Employment Interview

The employment interview is one of the most common methods organizations use to recruit, screen, and select employees. Few individuals are hired without going through at least one interview. Generally defined, an employment interview is an interpersonal exchange between a job candidate and one or more organizational representatives who attempt to assess the candidate’s job-relevant experience and knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (KSAOs) to make a personnel decision. Although the typical interview involves a face-to-face interaction between candidate and interviewer, alternative interview modes such as telephone and videoconferencing are becoming increasingly prevalent.

Organizations use employment interviews for three main purposes: recruiting, screening, and selection. Recruiting interviews are used to provide information about a job and organization to individuals, with the primary goal of attracting potential applicants. Screening interviews take place early in the hiring process and are used to determine whether individuals are minimally qualified, as well as to assess the fit between an individual’s goals, values, and interests and those of the hiring organization. Finally, selection interviews generally take place later in the hiring process (e.g., after some applicants have been screened out on other selection criteria) and are used to assess the extent to which candidates possess the experience and KSAOs important for success on the job. Selection interviews are also used to evaluate candidates for promotion within an organization.

Scholars have studied numerous aspects of the employment interview. Because most research has focused on the use of interviews for selection (rather than for recruitment and screening), the current discussion will focus primarily on findings relevant to selection interviews. However, many of the research findings are also applicable to recruiting and screening interviews.

Social and Cognitive Factors in Interviews

The social nature of the interview distinguishes it from many other types of selection techniques, such as paper-and-pencil and computer-based tests. Therefore, a great deal of research has examined how the interaction between candidate and interviewer influences interview outcomes. Unlike some other kinds of selection techniques, for which a candidate’s score is primarily under his or her control, high performance on an interview requires both the candidate to perform well and the interviewer to recognize that performance and assign high ratings. Therefore, researchers have also studied the role that interviewers play in the interview process, particularly how their decision-making and cognitive processes can affect interview outcomes.

There is evidence that a variety of social and cognitive factors can influence interviewer ratings. Unfortunately, these factors tend to be irrelevant to the KSAOs interviews are designed to measure, thus making their influence problematic. Below are some of the most common research findings in this area.

  • Interviewers tend to overweight negative information and information obtained near the start of the interview (i.e., primacy effects) and near the end of the interview (i.e., recency effects).
  • Some interviewers assign higher ratings to candidates who are similar to them on characteristics such as race, sex, education, and social background (i.e., the similar to me effect).
  • Interviewers can be influenced by various nonverbal cues from interviewees, such as physical attractiveness, smiling, and eye contact.
  • Interviewers tend to allow their preinterview impressions of candidates (e.g., based on their employment application) to influence their interview evaluations. For example, interviewers often unknowingly allow their initial impressions to affect how they gather and interpret information during an interview.
  • Interviewers are often influenced by a variety of impression management behaviors, which many interviewees use to present themselves in a favorable light. For example, impression management tactics such as overemphasizing one’s role in past successes and complimenting the interviewer have been shown to result in higher interview scores.

Although these factors can have a detrimental impact on interview outcomes, their effects tend to be rather small. In addition, some of these factors may be related to success on the job (e.g., smiling and eye contact for customer service jobs, impression management behaviors for sales positions), and therefore their influence may actually increase the validity of interviewer judgments in some cases.

The Importance of Employment Interview Structure

Given the potential influence of the social and cognitive factors discussed above, researchers have attempted to identify ways to help interviewers focus on job-related information. The most significant finding in interview research over the past two decades has been that adding structure to the development, conduct, and scoring of employment interviews can result in a variety of positive effects. Michael Campion and his colleagues identified 15 ways to increase the structure of interviews. These elements are summarized here, beginning with seven characteristics that pertain to the content of structured interviews.

