiring decision nowadays can be immensely expensive for an organization—cost of the hire, training costs, severance pay, loss of productivity, impact on morale, cost of re-hiring, etc. (Gallup international places the cost of a bad hire as being 3.2 times the individual's salary). Studies indicate that 40% of new executives fail in their first 18 months in a new job. This has led to organizations investing in onboarding for their new employees to reduce these failure rates.
One way to think about the interview process is as three separate, albeit related, phases: (1) the preinterview phase which occurs before the interviewer and candidate meet, (2) the interview phase where the interview is conducted, and (3) the postinterview phase where the interviewer forms judgments of candidate qualifications and makes final decisions. Although separate, these three phases are related. That is, impressions interviewers form early on may affect how they view the person in a later phase.
Preinterview phase: The preinterview phase encompasses the information available to the interviewer beforehand (e.g., resumes, test scores, social networking site information) and the perceptions interviewers form about applicants from this information prior to the actual face-to-face interaction between the two individuals. In this phase, interviewers are likely to already have ideas about the characteristics that would make a person ideal or qualified for the position. Interviewers also have information about the applicant usually in the form of a resume, test scores, or prior contacts with the applicant. Interviewers then often integrate information that they have on an applicant with their ideas about the ideal employee to form a preinterview evaluation of the candidate. In this way, interviewers typically have an impression of you even before the actual face-to-face interview interaction. Nowadays with recent technological advancements, we must be aware that interviewers have an even larger amount of information available on some candidates. For example, interviewers can obtain information from search engines (e.g. Google, Bing, Yahoo), blogs, and even social networks (e.g. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter). While some of this information may be job-related, some of it may not be. Despite the relevance of the information, any information interviewers obtain about the applicant before the interview is likely to influence their preinterview impression of the candidate. And, why is all this important? It is important because what interviewers think about you before they meet you, can have an effect on how they might treat you in the interview and what they remember about you. Furthermore, researchers have found that what interviewers think about the applicant before the interview (preinterview phase) is related to how they evaluate the candidate after the interview, despite how the candidate may have performed during the interview.
Interview phase: The interview phase entails the actual conduct of the interview, the interaction between the interviewer and the applicant. Initial interviewer impressions about the applicant before the interview may influence the amount of time an interviewer spends in the interview with the applicant, the interviewer’s behavior and questioning of the applicant, and the interviewer’s postinterview evaluations. Preinterview impressions also can affect what the interviewer notices about the interviewee, recalls from the interview, and how an interviewer interprets what the applicant says and does in the interview.
As interviews are typically conducted face-to-face, over the phone, or through video conferencing (e.g. Skype), they are a social interaction between at least two individuals. Thus, the behavior of the interviewer during the interview likely "leaks" information to the interviewee. That is, you can sometimes tell during the interview whether the interviewer thinks positively or negatively about you. Knowing this information can actually affect how the applicant behaves, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy effect. For example, interviewees who feel the interviewer does not think they are qualified may be more anxious and feel they need to prove they are qualified. Such anxiety may hamper how well they actually perform and present themselves during the interview, fulfilling the original thoughts of the interviewer. Alternatively, interviewees who perceive an interviewer believes they are qualified for the job may feel more at ease and comfortable during the exchange, and consequently actually perform better in the interview. It should be noted again, that because of the dynamic nature of the interview, the interaction between the behaviors and thoughts of both parties is a continuous process whereby information is processed and informs subsequent behavior, thoughts, and evaluations.
Postinterview phase: After the interview is conducted, the interviewer must form an evaluation of the interviewee’s qualifications for the position. The interviewer most likely takes into consideration all the information, even from the preinterview phase, and integrates it to form a postinterview evaluation of the applicant. In the final stage of the interview process, the interviewer uses his/her evaluation of the candidate (i.e., in the form of interview ratings or judgment) to make a final decision. Sometimes other selection tools (e.g., work samples, cognitive ability tests, personality tests) are used in combination with the interview to make final hiring decisions; however, interviews remain the most commonly used selection device in North America.
For interviewees: Although the description of the interview process above focuses on the perspective of the interviewer, job applicants also gather information on the job and/or organization and form impressions prior to the interview. The interview is a two-way exchange and applicants are also making decisions about whether the company is a good fit for them. Essentially, the process model illustrates that the interview is not an isolated interaction, but rather a complex process that begins with two parties forming judgments and gathering information, and ends with a final interviewer decision.
