The job interview is one of the most popular selection techniques, and it is typically defined as an exchange of information between interviewers and applicants. Interviewers are interested in determining whether an applicant has the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job. They are looking for a person-job fit, the match between the person and the job. The applicant collects information about the organization, such as its values, culture, and policies. The interview can also be used to determine whether there is a person-organization fit, a good match between the personality and values of the candidate and the culture of the organization. A good fit should increase employee satisfaction, commitment, and longevity with the organization.
Job interviews can also be found as part of the recruitment or screening process. In these initial interviews, candidates are sought for their qualifications, and those with proper qualifications are then asked to apply for jobs. This initial interview serves as a screening process to weed out mismatches or applicants who do not have the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the job. These initial interviews with an organization are generally unstructured. Initial interviews are also used to attract applicants to apply for jobs. Thus, they serve as a public relations tool for attracting applicants to the organization. These interviews can be important in providing a positive image of the organization and may be the deciding factor when applicants make choices among various organizations. Initial interviews can be held via remote video access, whereby interviewer and applicant see each other on a monitor or through the use of the computer. This latter form uses software that asks the applicant pertinent questions, and the responses are then sent to the organization to be scored and assessed. These interviews can offer a cost saving to the organization.
Structure of the Interview
Job interviews are typically distinguished by their structures. This means that interviews are classified as either unstructured or structured. Structured interviews are standardized and based on a job analysis. This means that all applicants receive the same planned questions. The questions are based on the required knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) necessary for the job. Also, many of the structured interviews contain a scoring key. This means that an applicant’s response to an interview question can be compared with the answer key and then given a score on a specific interview dimension or KSA. Structured interviews can be thought of as a test, since they can be reliably scored from the scoring key. Structured interviews have been found to have more validity in predicting future job performance than unstructured interviews. Overall, the structured interview has validity comparable to some of the best selection techniques.
There are two primary types of structured interviews, based on the kinds of questions that are asked: the situational interview and behavior description interview, or behavioral interview, and both have demonstrated high validity. The situational interview is based on the critical-incident technique. This is a job analysis technique in which incidents related to the job that distinguish between excellent and poor performance are used to develop hypothetical situations. When the applicant responds to these hypothetical situations, the response is supposed to indicate the applicant’s future intentions. A scoring guide is developed for each question, and each question is associated with an interview dimension or KSA. The first step involves stating the hypothetical situation, such as the following: A customer comes into the store to pick up an item that was to be completed several days ago. The customer finds out that the item is still not repaired, and he becomes angry. The question is: How would you handle this situation? The best response is that you will try to calm the customer down and call the repair shop. A poor response is to tell the customer that it is not fixed and that he should contact you in a couple of days.
The behavioral description interview evaluates past behavior in job or job-related situations. In this case, the interview examines what has already happened, rather than what is intended or likely to happen in a future situation. The behavioral interview does not contain questions related to technical knowledge and skills. The questions are used to assess a range of abilities, such as interpersonal relations, conflict resolution, judgment, planning, and organization as well as other qualities, such as motivation, punctuality, and commitment. Probing questions are used after the initial question to find out exactly how the applicant behaved and what the consequences of that behavior were. Even when an applicant has not encountered the specific situation, probing questions may ascertain what the applicant has done in similar situations. A key provides a score for each quality that is assessed (e.g., judgment) rather than for each question that is asked.
Much of the interview research is related to the problems or biases associated with the unstructured or conversational interview. Since these traditional unstructured interviews are more likely to be unplanned conversations, they may not always focus on job-relevant factors. However, they are generally preferred by both the interviewer and the applicant. Many interviewers feel that the structured format is too limiting because they are unable to assess various aspects of the person. They believe that they can better evaluate the applicant if they can probe or challenge the applicant. Applicants, on the other hand, prefer the unstructured format because they feel they are able to give a better impression of themselves in a conversational format. Still, unstructured interviews are less valid and seem to provide poorer judgments based on factors that are not job relevant.
Evaluations of applicants tend to be biased favorably when the applicants are more physically attractive, are of normal weight, and are well groomed. Nonverbal behaviors also seem to influence the interviewer’s decision. This includes the applicant’s eye contact, smile, and general body posture. These behaviors are part of one’s impression management and can alter the interview. Another bias is related to the weight given to information. More weight is given to negative than to positive information. For example, one negative attribute can result in a rejection even though the applicant displayed numerous positive behaviors. This is probably related to the idea that interviewers seem to be searching for reasons to reject rather than accept an applicant.
