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Selection Interview


Disciplines > Human Resources > Selection > Selection Interview

Description | Development | Discussion | See also



Interviews are conversations whereby a candidate interacts with one or more people who assess the candidate and, in a selection interview, decide on whether this person should be offered a job.

Such interviews typically last 15 to 60 minutes although they can be shorter or longer.

Interview structure

The structure of an interview is based on the degree of control exerted by the interviewer as to the predictability of what questions are asked and what information is sought. When there is specific informational needs, then a more structured approach may be used.

  • Unstructured interviews are unplanned, non-directed, uncontrolled, unformatted, bilateral communications and flexible. They require skills in questioning and probing.
  • Semi-structured interviews are pre-scheduled, directed but flexible, major topic areas are controlled and there is a focused flow.
  • Structured interviews are pre-planned, interviewer directed, standardised, pre-formatted and inflexible. They have a full structure and use highly-designed, closed questions. They assume a consistent format will get consistent responses.

Interview types

There are four common type of selection interview:

  • Situational interviews use situation-specific questions based on job and look at hypothetical performance. They are conducted by specialists: psychologists or trained people.
  • Job-related interviews ask about past behaviour on job. They are typically conducted by HR or managers.
  • Psychological interviews assess personality traits. They are conducted by work/organizational psychologists.
  • Competency interviews widen psychological interviews to include competencies such as interpersonal skills, leadership and other identified key competencies.

Interviews may involve a varying number of people. One-to-one interviews are common, although there are benefits for using multiple interviewers, for example where one person asks the questions and the other observes in a more detached 'third person' position. This objective position can look for body language and other subtleties which the person questioning may miss.

Behavioral interviews

Behavioral interviews assume that past behaviour is likely to predict future behaviour, and the more evidence there is of a previous pattern then the more likely it is that it will be repeated in the future.

The interview is developed with Job Analysis and Critical Incident Technique of effective and ineffective performance, through which a range of ‘performance dimensions’ are devised that indicate critical categories and which provide basis for detailed question themes.

The interviewer then pays particular attention to past behaviours in critical categories and also probes for motivations behind behaviours.

Variations include Behavioral Patterned Description Interviews (BPDIs), Behavioral Events Interviews and Criterion Referenced Interviews.

Situational interview

Situational interviews are based on Latham's Goal-Setting Theory, which assumes intent precedes actions. There is a focus on future (vs. past of behavioural methods).

The situational interview is developed by the use of Critical Incidents to devise rating scale of behaviours. The costs can be high at around $1000 per question.

The interviewer asks what the person would do in theoretical situations and assesses their response against the criteria and rating scale.

A new variant of situational interviews is the ‘multimodal’ form, focusing on self-presentation, vocabulary assessment, biographical questions and other situational aspects.

Situational interviews tend to reduce the chance of discrimination as they offer all candidates the same scenarios and evaluate them against the same criteria. Candidates also prefer them, as they seems fairer, but it still limits their control over proceedings.


Develop questions and scoring

The first stage of interview development is, if it is not already available, a job analysis of the position, in order to identify key knowledge, experiences, competencies. This may be done using sophisticated methods such as often the Critical Incident Technique.

For situational interviews, particular scenarios are identified from which situational questions may be derived. For behavioral interviews, the attitudes and behaviors required in the job are uncovered.

For a structured approach, questions and scoring can be derived from empirical study that may include in-depth analysis of incumbents and interview of high performers. Typically 10-15 traits emerge, from which around 120 questions may be developed around broad situational and behavioral aspects.

Questions should be tested on good/bad performers and around half discarded to ensure a consistently high quality of questions. A scoring guide may then be developed.

Train interviewers

Interviewers should receive some training rather than be plucked from management and other ranks and placed in front of an unsuspecting candidate. Allport (1937) identified key attributes of interviewers:

  • Breadth of experience and from diverse backgrounds.
  • Above average intelligence and have self-insight and understanding of others.
  • Emotionally stable, well-adjusted, with good social skills.
  • Ability to be detached.
  • Similar in some way to interviewee.
  • Expertise in role.

Important in training is in developing objective rating skills, rather than letting the interviewer give way to the sizeable human bias and opinion that they may have.

They also need to be seen to be fair (candidates watch for this) and must, of course, comply with laws and regulations around gender, ethnicity, age and so on. A worst-case interviewer can lay the company open to damaging law suit (both financially and reputationally).


The interview is an extremely common selection method and has a high predictive validity for job performance (Robertson and Smith, 2001), indicating many factors that are relevant for the communications job, including cognitive ability (Huffcutt et al., 1966), oral skills (Campion et al, 1988), social skills (Searle, 2003) and person-organisation fit (e.g. Harris, 1999).

Objectivist psychometric perspective

In the wonderfully-named objectivist psychometric perspective (i.e. traditional viewpoint), there is a focus on structure, reliability and validity, based on and assumption that the interview is an objective and accurate means of assessment where interviewees are passive participants providing information to rational interviewees who are skilled at acquiring and interpreting information.