Types of questions
History of interview questions
In interviews that are considered "structured interviews," there are typically two types of questions interviewers ask applicants: situational questions and behavioral questions (also known as patterned behavioral description interviews). Both types of questions are based on "critical incidents" that are required to perform the job but they differ in their focus (see below for descriptions). Critical incidents are relevant tasks that are required for the job and can be collected through interviews or surveys with current employees, managers, or subject matter experts One of the first critical incidents techniques ever used in the United States Army asked combat veterans to report specific incidents of effective or ineffective behavior of a leader. The question posed to veterans was "Describe the officer’s actions. What did he do?" Their responses were compiled to create a factual definition or "critical requirements" of what an effective combat leader is.
Previous meta-analyses have found mixed results for which type of question will best predict future job performance of an applicant. For example, some studies have shown that situational type questions have better predictability for job performance in interviews, while, other researchers have found that behavioral type questions are better at predicting future job performance of applicants. In actual interview settings it is not likely that the sole use of just one type of interview question (situational or behavioral) is asked. A range of questions can add variety for both the interviewer and applicant. In addition, the use of high-quality questions, whether behavioral or situational based, is essential to make sure that candidates provide meaningful responses that lead to insight into their capability to perform on the job.
Behavioral (experience-based or patterned behavioral) interviews are past-oriented in that they ask respondents to relate what they did in past jobs or life situations that are relevant to the particular job relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities required for success The idea is that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance in similar situations. By asking questions about how job applicants have handled situations in the past that are similar to those they will face on the job, employers can gauge how they might perform in future situations.
Behavioral interview question examples:.
- Describe a situation in which you were able to use persuasion to successfully convince someone to see things your way.
- Give me an example of a time when you set a goal and were able to meet or achieve it.
- Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone's opinion.
- Give me an example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you did not agree.
One way individuals can prepare for behavioral type questions is to practice the STAR method. The STAR method is a structured manner of responding to a behavioral-based interview question by discussing the specific situation, task, action, and result of the situation you are describing.
Situation: Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. This should describe specifics rather than general descriptions of past behavior.
Task: What goal were you working toward?
Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with detail and focus on yourself. What specific steps did you take and what was your contribution?
Result: Describe the outcome of your actions. What happened? How did the event end? What did you accomplish? What did you learn? Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results.
Situational interview questions
Situational interview questions ask job applicants to imagine a set of circumstances and then indicate how they would respond in that situation; hence, the questions are future oriented. One advantage of situational questions is that all interviewees respond to the same hypothetical situation rather than describe experiences unique to them from their past. Another advantage is that situational questions allow respondents who have had no direct job experience relevant to a particular question to provide a hypothetical response. Two core aspects of the SI are the development of situational dilemmas that employees encounter on the job, and a scoring guide to evaluate responses to each dilemma.
- You are managing a work group and notice that one of your employees has become angry and hostile in recent weeks, to the point of disrupting the entire group. What would you do?
- You are in a meeting. Your manager blames you for not doing well on a task, in front of all your peers and managers from other divisions. You believe that your manager is wrong in his critique, and that he might have come to this conclusion hastily without knowing all the information. You feel you are being treated unfairly in front of your peers. You feel that your reputation may be affected by this critique. What would you do in this situation?
- A general request has been issued by the Dean for someone to serve on a new joint government/industry/university committee on business education. The objective of the committee is to design the budgeting allocation for the Faculty for the next fiscal year. It is well known that you have the necessary skill and expertise to improve the chances that the Faculty will receive budget increases for future operations. You have been told that it will require 2–3 days per month of your time for the next 9 months. Your tenure review is one year away. Although you think you have a good publication record, you have no guarantee of tenure at this point. You are concerned because you have already fallen behind on an important research project that you are pursuing with a colleague at another university. What, if anything, would you do?
- You are in charge of truck drivers in Toronto. Your colleague is in charge of truck drivers in Montreal. Both of you report to the same person. Your salary and bonus are affected 100% by your costs. Your colleague is in desperate need of one of your trucks. If you say no, your costs will remain low and your group will probably win the Golden Flyer award for the quarter. If you say yes, the Montreal group will probably win this prestigious award because they will make a significant profit for the company. Your boss is preaching costs, costs, costs, as well as co-operation with one's peers. Your boss has no control over accounting who are the score keepers. Your boss is highly competitive; he or she rewards winners. You are just as competitive; you are a real winner! What would you do in this situation?