One of the major biases is called the first-impression error. Probably the two most important sources of this bias are information known about the applicant prior to the interview and the physical appearance of the applicant. Information prior to the interview includes resumes, references, test scores, work experience, and scholastic standing. Although some of this information is important in evaluating the applicant, the problem is that many interviewers use this information and the relative attractiveness of the applicant to register first impressions that are very subjective and sometimes not very accurate in predicting future job performance. Furthermore, the first impression will bias subsequent information so that information gleaned later in the interview could be ignored if it is inconsistent with the first impression. This is likely to create inconsistencies among interviewers, as different interviewers are likely to place more importance on some types of information than on others. For example, if a particular interviewer believes that the applicant’s handshake and attractiveness are important while another believes that the applicant’s grade point average is important, there are likely to be different first impressions regarding the same applicant. It is also likely that the first impression will dictate how the interview will be conducted and will change the types of questions given to the applicant. That is, applicants who convey a favorable first impression are more likely to be given easier questions than those given to seemingly less favorable applicants. In this way, interviewers conduct the interview to confirm their first impressions.
Research also indicates that interviewers tend to like applicants who are more similar to themselves, especially those with similar interests, attitudes, and demographics. This is likely to have implications for interviewers who may discriminate against those who are not similar to them. Although research findings are not very clear about discrimination with regard to race, gender, age, and disability, some bias has been found, for example, against women applying for jobs that are traditionally male dominated.
Discrimination and the Law
Interview questioning practices play an important role in discrimination cases. Although there are only a few questions that are prohibited by federal equal employment law, interviewers’ inquiries related to age sex, religion, marital status, nationality, and ethnicity that can be shown to discriminate can be a liability for the employer. There are questions regarding disability and specific health inquiries that are prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. There are also state fair employment practice laws that explicitly prohibit questions concerning the applicant’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
In most cases, the standard for discrimination in the interview is based on disparate-treatment theory. This means that the party discriminated against must show that he or she was treated differently than persons of the majority or another group and that the reason for the discrimination was group membership. To prove disparate treatment, the key element is whether an employer intended to discriminate. For example, if evidence were found that women were asked different questions than were asked of men regarding employment, this would be evidence that the employer intended to discriminate.
Although most interviews involve a single interviewer, there can be multiple interviewers. The most popular form is the panel interview. In most situations, the panel interview is similar to a structured interview; members of the panel ask the same questions to all the applicants. It is thought that having a panel of interviewers may enhance the reliability of the interview because the questions are usually very structured and job related. Furthermore, the use of multiple interviewers is more likely to reduce the impact of idiosyncratic biases described previously. It also means that the information recalled by the interviewers is likely to contribute to more accurate evaluations and predictions. Validity evidence indicates that panel interviews tend to be more valid than unstructured interviews but may not always be more valid than good structured interviews. The negative side to the panel interview is the cost of using multiple interviewers.
To better understand the process by which interviewers make decisions, it is important to describe Robert Dipboye’s cognitive model of decision making. Interviewers rely on knowledge structures, which take the form of categories, stereotypes, and implicit personality theories that constitute the interviewer’s beliefs about the requirements of the job and the characteristics of the applicants. In the preinterview phase, the interviewer uses information about the candidate and these knowledge structures to form initial impressions. Then, the interviewer is likely to compare these initial impressions with his or her stereotype of the ideal candidate. During the interview, the interviewer continues to evaluate and reevaluate the applicant based on the interviewer’s knowledge structures and initial impressions of the applicant, and tends to seek information to confirm the initial impressions.
Interviewers also make attributions about the causes of the applicant’s behavior during the interview. The interviewer may initially attribute an applicant’s behavior to a trait (e.g., the applicant’s anxiety or extraversion) or to a situational factor, such as the interviewer’s conduct during the session. A large amount of information is presented to the interviewer, and an interpretation of this information may be biased because it is based on his or her knowledge structures and initial impressions or on the way the interview was conducted, rather than on the applicant’s qualities. Later in the interview, the interviewer uses all the information to make an evaluation of the applicant, and even at this stage, the interviewer’s knowledge structures are used to assist in the evaluation, especially when the information regarding the applicant is not clear.
A number of suggestions could improve the interview and make it more reliable, valid, and legally defensible. First, much of the interview process should be structured and standardized. This likely means the use of job-related questions, more specifically the use of either situational or behavioral questions or both. Since these questions are derived from a job analysis, they are likely to be job related—and more valid and legally defensible.
Second, the interviewer should determine which knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics should be assessed during the interview. Much of the research has shown that interviewers try to assess too many characteristics. Thus, instead of using the interview as a general measurement device, only those characteristics measured accurately by the interview should be considered for evaluation. Furthermore, multiple questions should be asked concerning each characteristic. The characteristics that should be measured are sociability or interpersonal skills, verbal fluency or oral communication skills, dependability, conscientiousness, and other citizenship skills. Some job knowledge may also be assessed with an interview in those situations in which a test of job knowledge is difficult to develop. Moreover, as described previously in the context of the situational interview, interviews are not well suited to assessing technical skills.
Third, the responses to the questions should be formally scored. This can be done for each question or for each characteristic that is evaluated. Scoring systems are preferable in terms of reliability, validity, and legal defensibility. An interview guide can be used to assist in the scoring and for assistance in the questioning. Finally, it is suggested that the interviewers be trained in the proper procedures for conducting the interview, including techniques such as role-playing exercises, practice in scoring, or instruction in pointing out decision errors and methods for overcoming them.
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