A key feature of interviews is open-ended questioning inviting the recall of past experiences and memories — what psychologists call “autobiographical” memory. Having to provide this information accurately and coherently, combined with the stress of the situation, can often make being interviewed a demanding and uncomfortable experience.
That is especially true of autistic people, who may have difficulties with both autobiographical memory and open-ended questioning. Many autistic people report job interviews as a major barrier to employment, and it’s possible that interview difficulties may also be compounding, or partially causing, problems in legal and healthcare contexts where open-ended interviews requiring autobiographical recall are a common feature. Autistic people are more likely to be involved in criminal investigations, for instance, and to experience physical and mental health difficulties.
Vacant job roles should be filled on the candidate’s skills, experience and knowledge, not their identity. But that means dodging our deeply held stereotypes, such as men being a natural fit for decision-making roles like management and women for care-giving professions. Evidence suggests this also applies to sexual orientation, meaning, for instance, that CVs that indicate the candidate is homosexual (by mentioning college experience in a group promoting gay rights, for example) are likely to be seen by recruiters as a better match for care-giving roles. New research from the Journal of Applied Psychology adds to this, suggesting that merely looking gay is enough for a candidate to be treated in a biased way by recruiters.
As if interviews weren’t nerve-wracking enough as it is, prior research has shown that interviewers tend to rate anxious candidates harshly. This happens even when the anxious candidates are well-qualified to do the job, and even though their interview anxiety really ought to be irrelevant to the recruitment decision.
Of course, learning that your anxiety is going to count against you will only add to the woes of the many people who find interviews terrifying. Thankfully a new study in the Journal of Business Psychology brings some useful and potentially comforting news. The research – the first to investigate the behavioural signs of interview anxiety – finds that interviewers are largely oblivious to nervous tics, such as shaky hands or nervous laughter. Rather, interviewers’ negative performance judgments are based on their perception that nervous candidates are less assertive and less warm. Knowing this, anxious people should be able to practice and prepare in a way that counters such prejudices.
The findings are based on mock interviews involving 119 undergrad students who were preparing to go on job placements during their studies. Each student was interviewed by one of 18 interviewers who work for the Canadian Co-op and Career Services that runs job placements for students, and the students and interviewers were instructed to treat the experience as if it were a real interview for one of the candidates’ hoped-for placement positions.
The interviews took about 10 minutes each. Afterwards the students rated how anxious they had felt, and the interviewers rated how anxious they perceived the students to be, and how well they felt they had performed. Meanwhile, the interviews were filmed and teams of raters coded the students’ body language, speech rate, laughter and rated their personalities on a number of different traits.
Of the many body language and speech cues that the researchers looked at, only a few were related weakly to the students’ self-reported feelings of anxiety – making fewer hand gestures, nodding less, pausing longer before answering and speaking more slowly. The paucity and modest relevance of the behavioural cues is likely because anxiety can manifest in very different ways in different people – one person might compensate by being quiet, still and hesitant while another person might be fidgety and talk fast and loose.
Three behavioural cues were weakly related to the interviewers’ perceptions of the students’ anxiety – licking or biting of the lips, body shifts and slower speech rate. This means the only nervous tic that interviewers accurately interpreted as a sign of anxiety was slower speech. Extensive preparation of answers should be a simple way for candidates to combat this issue.
In contrast, the character vibes given off by the students (as rated by the judges coding the videos) were more strongly and consistently related to the students’ feelings of anxiety and to the interviewers’ perceptions of their anxiety. Essentially, those students who came over as less warm and less assertive tended to be perceived as more anxious, and vice versa. Moreover, these two key traits of warmth and assertiveness seemed to explain why the interviewers tended to give poorer performance scores to those students they perceived to be anxious.
The researchers said this result has “great implications” for job candidates. “Often interviewees are worried that they are engaging in nervous tics that are revealing of their anxiety,” they explained, “when in fact the impression that they convey of themselves as assertive (or not) appears to be more indicative of their anxiety.” In other words, anxious interviewees needn’t worry too much about any little nervous tics they might have, and should focus instead on the larger impression they make – by learning to come over as assertive and friendly, it is likely they will conceal their anxiety and receive a fairer appraisal from the interviewers.
_________________________________ Feiler, A., & Powell, D. (2016). Behavioral Expression of Job Interview Anxiety Journal of Business and Psychology, 31 (1), 155-171 DOI: 10.1007/s10869-015-9403-z
As a fan of fair job assessment, I’m bugged by the freeform chatter that kicks off most interviews – it allows influential first impressions to be formed in a yak about the traffic or some other trivial topic that has nothing to with the job. It’s true that interview structures have become more standardised over the years, but a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests these developments aren’t enough to counter the effect of early rapport. The research also addresses the heart of my concern: do first impressions actually provide important information, or simply introduce unfair bias?