Other types of questions
Other possible types of questions that may be asked in an interview include: background questions, job experience questions, and puzzle type questions. A brief explanation of each follows.
- Background questions include a focus on work experience, education, and other qualifications. For instance, an interviewer may ask "What experience have you had with direct sales phone calls?"
- Job experience questions may ask candidates to describe or demonstrate job knowledge. These are typically highly specific questions. For example, one question may be "What steps would you take to conduct a manager training session on safety?"
- The puzzle interview was popularized by Microsoft in the 1990s, and is now used in other organizations. The most common types of questions either ask the applicant to solve puzzles or brain teasers (e.g., "Why are manhole covers round?") or to solve unusual problems (e.g., "How would you weigh an airplane without a scale?").
A case interview is an interview form used mostly by management consulting firms and investment banks in which the job applicant is given a question, situation, problem or challenge and asked to resolve the situation. The case problem is often a business situation or a business case that the interviewer has worked on in real life. In recent years, company in other sectors like Design, Architecture, Marketing, Advertising, Finance and Strategy have adopted a similar approach to interviewing candidates. Technology has transformed the Case based and Technical interview process from a purely private in-person experience to an online exchange of job skills and endorsements.
Another type of job interview found throughout the professional and academic ranks is the panel interview. In this type of interview the candidate is interviewed by a group of panelists representing the various stakeholders in the hiring process. Within this format there are several approaches to conducting the interview. Example formats include;
- Presentation format – The candidate is given a generic topic and asked to make a presentation to the panel. Often used in academic or sales-related interviews.
- Role format – Each panelist is tasked with asking questions related to a specific role of the position. For example one panelist may ask technical questions, another may ask management questions, another may ask customer service related questions etc.
- Skeet shoot format – The candidate is given questions from a series of panelists in rapid succession to test his or her ability to handle stress filled situations.
The benefits of the panel approach to interviewing include: time savings over serial interviewing, more focused interviews as there is often less time spend building rapport with small talk, and "apples to apples" comparison because each stake holder/interviewer/panelist gets to hear the answers to the same questions.
Stress interviews are still in common use. One type of stress interview is where the employer uses a succession of interviewers (one at a time or en masse) whose mission is to intimidate the candidate and keep him/her off-balance. The ostensible purpose of this interview: to find out how the candidate handles stress. Stress interviews might involve testing an applicant's behavior in a busy environment. Questions about handling work overload, dealing with multiple projects, and handling conflict are typical.
Another type of stress interview may involve only a single interviewer who behaves in an uninterested or hostile manner. For example, the interviewer may not make eye contact, may roll his eyes or sigh at the candidate's answers, interrupt, turn his back, take phone calls during the interview, or ask questions in a demeaning or challenging style. The goal is to assess how the interviewee handles pressure or to purposely evoke emotional responses. This technique was also used in research protocols studying stress and type A (coronary-prone) behavior because it would evoke hostility and even changes in blood pressure and heart rate in study subjects. The key to success for the candidate is to de-personalize the process. The interviewer is acting a role, deliberately and calculatedly trying to "rattle the cage". Once the candidate realizes that there is nothing personal behind the interviewer's approach, it is easier to handle the questions with aplomb.
Example stress interview questions:
- Sticky situation: "If you caught a colleague cheating on his expenses, what would you do?"
- Putting you on the spot: "How do you feel this interview is going?"
- Popping the balloon: (deep sigh) "Well, if that's the best answer you can give ... " (shakes head) "Okay, what about this one ...?"
- Oddball question: "What would you change about the design of the hockey stick?"
- Doubting your veracity: "I don't feel like we're getting to the heart of the matter here. Start again – tell me what really makes you tick."
Candidates may also be asked to deliver a presentation as part of the selection process. The "Platform Test" method involves having the candidate make a presentation to both the selection panel and other candidates for the same job. This is obviously highly stressful and is therefore useful as a predictor of how the candidate will perform under similar circumstances on the job. Selection processes in academic, training, airline, legal and teaching circles frequently involve presentations of this sort.
This kind of interview focuses on problem solving and creativity. The questions aim at the interviewee's problem-solving skills and likely show their ability in solving the challenges faced in the job through creativity. Technical interviews are being conducted online at progressive companies before in-person talks as a way to screen job applicants.
Telephone interviews take place if a recruiter wishes to reduce the number of prospective candidates before deciding on a shortlist for face-to-face interviews. They also take place if a job applicant is a significant distance away from the premises of the hiring company, such as abroad or in another state or province.
