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Job interview

Interview is the master method in assessment of personal qualities. It provides the broadest viewpoint to the individual while being the strongest predictor of work performance. Job interviews are divided into unstructured and structured techniques. The latter focuses on the target job and uses standard sets of questions. Meta-analyses confirm its clear superiority in predicting work performance. The "Stage interview" incorporates maximally unstructured responding to structured interviewing which provides a more comprehensive picture of the individual while avoiding pitfalls related to unstructured interviewing. See book: Job Interview (Niitamo, 1999).

Stage interview

A recent meta-analysis (Sackett et al., 2021) using data from the original meta-analysis on a wide set of selection methods (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998) corrects the original, erroneusly performed statistical correction. The results show overall decreased but still statistically significant predictive ability for many single prediction methods. The most dramatic decrease is evidenced in cognitive ability tests (intelligence) which drop from their original top-one position down to the fifth position. However, structured interviews, originally sharing a tied top position with cognitive ability, retain their clear lead position (.42) among eleven prediction methods frequently used in personnel selection. Another meta-analysis shows incremental predictive validity over intelligence and personality tests (Cortina et al., 2000) indicating that interviews capture something beyond the reach of intelligence and personality tests. Structured interviews also appear to capture intelligence factors, a meta-analysis shows a mean correlation of .40 between interview and cognitive abilities (Roth & Huffcutt, 2013).

The following presents an extension to the basic idea originally presented in the book Job Interview (Niitamo, 1999). The particular technique combines the best features of unstructured and structured interviewing. Namely, the "Stage interview" is carried out under highly similar conditions and with the use of standard sets of questions. However, the use of very short, open-ended questions leads the interviewee to an unstructured, empty "stage" on which to perform. Instead of merely answering to questions, the interviewee is led to behave and step out as a whole individual.

The combination technique parallels the division of personality tests into respondent and operant measures (McClelland, 1980). Self-report questionnaires are examples of the former where the person is instructed to make choices among fairly clear-cut alternatives ("I am little - much of something"). So-called projective tests are in turn examples of operant measures. The famous ink blot procedure (Rorschach, 1927) asks the person to tell what he or she can see in the blots. The standard set of ink blot cards don't represent anything specific. This leads the person to an unstructured but at the same time, standardized situation. The person is led to behave instead of making choices between given alternatives.

Reaching for the whole person

The interview stage resembles a problem solving situation where automatically given answers don't take the person to the shore but where he/she is expected to step forward as a behaving, thinking and viewing individual. Short, open-ended questions simulate real world unstructuredness and the interviewee is led to express his/her idiosyncratic way of behaving and thinking in situations.

A good example is a car salesperson standing as a candidate to a sales director job. The short, open-ended question "What do you do in your current job" leads him/her into an ambiguous, open and unstructured situation where he/she is expected to act. The most concrete type of response might involve a brief blurt: "I sell cars", whereas the broadest response might sound like: "For my own part, I am responsible for passenger car sales at Cars Inc. in the country's south-western region". The third interviewee might have difficulties in giving an answer without a further clarification of the interview question.

Knowing the heavy action, "doing" emphasis of sales jobs in general, the "foot first" action pattern expressed in the first response is promising as such. But, it undeniably appears somewhat short and blunt in regard to a broader sales director's position. The promise of the response becomes evident when it is compared to the equally short response: "I am a car salesperson", which has its emphasis on "being" instead of "doing". The third response is all but promising in regard to both salesperson's and sales director's jobs. Namely, the respondent might find it challenging to perform successfully in any ambiguous, unstructured situation calling for brisk action.

Obviously, the examples represent continuum endpoints between which all real world responses appear. But the strength of using open-end standard questions becomes evident in just a few interviews displaying the wide variety of emerging responses. Shortening the questions and making them more open-ended is a simple procedure in priming for more holistic responses, "behavioral answers" from people. Essentially the interviewer widens his/her perspective and begins viewing the person as a whole, stand taking, perceiving and behaving individual. In the best of situations all three processes may be observed in one interview response.

Interview as a performing stage for personality

Interview is a stage for observing the manifestation of personality in situations. In fact, this may very well be the answer to the question which intrigues researchers: what particular qualities are captured by interviews which remain out of reach for tests (Cortina et al., 2000), qualities which enable stronger predictions of behavior. Interviews seem to allow witnessing of how eg. motives, ways of thinking and attitudes become manifested in real world situations. For example, they allow to observe whether the interviewee emphasizes high quality or sizeable results in his/her interview responses? Or, whether the person perceives things through a focused or broad lens? Whether the interviewee displays curiosity toward new things or instead emphasizes predictability, control or potential problems?