  1. Design interview questions to assess the critical KSAOs identified by a job analysis.
  2. Ask all candidates the same or highly similar questions to ensure that every job candidate receives the same opportunity to perform in the interview.
  3. Limit prompting and follow-up questions to keep the interview as consistent as possible across candidates and discourage interviewers from leading candidates toward desired responses.
  4. Use effective types of interview questions. Past behavior and situational questions are perhaps the two most researched types of structured questions. Past behavior interview questions ask candidates to describe how they behaved in previous situations relevant to the targeted KSAOs, whereas situational questions ask candidates how they would behave in hypothetical situations relevant to the job.
  5. Include a large number of questions (e.g., 10 to 15) to maximize the amount of job-relevant information obtained during the interview.
  6. Limit interviewers’ exposure to candidate information (e.g., application forms, resumes, test scores) so that such information does not bias their judgments of candidate performance during the interview.
  7. Limit the amount and type of questions candidates may ask during the interview, as uncontrolled questions can reduce the standardization of the interview.
  8. The last eight characteristics of structured interviews pertain to how interviewers evaluate candidates’ performance during the interview.
  9. Have interviewers make multiple ratings, either by rating candidates’ responses to each question or by rating each KSAO or behavior the interview is designed to measure. Rating such subcomponents of the interview is thought to be less cognitively demanding for interviewers and may increase the reliability of the overall interview score.
  10. Have interviewers make their ratings using a common set of detailed rating scales so that all candidates are evaluated on the same criteria.
  11. Have interviewers take detailed notes regarding candidates’ responses to each structured interview question to help them recall what candidates said during the interview.
  12. Use multiple interviewers (in either a single panel interview or in multiple individual interviews) to help increase the reliability of interview scores.
  13. When possible, use the same interviewers to evaluate all job candidates to ensure that one candidate is not selected over another simply because he or she happened to draw a lenient interviewer.
  14. Ask interviewers not to discuss candidates between interviews, as such discussions could cause interviewers to change their standards for evaluating subsequent candidates applying for the same job.
  15. Train interviewers to conduct and score interviews to help ensure the consistency of the interview process.
  16. Combine interview ratings using statistical techniques (e.g., by computing the average rating) rather than by having interviewers integrate interview information themselves to derive an overall rating.

Clearly, increasing the structure of employment interviews can involve many factors. Thus, interviews tend to vary on a continuum of structure rather than being classified simply as structured versus unstructured. Although it is not always possible to incorporate all of the elements of structure described here, research generally indicates that increasing the level of interview structure tends to result in more valid and reliable judgments than those formed on the basis of less structured interviews. Research has also shown that interview structure is positively related to favorable decisions for defendants (i.e., hiring organizations) in employee discrimination cases. Nevertheless, very little is known about the relative contribution of specific elements of structure to the various outcomes discussed in the following section.

Outcomes of Employment Interviews

Considerable interview research has focused on outcomes important to organizations, including reliability, validity, equal opportunity, and applicant reactions to employment interviews. Some of the key results of this research are summarized in the following paragraphs.

Reliability

One important factor in judging the quality of interview outcomes is the extent to which interviews yield reliable scores. In an interview context, reliability is often defined as the extent to which different interviewers’ ratings of the same set of job candidates result in a similar rank order of candidates for the position. Research results suggest that employment interview ratings can have acceptable interrater reliability. One of the main findings is that the average reliability coefficient for more structured interviews (.67) is higher than the average coefficient for less structured interviews (.34).

Criterion-Related Validity

Another important outcome is whether interviewer ratings can predict how well candidates would perform on the job if they were selected. The criterion-related validiy of interviews is assessed by correlating interview scores with criteria of interest to organizations, such as training success, job performance, absenteeism, and turnover. Most studies have examined the relationship between interview ratings and job performance. After accounting for factors such as unreliability in the performance measure, correlations between interview ratings and performance typically range from .14 to .33 for less structured interviews and from .35 to .57 for more structured interviews. These results suggest that structured interviews are one of the most effective selection techniques for predicting job performance.

Incremental Validity

Organizations often use a combination of selection instruments to evaluate job candidates. Because interviews (particularly structured ones) tend to require a lot of time and resources to develop and administer, it is important to determine whether an interview will predict valued criteria (e.g., job performance) over and above the prediction provided by other, less expensive selection instruments. Several studies have found that structured interviews can have incremental validity when used with other selection measures, such as cognitive ability tests, personality inventories, and situational judgment tests. Results suggest that adding a structured interview to a selection process can increase the criterion-related validity of the overall process by as much as 20%.