Video interviews are a modern variation of telephone interviews. Prospective candidates are asked preset questions using computer software then their immediate responses are recorded. These responses are then viewed and evaluated by recruiters to form a shortlist of suitable candidates for face-to-face interviews.
Interviewee strategies and behaviors
It may not only be what you say in an interview that matters, but also how you say it (e.g., how fast you speak) and how you behave during the interview (e.g., hand gestures, eye contact). In other words, although applicants’ responses to interview questions influence interview ratings, their nonverbal behaviors may also affect interviewer judgments. Nonverbal behaviors can be divided into two main categories: vocal cues (e.g., articulation, pitch, fluency, frequency of pauses, speed, etc.) and visual cues (e.g., smiling, eye contact, body orientation and lean, hand movement, posture, etc.). Oftentimes physical attractiveness is included as part of nonverbal behavior as well. There is some debate about how large a role nonverbal behaviors may play in the interview. Some researchers maintain that nonverbal behaviors affect interview ratings a great deal, while others have found that they have a relatively small impact on interview outcomes, especially when considered with applicant qualifications presented in résumés. The relationship between nonverbal behavior and interview outcomes is also stronger in structured interviews than unstructured, and stronger when interviewees’ answers are of high quality.
Applicants’ nonverbal behaviors may influence interview ratings through the inferences interviewers make about the applicant based on their behavior. For instance, applicants who engage in positive nonverbal behaviors such as smiling and leaning forward are perceived as more likable, trustworthy, credible, warmer, successful, qualified, motivated, competent, and socially skilled. These applicants are also predicted to be better accepted and more satisfied with the organization if hired.
Applicants’ verbal responses and their nonverbal behavior may convey some of the same information about the applicant. However, despite any shared information between content and nonverbal behavior, it is clear that nonverbal behaviors do predict interview ratings to an extent beyond the content of what was said, and thus it is essential that applicants and interviewers alike are aware of their impact. You may want to be careful of what you may be communicating through the nonverbal behaviors you display.
To hire the best applicants for the job, interviewers form judgments, sometimes using applicants’ physical attractiveness. That is, physical attractiveness is usually not necessarily related to how well one can do the job, yet has been found to influence interviewer evaluations and judgments about how suitable an applicant is for the job. Once individuals are categorized as attractive or unattractive, interviewers may have expectations about physically attractive and physically unattractive individuals and then judge applicants based on how well they fit those expectations. As a result, it typically turns out that interviewers will judge attractive individuals more favorably on job-related factors than they judge unattractive individuals. People generally agree on who is and who is not attractive and attractive individuals are judged and treated more positively than unattractive individuals. For example, people who think another is physically attractive tend to have positive initial impressions of that person (even before formally meeting them), perceive the person to be smart, socially competent, and have good social skills and general mental health.
Within the business domain, physically attractive individuals have been shown to have an advantage over unattractive individuals in numerous ways, that include, but are not limited to, perceived job qualifications, hiring recommendations, predicted job success, and compensation levels. As noted by several researchers, attractiveness may not be the most influential determinant of personnel decisions, but may be a deciding factor when applicants possess similar levels of qualifications. In addition, attractiveness does not provide an advantage if the applicants in the pool are of high quality, but it does provide an advantage in increased hiring rates and more positive job-related outcomes for attractive individuals when applicant quality is low and average.
Just as physical attractiveness is a visual cue, vocal attractiveness is an auditory cue and can lead to differing interviewer evaluations in the interview as well. Vocal attractiveness, defined as an appealing mix of speech rate, loudness, pitch, and variability, has been found to be favorably related to interview ratings and job performance. In addition, the personality traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness predict performance more strongly for people with more attractive voices compared to those with less attractive voices.
As important as it is to understand how physical attractiveness can influence the judgments, behaviors, and final decisions of interviewers, it is equally important to find ways to decrease potential bias in the job interview. Conducting an interview with elements of structure is a one possible way to decrease bias.