Bryan Swider at Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology and his colleagues analysed the outcomes of mock interviews involving 163 accountancy students, who were rated by interviewers on their answers to 12 standardised questions. However, before the formal questioning period, the interviews began with a few minutes of rapport building, after which the interviewers noted down their first impressions. Did these preliminaries influence the overall interview scores?
They did. The overall scores given by the interviewers differed from those given by a separate set of expert reviewers, who were given video access only to the main Q&A phase, and whose ratings were therefore uncontaminated by informal first impressions. The discrepancy between this expert baseline and the interviewer scores was partly explained by taking interviewer first impression ratings into account – those students who made a good initial impression tended to receive more favourable scores from the interviewers for their answers to the formal questions, especially the first few, with the effect tailing off as the interview gathered pace.
What explains the influence of those first impressions? The expert raters also produced an “image score” for each interviewee based on their physical appearance, voice, and body language. Participants who scored higher for image were especially likely to receive inflated scores from the interviewers, suggesting that at least one of the influences of those first impressions was to do with good image management: suave candidates make better impressions.
But this wasn’t the whole story – something non-image related was also going on. Past work by Swider and one of his co-authors, Murray Barrick, shows that positive first impressions are associated with candidate verbal skill and extraversion, two features that may be legitimately useful to the job. Consistent with this, in the current study the interviewers’ first impression scores correlated with the expert raters’ overall scores (which remember were based purely on the formal Q&A part of the interviews), suggesting that the early rapport gave a genuine preview into how the candidates would fare with the meat of the interview. All in all, the influence of interview first impressions may be partly unfair and superficial, but also communicate information that’s genuinely informative.
If we want to reduce the impact of first impressions, the authors suggest buffering the main part of the interview from the rapport phase with a few un-scored questions that soak up the effect. Explicitly rating the first impressions on criteria that can be tied back to the job (eloquence, flexibility) also makes things fairer. Beyond that, the researchers argue it is difficult to do away altogether with early chitchat – it’s expected by both parties and also a good way to ease candidates in to what is a stressful social situation. And looking at the mixed nature of first impressions – and recognising there is more to be understood – I wonder if it’s better after all to make peace with informal interview chat rather than trying to fight it.
_________________________________ Swider, B., Barrick, M., & Harris, T. (2016). Initial Impressions: What They Are, What They Are Not, and How They Influence Structured Interview Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/apl0000077
There’s an urbanmyth 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.
_________________________________ 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
It’s hard to find the best person for the job through an interview. New research uncovers part of the problem: judging a candidate’s calibre becomes trickier when we’re also trying to sell them the benefits of joining the organisation.
In an initial study, participants were asked to interview a person (another participant) who was acting as an applicant for a fictional position. Half the interviewers were told their priority was to get a good sense of the applicant, while the rest had to prioritise attracting the candidate to the vacant position. Following the interview, the interviewer participants then had to judge the applicant’s character by rating their Core Self Evaluation (CSE), a measure of their self-esteem and belief in their own competence, which is reliably predictive of job performance. Which set of interviewers ought to do a better job?
Researchers Jennifer Marr and Dan Cable tackled this topic because two fields of psychology make competing claims. Research on automatic processing suggests that when we apply explicit, rational processes to judgments that rely on quick intuition, we only muddy the water, or worse, become so self-conscious that we choke under pressure. We already know that some elements of applicant evaluation are fast – see this piece, so maybe we make our best judgments when we’re less concerned about making them? On the other hand, the theory of motivated cognition argues that when insufficiently focused we become vulnerable to biases or even blind to the obvious, as shown in the now-classic inattentional blindness experiments where focus on one task (counting basketball passes) makes it hard to spot salient events like the appearance of someone in an ape suit.
The new findings back the motivated cognition account – participants asked to entice the applicant were poorer judges of character than those explicitly asked to evaluate them. A follow-up field study found similar effects in genuine interviews within two samples: applicants to an MBA program and teachers applying for school assignments. In both samples, interviewees rated as having high CSE were more likely to go onto success – job offers for MBAs or “above and beyond” citizenship behaviours by the teachers – but only when the ratings came from interviewers who reported having a strong focus on evaluation. Those who reported giving more attention to selling the role produced CSE estimates that didn’t predict future success.