More focused stages for manifestation of personality are provided by using behavioral simulations on reporting, presenting, negotiating etc., behaviors. Critical incidents (Flanagan, 1954) of real world's long-term work processes can be condensed into 8-15 minute mini-simulations. For example, an entire reporting process can be simulated by giving the person up to five minutes to round up and compile unstructured materials into a sensible presentation. Subsequently, the individual is allowed 3 minutes to deliver his/her report to a receiving audience. Observers pay due attention to the person's attitude toward the task given, his/her way of perceiving the task, compiling the unstructured materials and finally, content and style in delivering the report to an attentive audience (Lesson on mini-simulations forthcoming).

Micro situations

Interviews contain many micro situations that mirror behavior in the real world. For example, the interviewee's service orientation becomes exposed when the interviewer says that he/she doesn't quite understand interviewee's answer, perhaps expressed in technical jargon. The attitude reflected in the interviewee's response may vary from passive non-bothering to the interviewee making doubly sure that the interviewer (client) becomes fully informed and serviced.

Attention to micro situations can begin from walking the interviewee from the waiting space, through sitting down to the interview room and ending to the closure of the interview. The psychologist performing the ink blot procedure also pays attention to whether the person takes the offered blot cards in his/her hands, whether asks for additional instructions, whether begins responding in five seconds or five minutes, etc. Obviously, observations from such micro situations should not occupy a dominant position, instead enrich and complement the picture of the whole individual.

Appraising vs. communicating

In addition to the actual appraisal task, job interviews are often expected to provide an introduction to the organization, the target job and deliver a positive employer image. However, performing candidate appraisal and communication in one interview is a challenging task. In other words, if 15 out of the valuable total of 45 minutes are spent on communication, only 30 minutes are left for the appraisal task - not to speak of the time that it takes the interviewer to switch the role from giver of a positive employer image to the role of an objective appraisor.

Even bigger a challenge is posed by the fact that introduction to the organization and job tends to undermine appraisal power. In presenting the target job the interviewer tends to subtly imply qualities desired for the job. In such situations every interviewee will automatically begin adjusting his/her responses in alignment to the implied qualities. If creativity is expressed as desirable, everyone will pose him-/herself as a more or less creative person and the same thing happens with any other desirable quality. Introductions and communications tend to "cast roles" prematurely, so that there is little free space left for the interviewee to emerge as a genuine individual.

In the single interview situation, a practical solution is to delimit the introductory part to the actual job announcement. Time allotted for communication can be minimized and at least refrain from too strongly expressing the desired person qualities. The initial part of the interview can be dedicated to the appraisal task and have all introductions, communications and promotions be performed at the end part of the interview. In the much better two interview situation, it makes sense to delegate the communication task to the junior interviewer and let the manager or more experienced professional focus on the actual appraisal task. In interviewing for high level positions, valuable assistance comes from an interview by the organization's HR specialist or an external consultant who are in a better position to appraise the candidate's personal qualities.

Interview as the master method

Interview has been and will remain the master method in assessment of individuals. Comparing interview to other methods by their ability to predict job performance tells only part of the value of interviews. Namely, interviews provides the broadest possible perspective to the individual, serving as a coordination point where all observations become appropriately contextualized and weighted. The research accumulated over the decades has made interview into a strong assessment method and the structure brought by focus on each given job and use of standard question sets mark a clear milestone. Further shortening and opening of questions as well as making use of the interview's simulation properties leads to even stronger predictions of job performance and understanding of the person.

Cortina, J.M., Goldstein, N.B., Payne, S. C., Davison, H.K., & Gilliland, S.W. (2000). The Incremental validity of interview scores over and above cognitive ability and conscientiousness scores. Personnel Psych. 53, 325-351.
Flanagan, J. C. (1954). The Critical incident technique. Psychological Bulletin, 51, 327- 358.
Levashina, J., Hartwell, C.J., Morgeson, F.P. & Campion, M.A. (2014). The Structured employment interview: Narrative and quantitative review of the research literature. Personnel Psychology, 67, 241-293.
McClelland, D.C. (1980). Motive dispositions: the merits of operant and respondent measures. In L. Wheeler (Ed.) Reviews of personality and social psychology (Vol. 1). (pp. 10-41) Beverly Hills: Sage.
Niitamo, P. (1999). Työhaastattelu. (Job Interview), in Finnish. Helsinki: Edita.
Roth, P.L. & Huffcutt, A. (2013). A meta-analysis of interviews and cognitive ability. Journal of Personnel Psychology 12(4): 157.
Rorschach, H. (1927). Rorschach Test - Psychodiagnostic Plates. Cambridge, MA: Hogrefe.
Sackett, P.R., Zhang, C., Berry, C.M. & Lievens, F. (2021). Revisiting Meta-Analytic Estimates of Validity in Personnel Selection: Addressing Systematic Overcorrection for Restriction of Range. Journal of Applied Psychology, Dec. 30.


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