An abundance of information is available to instruct interviewees on strategies for improving their performance in a job interview. Information used by interviewees comes from a variety of sources ranging from popular how-to books to formal coaching programs, sometimes even provided by the hiring organization. Within the more formal coaching programs, there are two general types of coaching. One type of coaching is designed to teach interviewees how to perform better in the interview by focusing on how to behave and present oneself. This type of coaching is focused on improving aspects of the interview that are not necessarily related to the specific elements of performing the job tasks. This type of coaching could include how to dress, how to display nonverbal behaviors (head nods, smiling, eye contact), verbal cues (how fast to speak, speech volume, articulation, pitch), and impression management tactics. Another type of coaching is designed to focus interviewees on the content specifically relevant to describing one’s qualifications for the job, in order to help improve their answers to interview questions. This coaching, therefore, focuses on improving the interviewee’s understanding of the skills, abilities, and traits the interviewer is attempting to assess, and responding with relevant experience that demonstrates these skills. For example, this type of coaching might teach an interviewee to use the STAR approach for answering behavioral interview questions. An example coaching program might include several sections focusing on various aspects of the interview. It could include a section designed to introduce interviewees to the interview process, and explain how this process works (e.g., administration of interview, interview day logistics, different types of interviews, advantages of structured interviews). It could also include a section designed to provide feedback to help the interviewee to improve their performance in the interview, as well as a section involving practice answering example interview questions. An additional section providing general interview tips about how to behave and present oneself could also be included.
It is useful to consider coaching in the context of the competing goals of the interviewer and interviewee. The interviewee’s goal is typically to perform well (i.e. obtain high interview ratings), in order to get hired. On the other hand, the interviewer’s goal is to obtain job-relevant information, in order to determine whether the applicant has the skills, abilities, and traits believed by the organization to be indicators of successful job performance. Research has shown that how well an applicant does in the interview can be enhanced with coaching. The effectiveness of coaching is due, in part, to increasing the interviewee’s knowledge, which in turn results in better interview performance. Interviewee knowledge refers to knowledge about the interview, such as the types of questions that will be asked, and the content that the interviewer is attempting to assess. Research has also shown that coaching can increase the likelihood that interviewers using a structured interview will accurately choose those individuals who will ultimately be most successful on the job (i.e., increase reliability and validity of the structured interview). Additionally, research has shown that interviewees tend to have positive reactions to coaching, which is often an underlying goal of an interview. Based on research thus far, the effects of coaching tend to be positive for both interviewees and interviewers.
Interviewers should be aware that applicants can intentionally distort their responses or fake during the interview and such applicant faking has the potential to influence interview outcomes if present. Two concepts that relate to faking include social desirability (the tendency for people to present themselves in a favorable light), and impression management (conscious or unconscious attempts to influence one’s image during interactions). Faking in the employment interview, then, can be defined as "deceptive impression management or the conscious distortion of answers to the interview questions in order to obtain a better score on the interview and/or otherwise create favorable perceptions". Thus, faking in the employment interview is intentional, deceptive, and aimed at improving perceptions of performance.
Faking in the employment interview can be broken down into four elements. The first involves the interviewee portraying him or herself as an ideal job candidate by exaggerating true skills, tailoring answers to better fit the job, and/or creating the impression that personal beliefs, values, and attitudes are similar to those of the organization.
The second aspect of faking is inventing or completely fabricating one’s image by piecing distinct work experiences together to create better answers, inventing untrue experiences or skills, and portraying others’ experiences or accomplishments as ones’ own.
Thirdly, faking might also be aimed at protecting the applicant’s image. This can be accomplished through omitting certain negative experiences, concealing negatively perceived aspects of the applicant’s background, and by separating oneself from negative experiences.
The fourth and final component of faking involves ingratiating oneself to the interviewer by conforming personal opinions to align with those of the organization, as well as insincerely praising or complimenting the interviewer or organization.
Of all of the various faking behaviors listed, ingratiation tactics were found to be the most prevalent in the employment interview, while flat out making up answers or claiming others’ experiences as one’s own is the least common. However, fabricating true skills appears to be at least somewhat prevalent in employment interviews. One study found that over 80% of participants lied about job-related skills in the interview, presumably to compensate for a lack of job-required skills/traits and further their chances for employment.
Most importantly, faking behaviors have been shown to affect outcomes of employment interviews. For example, the probability of getting another interview or job offer increases when interviewees make up answers.
Different interview characteristics also seem to impact the likelihood of faking. Faking behavior is less prevalent, for instance, in past behavioral interviews than in situational interviews, although follow-up questions increased faking behaviors in both types of interviews. Therefore, if practitioners are interested in decreasing faking behaviors among job candidates in employment interview settings, they should utilize structured, past behavioral interviews and avoid the use of probes or follow-up questions.