The authors note in their conclusion that “interviewers who focused only on evaluating applicants actually believed they were less able to select the best applicants than those who adopted a selling focus.” In fact the reverse was true, and the risk goes the other way: when we focus too much on soliciting applicants, we can miss the gorilla in the room: that they simply aren’t up to snuff. _________________________________
Marr, J., & Cable, D. (2013). Do Interviewers Sell Themselves Short? The Effects of Selling Orientation on Interviewers’ Judgments Academy of Management Journal, 57 (3), 624-651 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2011.0504
For the penultimate round of the TV show The Apprentice, the competing entrepreneurs must face a series of interviews with a crack team of hardened executives. The implicit, believable message is that these veterans have seen all the interview tricks in the book and will spot any blaggers a mile off. However, a new study provides the reality TV show with a reality check. A team led by Marc-André Reinhard report that experienced job interviewers are in fact no better than novice interviewers at spotting when a candidate is lying.
The researchers filmed 14 volunteers telling the truth about a job they’d really had in the past and then spinning a yarn about time in a job they’d never really had. The volunteers were offered a small monetary reward to boost their motivation. These clips were then played online to 46 highly experienced interviewers (they’d conducted between 21 and 1000 real-life job interviews), 92 interviewers with some experience (they’d interviewed at least once), and 214 students who’d never before acted as a job interviewer. The participants’ task was to identify the clips in which the interviewee was speaking truthfully about their work experience, and the clips in which the interviewee was fabricating.
Overall the participants achieved an accuracy rate of 52 per cent – barely above chance performance, which is consistent with a huge literature showing how poor most of us are at spotting deception. But the headline finding is that the more experienced interviewers were no better than the novice interviewers at spotting lying job candidates – the first time that this topic has been researched. Greater work seniority, having more work experience and having more subordinates at work were also unrelated to the ability to spot lying job candidates.
There was a glimmer of hope that interview lie-detection skills could be taught. Participants who reported more correct beliefs about non-verbal cues to lying (e.g. liars don’t in fact fidget more) were slightly more successful at recognising which job candidates were lying (each correct belief about a non-verbal cue added 1.2 per cent more accuracy on average). Experienced and novice interviewers in the current study didn’t differ in their knowledge about lying cues, which helps explain why the veterans were no better at the task. The more experienced interviewers were however more skeptical overall, tending to rate more of the clips as featuring lying.
“Our results provide the first evidence that employment interviewers may not be better at detecting deception in job interviews than lay persons,” the researchers said, “although it is a judgmental context that they are very experienced with.”
Although the main gist of the results is consistent with related research in other contexts – for example, studies have found police detectives are no better at spotting lies, despite their interrogation experience – this study has some serious limitations, which undermine the applicability of the findings to the real world. Above all, the study did not involve real interviews, which meant the participants were unable to interact with the interviewees in a dynamic manner.
_________________________________ Reinhard, M., Scharmach, M., and Müller, P. (2013). It’s not what you are, it’s what you know: experience, beliefs, and the detection of deception in employment interviews Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43 (3), 467-479 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2013.01011.x
This post originally appeared on our offspring title, the BPS Occupational Digest, written by Dr Alex Fradera. It’s like the main Research Digest but focuses on psychology in the work place.
While we know that modern selection procedures such as ability tests and structured interviews are successful in predicting job performance, it’s much less clear how they pull off those predictions. The occupational psychology process – and thus our belief system of how things work – is essentially a) identify what the job needs b) distil this to measurable dimensions c) assess performance on your dimensions. But a recent review article by Martin Kleinman and colleagues suggests that in some cases, we may largely be assessing something else: the “ability to identify criteria”.
The review unpacks a field of research that recognises that people aren’t passive when being assessed. Candidates try to squirrel out what they are being asked to do, or even who they are being asked to be, and funnel their energies towards that. When the situation is ambiguous, a so-called “weak” situation, those better at squirrelling – those with high “ability to identify criteria” (ATIC) – will put on the right performance, and those that are worse will put on Peer Gynt for the panto crowd.
Some people are better at guessing what an assessment is measuring than others, so in itself ATIC is a real phenomenon. And the research shows that higher ATIC scores are associated with higher overall assessment performance, and better scores specifically on the dimensions they correctly guess. ATIC clearly has a ‘figuring-out’ element, so we might suspect its effects are an artefact of it being strongly associated with cognitive ability, itself associated with better performance in many types of assessment. But if anything the evidence works the other way. ATIC has an effect over and above cognitive ability, and it seems possible that cognitive ability buffs assessment scores mainly due to its contribution to the ATIC effect.
In a recent study, ATIC, assessment performance, and candidate job performance were examined within a single selection scenario. Remarkably it found that job performance correlated better with ATIC than it did with the assessment scores themselves. In fact, the relationship between assessment scores and job performance became insignificant after controlling for ATIC. This offers the provocative possibility that the main reason assessments are useful is as a window into ATIC, which the authors consider “the cognitive component of social competence in selection situations”. After all, many modern jobs, particularly managerial ones, depend upon figuring out what a social situation demands of you.
