A job interview is one of the most drawn-out and intimidating ways of making first impression. Most of us spend days preparing, getting the appropriate dress code, company research and checking the interview time and place.
However, it turns out all of this is for nothing.
Jason Dana, an assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management has argued that job interviews are “utterly useless” even harmful, in identifying the best candidates for the job.
Dana claims in the New York Times that interviewers typically form strong impressions about applicants that often turn out to be completely false.
“Employers like to use free-form, unstructured interviews in an attempt to ‘get to know’ a job candidate,” he said which reveal more about the interviewers than the candidates.
He cites the example of a friend of his, who had turned up to an interview five minutes early, was ushered in, had a lively discussion with a panel of interviewers and was promptly offered the job .
One of the employers later remarked how impressed she was that the friend had been so calm and composed, despite being 25 minutes late. It turned out the friend had been given the wrong start time. She seemed composed only because she did not realise she was late.
Dana writes: The key psychological insight here is that people have no trouble turning any information into a coherent narrative. This is true when, as in the case of my friend, the information (i.e., her tardiness) is incorrect.
He argues that people who have studied personnel psychology have known this for years. For example, in 1979, when the University of Texas Medical School was ordered to increase its incoming class size it admitted more than 50 students who had previously been rejected at interview stage. These students subsequently did just as well as their classmates in terms of academic performance, clinical performance and honours earned.
This indicates that judgement of the interviewers would seem to have no role in discerning the most able applicants. More worryingly job interviews can actually detract from other more valuable information about candidates.
Dana cites his own research in which 76 students were asked to interview other students. Using information gleaned from the interview along with previous academic results and an upcoming course schedule, the interviewer was then asked to predict the future success of the interviewee.
They were then asked to predict the future success of a second student based on paper alone — that is, without the interview. The result showed that predictions made without the interview turned out to be by far the more accurate.
Dana concludes that people are overly confident in their own ability to glean valuable information and build an accurate picture of someone from a face to face conversation.
He suggests that interviews should be structured such that all candidates receive the same questions, which has shown to interviews more reliable and predictive of job success.
Alternatively, interviews can be used to test job-related skills rather than chatting or asking personal questions.
The management professor strongly argues that this is a mistake in believing that chatting to someone for ten minutes gives us a better sense of them and what they can offer than their resume, experience, references and records.
He concludes that unstructured interviews aren’t going away anytime soon. Until then, we should be humble about the likelihood that our impressions will provide a reliable guide to a candidate’s future performance.