Narcissists typically perform well at job interviews and have a good success rate for landing jobs. Interviews are one of the few social situations where narcissistic behaviours such as boasting actually create a positive impression.
Validity and predictive power
There is extant data which puts into question the value of job interviews as a tool for selecting employees. Where the aim of a job interview is ostensibly to choose a candidate who will perform well in the job role, other methods of selection provide greater predictive power and often lower costs. Furthermore, given the unstructured approach of most interviews they often have almost no useful predictive power of employee success.
While unstructured interviews are commonly used, structured interviews have yielded much better results and are considered a best practice. Interview structure is defined as "the reduction in procedural variance across applicants, which can translate into the degree of discretion that an interviewer is allowed in conducting the interview". Structure in an interview can be compared to a typical paper and pencil test: we would not think it was fair if every test taker was given different questions and a different number of questions on an exam, or if their answers were each graded differently. Yet this is exactly what occurs in an unstructured interview; thus, a structured interview attempts to standardize this popular selection tool. While there is debate surrounding what is meant specifically by a structured interview, there are typically two broad categories of standardization: 1) content structure, and 2) evaluation structure. Content structure includes elements that refer to the actual content of the interview:
- Base questions on attributes that are representative of the job, as indicated by a job analysis
- Ask the same questions of all interviewees
- Limit prompting, or follow up questions, that interviewers may ask
- Ask better questions, such as behavioral description questions
- Have a longer interview
- Control ancillary information available to the interviewees, such as resumes
- Don’t allow questions from applicants during interview
Evaluation structure includes aspects that refer to the actual rating of the interviewee:
- Rate each answer rather than making an overall evaluation at the end of the interview
- Use anchored rating scales (for an example, see BARS )
- Have the interviewer take detailed notes
- Have more than one interviewer view each applicant (i.e. have panel interviews)
- Have the same interviewers rate each applicant
- Don’t allow any discussion about the applicants between interviewers
- Train the interviewers
- Use statistical procedures to create an overall interview score
It is important to note that structure should be thought of as a continuum; that is, the degree of structure present in an interview can vary along these various elements listed above.
In terms of reliability, meta-analytic results provided evidence that interviews can have acceptable levels of interrater reliability, or consistent ratings across interviewers interrater reliability (i.e. .75 or above), when a structured panel interview is used. In terms of criterion-related validity, or how well the interview predicts later job performance criterion validity, meta-analytic results have shown that when compared to unstructured interviews, structured interviews have higher validities, with values ranging from .20-.57 (on a scale from 0 to 1), with validity coefficients increasing with higher degrees of structure. That is, as the degree of structure in an interview increases, the more likely interviewers can successfully predict how well the person will do on the job, especially when compared to unstructured interviews. In fact, one structured interview that included a) a predetermined set of questions that interviewers were able to choose from, and b) interviewer scoring of applicant answers after each individual question using previously created benchmark answers, showed validity levels comparable to cognitive ability tests (traditionally one of the best predictors of job performance) for entry level jobs.
Honesty and integrity are attributes that can be very hard to determine using a formal job interview process: the competitive environment of the job interview may in fact promote dishonesty. Some experts on job interviews express a degree of cynicism towards the process.[who?]
In many countries laws are put into place to prevent organizations from engaging in discriminatory practices against protected classes when selecting individuals for jobs. In the United States, it is unlawful for private employers with 15 or more employees along with state and local government employers to discriminate against applicants based on the following: race, color, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or over), disability, or genetic information (note: additional classes may be protected depending on state or local law). More specifically, an employer cannot legally "fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privilege of employment" or "to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee."
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1991 (Title VII) were passed into law to prevent the discrimination of individuals due to race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was added as an amendment and protects women if they are pregnant or have a pregnancy-related condition.
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 prohibits discriminatory practice directed against individuals who are 40 years of age and older. Although some states (e.g. New York) do have laws preventing the discrimination of individuals younger than 40, no federal law exists.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 protects qualified individuals who currently have or in the past have had a physical or mental disability (current users of illegal drugs are not covered under this Act). A person may be disabled if he or she has a disability that substantially limits a major life activity, has a history of a disability, is regarded by others as being disabled, or has a physical or mental impairment that is not transitory (lasting or expected to last six months or less) and minor. In order to be covered under this Act, the individual must be qualified for the job. A qualified individual is "an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position that such individual holds or desires." Unless the disability poses an "undue hardship," reasonable accommodations must be made by the organization. "In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities." Examples of reasonable accommodations are changing the workspace of an individual in a wheelchair to make it more wheelchair accessible, modifying work schedules, and/or modifying equipment. Employees are responsible for asking for accommodations to be made by their employer.