Criteria used include cognitive ability, job knowledge or tacit knowledge (eg. through situational interviewing), social skills (e.g. extraversion, emotional stability, openness) and person-organisation fit (though this is fraught with difficulties).

There are dangers in this approach, for example in the use of the interviewer’s perception of the organisation, and what it needs. The interviewer typically seeks organisation fit by comparing against a simplistic prototype and may well assess personal qualities over required skills. 'Fit' may also happen at the social level, with the interviewer looking for personal fit with the candidate.

Social-interactionist perspective

In the social-interactionist perspective (i.e. modern viewpoint), there is a focus on social factors and the dynamic process within the interview. The interview is seen as a subjective, complex and unique event where both parties act as active participant-observers.

The perception of the interviewer is important within this perspective and research has shown some interesting factors. Where the interviewer has not paid due attention to candidate qualifications, the candidate often draws back, becoming more reticent and talking less about themselves (perhaps punishing the interviewer for the slight). Candidate expectations depend on how much they like the interviewer as the job. The candidate may well feel unfairly treated if not given enough attention or opportunity to dialogue, and may well develop negative expectations if the interviewer talks more than they do.


Faking is less easy in interviews than CVs or Application Forms, as non-verbal signals may be detected. Nevertheless, interviews are so common that some interviewees acquire significant expertise in the ‘interview technique’, managing impressions and having ready answers for common questions.

Image Management (IM)

Faking also may also appear through dress, words and body language, where impression-management seeks to make a person appear more than they normally are. When the interviewer sees the candidate as over-dressed (or provocatively under-dressed!), with excessive make-up or otherwise trying too hard to impress, they may suspect them of concealment and mark them down accordingly.

Impression management includes Ingratiating behaviour (agreeing, complementing, offering favours), self-promotion (to boost competency range) and also anger and intimidation (to show fearlessness).

In studies, women showed more openness and older, more experienced people maintained more eye contact, projected a more positive image and asked more questions. Older people reduced the number of entitlement statements used and increased self-enhancement and self-promotion statements. Where there was more role ambiguity, impression management increased.

Reliability and validity

Interviews are generally reliable with criterion values of .51 common, rising to .63 when used with psychometric tests. The validity is higher for situational (.60), job-related (.39), psychological (.29) styles.

Situational interviewing is relatively simplistic and is predominantly used in low-complexity jobs. Behavioral interviewing brings in a wider range of behaviours from inside and outside work, allows more thorough probing of motivations and is preferred for higher-level jobs.

Bias and misjudgement

There are many factors in which can bias interviewers, including gender, race, age, appearance, attitude, non-verbal behaviour, physical setting and job market factors (Avery and Campion, 1982), bias towards positive information and even primacy and recency and contrast effects in the ordering of candidates (Asch, 1946), Miller and Campbell (1959) and (Anderson and Shackleton, 1993). These factors may be reduced by training, but often not eliminated.

Within interviews, it is important that fair play is perceived, which includes, for example that all candidates should each have a comparable experience, even if the interviewer concludes early on that they are not suitable.

Interviewers are subject to normal human biases, for example they tend to be biased towards ‘people like me’. Positive information is weighted more than negative data (which takes more time to process). The order of candidates can also cause bias (primacy and recency effects).

The Halo effect happens when one good aspect of candidate makes them look good in other areas as well. The reverse is true, and the Horns effect occurs where a negative perception is generalized to other aspects of the person. A typical horns effect is where the person is overweight and where this is generalized into greed, lack of control, lack of social ability, etc.

The generalization continues and candidates who are nervous at interview can be generalized as always nervous, whilst the confident may be attributed as being skilful in other areas.

See also

Information Interview

Asch, S. E. (1946) Forming impressions of personality, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 41, 258-290

Avery, R.D. and Campion, J.E. (1982). ‘The employment interview: a summary and review of research’, Personnel Psychology, vol.35, pp.281-322

Campion, M.A., Campion, J.E. and Hudson, J.P. (1988). ‘Structured interviewing: Raising the psychometric properties of the employment interview.’, Personnel Psychology, vol.41, pp.25-42

Harris, M.M. (1999). ‘What is being measured?’ in Eder, R.W. and Harris, M.M. (eds) The Employment Interview Handbook, Sage, pp.143-57

Huffcutt, A.I., Roth, P.L. and McDaniel, M.A. (1996). ‘A meta-analytic investigation of cognitive ability employment interview evaluations: moderating characteristics and implications for incremental validity’, Journal of Applied Psychology, vol.81, no.5, pp.459-73

Miller, N. and Campbell, D. T. (1959) Recency and primacy in persuasion as a function of the timing of speeches and measurements. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 59, 1-9

Robertson, I.T. and Smith, M. (2001). ‘Personnel Selection’, Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, vol.74. no.4, pp.441-72

Searle, R. (2003). Selection and Recruitment: A Critical Text, London: Palgrove Macmillan and Milton Keynes: The Open University


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