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					   Understanding the Personal Interview:
          A S tud y for Man ager s Invo lv ed
                in th e H ir ing Pro ce ss




Updated by:
KENDRA COX
                           Understanding the Personal Interview


Introduction
It is ironic the large emphasis that is placed on the “personal interview”
when arriving at selection decisions within organizations, despite its low
reliability and low accuracy in predicting future job performance. These
interviews are usually relatively unstructured . Recent literature reviews
suggest that interviewer’s judgmental errors, along with numerous errors
and biases associated with the processing of applicant information,
contribute to the low validity of personal interviews. Since the workforce
is the primary asset in most organizations, one might assume th at the most
e f f e c t i v e s e l e c t i o n s t r a t e g y w o u l d b e c h o s e n t o m a x i m i z e p r o d u c t i v i t y.

           Personal interviewing continues to be the most widely used
           m e t h o d f o r s e l e c t i n g e m p l o ye e s a n d i s o f t e n u s e d i n
           conjunction with other techniques such as reference
           checking, weighted application blanks, skill tests, and
           p s yc h o l o g i c a l t e s t i n g . T h e r e a r e o b v i o u s l y g o o d r e a s o n s f o r
           t h e p o p u l a r i t y o f t h e e m p l o ym e n t i n t e r v i e w d e s p i t e t h e
           c o n t r o v e r s y r e g a r d i n g i t s v a l i d i t y.


T h i s p a p e r a n a l yz e s t h e v a l i d i t y o f t h e i n t e r v i e w - t h e m e a s u r e o f t h e
degree to which the test predicts job success. Good selection doesn’t
depend only on quality information, but on the quality of the
interpretation. In the interview, the interviewer looks at the background
o f t h e a p p l i c a n t , a n a l yz e s t h e a p p l i c a n t ’ s r e s p o n s e s d u r i n g t h e i n t e r v i e w
and makes judgments about the behavior of the applicant. The foll owing
f a c t o r s a f f e c t v a l i d i t y:
                  Pre-interview Impressions
                  P s yc h o l o g i c a l S e l e c t i v e P e r c e p t i o n s
                  S t e r e o t yp e s
                  Halo-effect
                  Trait Configurations
Thus, often the validity of the interview rests on the interviewer. The
i n t e r v i e w e r n e e d s t o r e c o g n i z e t h a t e v e r yo n e p e r c e i v e s t h i n g s i n d i f f e r e n t
w a ys . F u r t h e r m o r e , i n t e r v i e w p e r c e p t i o n s a r e b a s e d o n t h e i n t e r v i e w e r ’ s
life experiences, goals, needs and values, and thus can affect the
judgment of the applicant.
Figure 1: Perception in the Interview


F i r s t , w e d i s c u s s s o m e o f t h e p s yc h o l o g i c a l p i t f a l l s o f p e r s o n a l
interviewing. Second, we look at a company that is experiencing
personnel problems. Third, we look at how the problems can be resolved.


                              Pre-interview Impression Effects
Pre-interview Impressions
Before the interviewer greets the applicant and begins the discussion,
judgments are likel y to have already been formed. Impressions o f the
applicant’s qualifications and characteristics by looking solely at the
application and resume could bias the conduct of the interviewer and the
eventual results. First impressions of a person from just paper credentials
can exert a disproportionate influence on our continued perception of
t h e m . A p r o c e s s m o d e l b y D i b o ye , 1 9 8 2 , p r o p o s e s t h r e e i n t e r v i e w p h a s e s :
    1. The Pre-interview Phase;
    2. The Interview Phase -the face-to-face interview with the applicant;
    3. The Post -Interview Phase-where impressions are fo rmed of the
       applicant’s qualifications and the decision is made to hire or not to
       hire.

                           Figure 2: Diboye’s Interview phases

A study at the University Placement Center of 120 interviews by Macan
a n d D i b o ye i n 1 9 9 0 , r e v e a l e d a s t r o n g p o s i t i v e c o r r e l a t i o n b e t w e e n p r e -
interview impressions and post -interview impressions.

Hakel, in 1982, concluded after his interview research that “It is
abundantly     clear  that    whatever    information   occurs   first  has
disproportionate influence on the fin al outcome of interviews.”
This could be explained by the fact that people with high test scores,
good grades, etc., on their credentials actually make better impressions in
the interview, although studies have been done (Sparks & Manese, 1970),
to show little support for this contention.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

An interviewer forms a pre-interview opinion of the applicant and
c a t e g o r i z e s t h e a p p l i c a n t a s “ i d e a l , h i g h l y q u a l i f i e d ” o r “ t yp i c a l ” o r
“unqualified,” and the interviewer’s subsequent conception of the
applicant then influences the subsequent gathering and processing of
information. This “cognitive categorization,” means interviewers form
expectancies of how applicants present themselves in an interview. Macan
a n d D i b o ye c o n f i r m e d t h i s t h e o r y i n a s t u d y t h e y d i d a n d f o u n d t h a t
candidates with high qualifications were expected to give better answers
and display traits of an ideal candidate. Their findings also revealed that
interviewers have more favorable attitudes to these higher qualified
applicants and show more signs of approval in their verbal and nonverbal
behavior than the less qualified applicants. This, in turn, influences the
applicant’s motivation to make a favorable self -presentation or stop the
applicant from trying to make a good impre ssion if he or she becomes
discouraged. Also, the interviewer can lead to a behavioral confirmation
by restricting the interviewee’s responses or by only asking about
negative aspects of their credentials.
  The Bias of Information Processing
  Disproportionate weight can be given to the pre -interview impressions for
  other reasons. The interviewer could either fail to recall information that
  is inconsistent with his or her expectations, or just recall information
  p r i m a r i l y t h a t i s c o n s i s t e n t w i t h e x p e c t a t i o n s . A p s yc h o l o g i c a l e x p e r i m e n t
  by Macon & Diboye in 1987 found that interviewers that were allowed to
  take notes recalled information more accurately than those who did not
  take notes.