The most recent law to be passed is Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008. In essence, this law prohibits the discrimination of employees or applicants due to an individual’s genetic information and family medical history information.
In rare circumstances, it is lawful for employers to base hiring decisions on protected class information if it is considered a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification, that is, if it is a "qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the particular business." For example, a movie studio may base a hiring decision on age if the actor they are hiring will play a youthful character in a film.
Given these laws, organizations are limited in the types of questions they legally are allowed to ask applicants in a job interview. Asking these questions may cause discrimination against protected classes, unless the information is considered a Bona Fide Occupational Qualification. For example, in the majority of situations it is illegal to ask the following questions in an interview as a condition of employment:
- What is your date of birth?
- Have you ever been arrested for a crime?
- Do you have any future plans for marriage and children?
- What are your spiritual beliefs?
- How many days were you sick last year? Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?
- What prescription drugs are you currently taking?
Applicants with disabilities
Applicants with disabilities may be concerned with the effect that their disability has on both interview and employment outcomes. Research has concentrated on four key issues: how interviewers rate applicants with disabilities, the reactions of applicants with disabilities to the interview, the effects of disclosing a disability during the interview, and the perceptions different kinds of applicant disabilities may have on interviewer ratings.
The job interview is a tool used to measure constructs or overall characteristics that are relevant for the job. Oftentimes, applicants will receive a score based on their performance during the interview. Research has found different findings based on interviewers’ perceptions of the disability. For example, some research has found a leniency effect (i.e., applicants with disabilities receive higher ratings than equally qualified non-disabled applicants) in ratings of applicants with disabilities Other research, however, has found there is a disconnect between the interview score and the hiring recommendation for applicants with disabilities. That is, even though applicants with disabilities may have received a high interview score, they are still not recommended for employment. The difference between ratings and hiring could be detrimental to a company because they may be missing an opportunity to hire a qualified applicant.
A second issue in interview research deals with the applicants’ with disabilities reactions to the interview and applicant perceptions of the interviewers. Applicants with disabilities and able-bodied applicants report similar feelings of anxiety towards an interview. Applicants with disabilities often report that interviewers react nervously and insecurely, which leads such applicants to experience anxiety and tension themselves. The interview is felt to be the part of the selection process where covert discrimination against applicants with disabilities can occur. Many applicants with disabilities feel they cannot disclose (i.e., inform potential employer of disability) or discuss their disability because they want to demonstrate their abilities. If the disability is visible, then disclosure will inevitably occur when the applicant meets the interviewer, so the applicant can decide if they want to discuss their disability. If an applicant has a non-visible disability, however, then that applicant has more of a choice in disclosing and discussing. In addition, applicants who were aware that the recruiting employer already had employed people with disabilities felt they had a more positive interview experience. Applicants should consider if they are comfortable with talking about and answering questions about their disability before deciding how to approach the interview.
Research has also demonstrated that different types of disabilities have different effects on interview outcomes. Disabilities with a negative stigma and that are perceived as resulting from the actions of the person (e.g., HIV-Positive, substance abuse) result in lower interview scores than disabilities for which the causes are perceived to be out of the individual’s control (e.g., physical birth defect). A physical disability often results in higher interviewer ratings than psychological (e.g., mental illness) or sensory conditions (e.g., Tourette Syndrome). In addition, there are differences between the effects of disclosing disabilities that are visible (e.g., wheelchair bound) and non-visible (e.g., Epilepsy) during the interview. When applicants had a non-visible disability and disclosed their disability early in the interview they were not rated more negatively than applicants who did not disclose. In fact, they were liked more than the applicants who did not disclose their disability and were presumed not disabled. Interviewers tend to be impressed by the honesty of the disclosure. Strong caution needs to be taken with applying results from studies about specific disabilities, as these results may not apply to other types of disabilities. Not all disabilities are the same and more research is needed to find whether these results are relevant for other types of disabilities.
