Do interviewers really make a hiring decision in the first four minutes?

There’s an urban myth that interviewers make their hiring decisions within the first four minutes of an interview and spend the remaining time seeking information to bolster that gut judgment. The evidence for this is extremely limited and probably originates with a 1954 doctoral thesis. Now Rachel Frieder and her colleagues have conducted a field study involving hundreds of real interviews and they say that claims about snap decisions in interviews are exaggerated.

The researchers collected their data from a careers fair at a university where 166 interviewers (73 per cent were male; average age 36 with an average 13 years interviewing experience) from a range of organisations interviewed 691 undergrad and post-grad job applicants (68.9 per cent were male; average age 23). The interviewers answered questions about their interview approach before they started interviewing, and they also answered questions after each interview, including how long it had taken them to make a hiring decision.

Although the interviewers certainly reported making some snap decisions (4.9 per cent of decisions were made within one minute; about 30 per cent within 5 minutes), the vast majority (69.9 per cent) occurred after five minutes or longer. This includes 17.7 per cent of decisions made after 15 minutes and 22.5 per cent made after the interview had ended.

Frieder and her team also looked for factors that correlated with decision making time. Among their findings – interviewers who tried to strike up rapport with small talk and friendly chat tended to make quicker decisions, as did interviewers with more experience and confidence in their abilities. Among interviewers with more training, the link between rapport building and snap judgments disappeared. These findings have obvious implications for organisations.

“The fact that interviewers with more experience and higher interviewing efficacy [i.e. more confidence] tend to make quicker decisions is particularly troubling,” the researchers said, “as such individuals may have a large impact on which applicants are brought into an organisation.”

Decision time also changed over the course of interviews – it grew progressively longer over an interviewers’ first few interviews (presumably with the increasing challenge of juggling so much information), peaked, then shortened over later interviews, probably as the increasing mental demands encouraged a switch to gut decision making. This finding also has important implications – as a candidate, it suggests that the way you are evaluated will vary depending on where you are in the interview schedule.

There are reasons to treat these results with caution – above all, they rely on the interviewers’ own judgments of when they made their hiring decision, which is obviously highly subjective. Another important caveat is that there is no data on the effectiveness of the decisions. The authors of the paper assume implicitly throughout that snap decisions are likely to be poorer than well-considered decisions, but this study does not provide any insight on that question.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Frieder, R., Van Iddekinge, C., & Raymark, P. (2015). How quickly do interviewers reach decisions? An examination of interviewers’ decision-making time across applicants Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology DOI: 10.1111/joop.12118

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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