Equal Opportunity

Equal opportunity is another significant criterion on which selection techniques are evaluated. Most organizations want selection procedures that predict valued outcomes (e.g., job performance) but that also allow job candidates from different backgrounds an equal opportunity to succeed. Although ensuring equal opportunity is often a goal of organizations, the use of fair selection procedures is also important for ensuring that decisions based on selection scores are legally defensible. Research suggests that interview score differences between candidates from different racial and ethnic groups (i.e., Whites versus African Americans and Hispanics) tend to be small to moderate in magnitude. In addition, there is evidence that increasing interview structure can reduce ethnic group differences. Fewer studies, however, have examined the extent to which interviews yield similar scores for individuals who vary on other demographic characteristics, such as gender and age.

Applicant and Interviewer Reactions

Organizations have become increasingly concerned with how job candidates perceive selection procedures. For example, applicants’ reactions are believed to affect how they perform on selection instruments, whether they decide to withdraw from the selection process, the probability they will accept a job offer, and even how likely they are to file lawsuits owing to the perceived unfairness of organizational hiring practices. Job candidates’ reactions to employment interviews are typically among the most favorable of any type of selection method. For example, people believe that how candidates perform on an interview is generally a good indicator of how they will perform on the job if selected (e.g., interviews have high face validity). However, much of this research has examined applicant reactions to less structured interviews. Less is known about how candidates react to highly structured interviews. It is likely, for example, that job candidates might react negatively to some of the characteristics of structured interviews described earlier, such as limiting questions from candidates, the use of multiple interviewers, and interviewer note taking.

As discussed, interviews involve an exchange of information between a job candidate and one or more representatives of an organization. Thus, it is also important to consider how interviewers react to different aspects of the interview process. Scholars have recently begun to investigate how interviewers perceive more structured interview formats. Despite the various benefits associated with structured interviews, initial results suggest that many interviewers still prefer interviews with less structure. For example, some interviewers feel that highly structured interviews do not allow them to control the conduct and scoring of the interview.

The Employment Interview as a Method

Finally, it is important to note that the interview is a method of collecting information about candidates rather than a psychological construct such as cognitive ability or personality. In other words, the specific content of interviews (e.g., the interview questions) depends on the KSAOs and behaviors organizations want to assess in job candidates. Although interviews offer organizations the flexibility to evaluate a wide range of KSAOs/behaviors, there is relatively little research on how well interviews actually measure specific job-relevant attributes (e.g., interpersonal skills). Furthermore, studies that have attempted to examine this issue have not found strong evidence that interviewer ratings reflect the intended constructs. Thus, although employment interviews have been shown to have useful levels of criterion-related validity for predicting various outcomes, to date, less is known about the construct-related validity of interviewer ratings.

In addition to the flexibility of using interviews to assess a variety of job-related attributes, interviews can be conducted in several different modalities, including face-to-face, telephone, and videoconferencing interviews. Some organizations also video- or audiorecord face-to-face interviews and then distribute the recordings to raters to observe and evaluate. Such interview methods offer several advantages to organizations. Perhaps the most salient benefit is that they allow interviewers in geographically dispersed locations to evaluate job candidates without having to travel, thereby reducing the cost associated with face-to-face interviews.

Recent research has investigated whether alternative interview methods are comparable to the traditional face-to-face method. Most studies have examined applicant reactions to different interview methods. The general finding is that applicants, and to some extent interviewers, seem to prefer face-to-face interviews to telephone and videoconferencing interviews. Other research has found that alternative methods tend to result in lower interview scores than those based on face-to-face interviews. Very few studies have investigated whether alternative interview methods differ on factors such as validity, reliability, or equal opportunity, although there is some evidence that structured telephone interviews have similar levels of criterion-related validity as do face-to-face interviews.

Summary

Employment interviews play a key role in the hiring process for virtually all jobs. Early reviews of the interview literature were pessimistic about the usefulness of the interview as a selection technique. This pessimism was likely caused by the extensive use of less structured interview formats and by research showing how various interviewee and interviewer factors can unduly affect interview outcomes. The advent of structured interviews, however, has reestablished the interview as an effective method for evaluating job candidates. There is evidence that structured interviews can predict important outcomes such as job performance, can provide incremental validity beyond that of other selection techniques, and tend not to produce large score differences among candidates from different ethnic backgrounds. Furthermore, because the interview is a method, it can be used to assess a variety of job-relevant attributes. Although much has been learned about the employment interview, more research is needed to determine (a) what elements of structure are most important for reliability and validity, (b) how interviewees and interviewers react to different aspects of structure, (c) what types of attributes employment interviews are best suited to assess, and (d) the extent to which alternative interview modes yield similar results.

References:

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