Some practical implications for job interviews for applicants with disabilities include research findings that show there are no differences in interviewer responses to a brief, shorter discussion or a detailed, longer discussion about the disability during the interview. Applicants, however, should note that when a non-visible disability is disclosed near the end of the interview, applicants were rated more negatively than early disclosing and non-disclosing applicants. Therefore it is possible that interviewers feel individuals who delay disclosure may do so out of shame or embarrassment. In addition, if the disability is disclosed after being hired, employers may feel deceived by the new hire and reactions could be less positive than would have been in the interview. If applicants want to disclose their disability during the interview, research shows that a disclosure and/or discussion earlier in the interview approach may afford them some positive interview effects. The positive effects, however, are preceded by the interviewers perception of the applicants’ psychological well-being. That is, when the interviewer perceives the applicant is psychologically well and/or comfortable with his or her disability, there can be positive interviewer effects. In contrast, if the interviewer perceives the applicant as uncomfortable or anxious discussing the disability, this may either fail to garner positive effect or result in more negative interview ratings for the candidate. Caution must again be taken when applying these research findings to other types of disabilities not investigated in the studies discussed above. There are many factors that can influence the interview of an applicant with a disability, such as whether the disability is physical or psychological, visible or non-visible, or whether the applicant is perceived as responsible for the disability or not. Therefore applicants should make their own conclusions about how to proceed in the interview after comparing their situations with those examined in the research discussed here.
Other applicant discrimination: Weight and pregnancy
Job applicants who are underweight (to the point of emaciation), overweight or obese may face discrimination in the interview. The negative treatment of overweight and obese individuals may stem from beliefs that weight is controllable and those who fail to control their weight are lazy, unmotivated, and lack self-discipline. Underweight individuals may also be subject to appearance-related negative treatment. Underweight, overweight and obese applicants are not protected from discrimination by any current United States laws. However, some individuals who are morbidly obese and whose obesity is due to a physiological disorder may be protected against discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Discrimination against pregnant applicants is illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which views pregnancy as a temporary disability and requires employers to treat pregnant applicants the same as all other applicants. Yet, discrimination against pregnant applicants continues both in the United States and internationally. Research shows that pregnant applicants compared to non-pregnant applicants are less likely to be recommended for hire. Interviewers appear concerned that pregnant applicants are more likely than non-pregnant applicants to miss work and even quit. Organizations who wish to reduce potential discrimination against pregnant applicants should consider implementing structured interviews, although some theoretical work suggests interviewers may still show biases even in these types of interviews.
Employers are using social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to obtain additional information about job applicants. While these sites may be useful to verify resume information, profiles with pictures also may reveal much more information about the applicant, including issues pertaining to applicant weight and pregnancy. Some employers are also asking potential job candidates for their social media logins which has alarmed many privacy watch dogs and regulators.
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- This is not meant to be a complete explanation of employment law or should it be construed as legal advice. This merely attempts to explain certain laws that are applicable to the employment interview. Please seek legal counsel before taking action based on the content of this information.
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- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Equal employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov)
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov)
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- Americans with Disability Act; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov)
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- US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (www.eeoc.gov)
- Breecher, E., Bragger, J., & Kutcher, E. (2006). The structured interview: Reducing biases toward job applicants with physical disabilities. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 18, 155–170.
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- Roberts, L. L., & Macan, T. H. (2006). Disability disclosure effects on employment interview ratings of applicants with nonvisible disabilities. Rehabilitation Psychology, 51, 239–246. doi:10.1037/0090-55126.96.36.199
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- Hebl, M. R., & Skorinko, J. L. (2005). Acknowledging one’s physical disability in the interview: Does "when" make a difference? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35, 2477–2492. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2005.tb02111.x
- Roehling, M. V. (1999). Weight-based discrimination in employment: Psychological and legal aspects. Personnel Psychology, 52, 969–1016.
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- "U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2011) Pregnancy discrimination". Eeoc.gov.
- Gatrell, C. (2011). Managing the maternal body: A comprehensive review and transdisciplinary analysis. International Journal of Management Reviews, 13(1), 97–112. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2370.2010.00286.x
- Bragger, J. D., Kutcher, E., Morgan, J., & Firth, P. (2002). The effects of the structured interview on reducing bias against pregnant job applicants. Sex Roles, 46(7–8), 215–226. doi: 1023/A:1019967231059
- Cunningham, J., & Macan, T. (2007). Effects of applicant pregnancy on hiring decisions and interview ratings. Sex Roles, 57, 487–508.
- Macan, T., & Merritt, S. (in press). Actions speak too: Uncovering possible implicit and explicit discrimination in the employment interview process. In G.P. Hodgkinson & J.K. Ford (Eds.), International Review of Industrial and Organizational Psychology. New York, NY US: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
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