  These pre-interview impressions obviously prevent interviewers from
  generating and retaining new information, and once they have created an
  impression of the candidate, they are unlikely to go out of their way to
  try and disprove it.


                                         Perception in the Interview


  The Unfavorable Information Effect
  There is evidence that the interviewer forms an accept/reject opinion very
  early on in the interview, often in the first five minutes. This could have
  a very adverse effect on the outcome of the interview, especially if the
  initial opinion is unfavorable. The results of Springbett’s research in
  1958 revealed that unfavorable information had a much greater impact on
  selection decisions than favorable information. He found that a single
  early unfavorable rating resulted in a reject decision in 84 percent of h is
  cases. He found that 8.8 items of favorable information were required to
  change an initially unfavorable impression and only 3.8 items of
  unfavorable information were required to alter an initially favorable
  impression. Since then, many other studies ha ve been done to confirm
  this.

A number of reasons for this have                                     decision.   Second,                   the   error of
been proposed. First, decision -makers                                rejecting a good                      candidate goes
almost certainly receive negative                                     unpunished.
feedback   about    an    unqualified,
unsuitable candidate that has been                                    Kanouse and Hanson offer another
hired, but rarely receive positive                                    possible  reason–people are  more
feedback   about    a   good     hiring                               motivated to avoid potential costs
than look for potential rewards. In                                  much more costly than the cost of not
other words, a bad hiring decision is                                hiring a good applicant.


Interviewer Decision Styles
D e c i s i o n s t yl e s g r e a t l y a f f e c t p e r c e p t i o n , a c c u r a c y o f o b s e r v a t i o n a n d
i n t e r j u d g e r e l i a b i l i t y. I t a f f e c t s t h e g a t h e r i n g , s t o r i n g , c o m b i n i n g a n d
evaluating of information and thus can influence the outcome of an interview.
T h e i n t e r v i e w e r ’ s d e c i s i o n s t yl e c o u l d c h a n g e c o n s i d e r a b l y i n t h e p r e s e n c e o r
absence of stress. If something personal were at stake, non -rational feelings
could distort evaluations. Thus, it might be a good idea if the interviewer
simply had to describe the applicant and the information was then passed on to
someone else to make the hiring decision. The interviewer’s perceptions would
then be much more accurate and informative. An additional attribute that aids
in information processing is having an interviewer with an augmented cognitive
structure who can organize and hold information for a long time, and extract
relevant information from speech. This aids in the interviewer’s ability to sift
through abstractions in search of clear understanding.



Nonverbal Communications
It has alread y been mentioned that the interviewer often comes to a
reject/accept decision in the first five minutes. In addition to this, studies
reveal that nearly 100 percent of impressions formed in the first four minutes
come from the applicant’s nonverbal behavior. Over half of a complete
impression is based on just facial expressions revealing emotions such as anger
or disgust and 38 percent of impression comes from vocal tones. Physical
space, body movement, appearances, etc., are all other nonverbal clues. Since
the nonverbal element is so critical, it’s important that interviewers understand
the significance of nonverbal indicators and how to interpret these silent
messages to make successful hiring decisions.


Physical Characteristics
An interviewer’s inferences about a candidate’s traits are derived not only by
watching their behavior but also by observing their physical characteristics.
The “halo effect” occurs when an obvious characteristic about a person
influences our impressions about the person’s other characteristics. Halo
effects have more impact when the characteristic is one we have a strong
positive or negative feeling about. For example, the interviewer may decide the
a p p l i c a n t i s d r e s s e d i n a p p r o p r i a t e l y; t h e i n t e r v i e w e r l i n k s t h i s w i t h w h a t h e
b e l i e v e s t h e m o d e o f d r e s s m e a n s o r s a ys a b o u t t h e a p p l i c a n t . T h i s n e g a t i v e l y
a f f e c t s t h e i n t e r v i e w e r ’ s f u r t h e r o b s e r v a t i o n s . T h e r e i s e v i d e n c e t h a t p h ys i c a l
attractiveness has an effect on interviewers’ judgment when they assess
resumes of applications for managerial positions. Attractive people are
p r e s u m e d t o h a v e o t h e r p o s i t i v e q u a l i t i e s s u c h a s p e r s o n a l i t i e s , h o n e s t y,
intelligence, poise and confidence. This is consistent with the “implicit
p e r s o n a l i t y t h e o r y” a b o u t t h e r e l a t i o n s h i p s b e t w e e n o n e t r a i t a n d a n o t h e r . F o r
example, a neat person is often thought of as efficient and also punctual. This
means a little information can be taken a long way and also be very misleading.


Stereotypes
I n t e r v i e w e r s a r e a l s o a f f e c t e d b y s t e r e o t yp e s . T h e s e a r e c o n c e p t s t h a t p e o p l e
form and those they feel they can rely on with certainty regarding the
u n a l t e r a b l e n a t u r e a n d c h a r a c t e r o f c e r t a i n t yp e s o f p e o p l e . O t h e r p e o p l e a n d
f r i e n d s s h a r e t h e s a m e s t e r e o t yp e s t h a t r e i n f o r c e t h e i n t e r v i e w e r ’ s p e r c e p t i o n
and make stereotypes real. Stereotyping in an interview means that the
applicant is put into a category in the interviewer’s mind. The interviewer then
makes assumptions about the applicant’s character based on the traits
associated with that particular category.

				
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