So what to make of this, especially if you are an assessment practitioner? We must be realistic about what we are really assessing, which in no small part is ‘figuring out the rules of the game’. If you’re unhappy about that, there’s a simple way to wipe out the ATIC effect: making the assessed dimensions transparent, turning the weak situation into a strong, unambiguous one. Losing the contamination of ATIC leads to more accurate measures of the individual dimensions you decided were important. But overall your prediction of job performance measures will be weaker, because you’ve lost the ATIC factor which does genuinely seem to matter. And while no-one is suggesting that it is all that matters in the job, it may be the aspect of work that assessments are best positioned to pick up.
The beautiful people have it all, or so we’re usually told. According to research, they’re seen as friendlier, more intelligent, and they earn more. But a pair of new journal articles tells a different story, outlining some contexts in which being pretty doesn’t pay.
Maria Agthe and her team had 400 students appraise one of four job candidates based on his or her CV, with their photo attached. Although the detailed CVs suggested all the candidates were equally qualified for the job, appearances affected the results. Participants judging a candidate of the opposite sex showed the positive bias you’d expect for highly attractive candidates, being more likely to recommend them for the job. By contrast, participants judging a same-sex candidate showed the opposite pattern, exhibiting a negative bias towards same-sex good lookers. This pattern was mediated partially by the desire for social contact with the candidates – that is, participants were more likely to say they wanted to work with and be friends with opposite-sex beauties, but showed the opposite pattern for good-looking, same-sex candidates. Men and women were similarly prone to negative bias against attractive specimens of their own sex (the effect size was -.5 and -.39, respectively).
The investigation continued with another set of participants appraising candidates shown in a video interview, and again there was a negative bias against attractive same-sex candidates. A final study with yet more participants included a measure of their self-esteem. This showed that high self-esteem participants displayed a positive bias not only towards attractive opposite-sex candidates but also towards attractive candidates of their own sex. Agthe and her colleagues said this suggests the usual negative bias against same-sex beautiful people is all to do with the threat they represent, a threat that those with high self-esteem are immune to.
What are the practical implications of all this? Agthe’s team said that the practice of including photos with CVs should be discouraged (it’s standard practice to include a photo in several countries including Austria, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia and Switzerland), and that assessment panels should be comprised of a mix of men and women, to help cancel out any beauty-based biases.
Coincidentally, another new journal paper has looked at the interaction between attractiveness, gender and forgiveness. April Phillips and Cassandra Hranek had dozens of heterosexual college students imagine a hypothetical scenario in which they were let down by a female student with whom they were meant to be giving a joint class presentation. Participants were shown a picture of this “offender” and told that she either had or hadn’t apologised. So long as she apologised, male participants were more likely to forgive an attractive female offender than an apologetic unattractive one. But female participants showed the opposite pattern, being more likely to forgive an apologetic unattractive female student. A follow-up study replicated this result and found that women were more forgiving of an unattractive female student because they found her apology more sincere, whilst men thought the same thing about the attractive offender’s apology.
“For female offenders, being attractive can be an asset or a hindrance, depending on the gender of the victim,” the researchers said. “A male victim, who might want to pursue a relationship with her in the future, can preserve this possibility if he is willing to offer forgiveness in some circumstances, whereas a female victim who perceives the offender to be a potential rival might be less likely to offer forgiveness.” _________________________________
Agthe, M., Sporrle, M., and Maner, J. (2011). Does Being Attractive Always Help? Positive and Negative Effects of Attractiveness on Social Decision Making. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37 (8), 1042-1054 DOI: 10.1177/0146167211410355
PHILLIPS, A. and HRANEK, C. (2011). Is beauty a gift or a curse? The influence of an offender’s physical attractiveness on forgiveness. Personal Relationships DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2011.01370.x
The last thing companies want after a big recruitment drive is to leave a trail of unsuccessful applicants bearing a grudge. The key to avoiding this is for employers to ensure failed applicants believe they were given ample opportunity to perform. That’s according to Deidra Schleicher and colleagues at Purdue University, who say this is even more important than making sure the recruitment process appears relevant to the job.
The researchers asked hundreds of job applicants to a US government agency how relevant they felt the recruitment process was; how well they were treated; and how much they’d been given the opportunity to perform (as judged by their agreement with statements like “I felt that I could show my skills and abilities through this test”). Feeling they’d had the opportunity to perform was important to all applicants, but among those who were unsuccessful, it was the single strongest predictor of how fair they judged the whole selection process to be.
So, what causes an applicant to feel they haven’t been given a fair chance to perform? Reasons offered by participants in this study included feeling the instructions were unclear; not having enough time to complete tasks; and having too many distractions around. These issues should be easy enough for recruiters to deal with. More problematic could be the finding that what works best for selection (e.g. structured interviews), doesn’t necessarily match what applicants feel gives them the fairest chance to perform (they preferred open-ended interviews). __________________________________