Too Much Information? The Case of the Job Interview

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I recently finished reading “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell — a very clever book which poses the theory that we don’t need to process the entire story to actually grasp the “gestalt” of that story. Of course, the real skill lies in knowing what information to consider and what information to ignore. While reading, I couldn’t help but think of how this concept of making decisions on thinner “slices” of behavior or information could apply to workplace practices.

Is less information better? Well, in some cases it might be.

Consider the traditional employment interview for a moment. When you think of all the business practices we openly malign (yearly performance reviews for example) employment interviews have really escaped their fair share of deserved criticism. Why is this? One reason is that employment interviews have simply been a fact of work life — an accepted way of doing business. It seems that when you consider the prospect of a new job, an interview is always the first thing you anticipate.

The Down Side

You might think the run of the mill interview does a pretty good job at doing what it was supposed to do. But this is not the case  — they are a bit like a living fossil in the world of business practices. In actuality, the predictive validity of the standard interview is quite low, primarily attributed to subjective error. Shocked? As told to me by a professor, “People by nature are hopelessly curious. The idea of making decisions about a candidate without speaking with them in person makes us feel uncomfortable, even at the cost of making our decisions less accurate”. We just seem to want all of the extra information that can run us in the wrong direction – and resist evaluating candidates based upon key qualifications, tests and work history alone. We allow ourselves to think that we “just know” who is right for the job. That’s the first mistake we make.

The Bright Side

Researchers have investigated practices that help improve the “hit rate” of the employment interview as a selection technique. Of course, these practices attempt to keep decision makers on track and help them focus on information critical to the job in question. The practices are designed to limit the subjectivity of the interview process and idiosyncratic interviewer practices. You can read more about that here, if you wish.

Utilize the time with a candidate wisely. Here are some key findings from past research which you can apply within your organization:

  • Finalize the job description. Be sure it is accurate and up to date. Jobs will evolve and “reshape” over time. Be sure that all of the current tasks and responsibilities are captured.
  • Utilize the job description to hammer out a set of meaningful questions. I would suggest a set of core questions about the job in question. Use “critical incidents” for the job as a basis for questions. These are behaviors that separate excellent employees from the pack.
  • Pose the same questions to all the candidates. This allows a comparison of answers after all of the interviews are completed – a fascinating process.
  • Use behaviorally anchored rating scales to evaluate core areas of skill or knowledge. This process helps make ratings concerning candidates more straight forward. Learn more about that here.
  • Train interviewers to convey accurate information about the job and the organization. That way a candidate can decide if there is a real fit between person and job. If possible offer an RJP (Realistic Job Preview) before the interview begins.
  • Have more than one interviewer evaluate a candidate. A panel works well if you have the manpower. More than one view of a candidate can begin an active discussion about a candidate’s qualifications for the job in question.
  • Pause, digest, then decide. Train interviewers to delay the actual decision until after the interview and all relevant candidate information has been reviewed. A little time and reflection can go a long way — no “gut” feelings allowed.

Interviews aren’t going away, that’s a given. So let’s manage the “information overflow” wisely.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is a Workplace Psychologist located in East Lansing, Michigan. Contact her practice at marlagottschalk@comcast.net. You can also find her on Twitter and Linkedin.

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