Interviewing may result in selection of unsuitable candidates or or rejection of suitable ones.  What factors are responsible?

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Just to add something known from business experience....there are people who prepare for job interviews by being coached by others, by memorizing "what to say when," and by memorizing facts about a company and its history so that he/she can construct appropriate responses and ideas that will seem innovative and dynamic.

In short, there are those who know how to "sell" themselves to the interviewer.  However, when the time comes for them to deliver on their ideas--which are not really theirs--little that is positive occurs.  As T.S. Eliot put it:  "Between the idea and the reality...there lies the difference."

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There are several problems with making hiring decisions based on interviews:

  1. Interviews are not really able to identify which candidates will be able to perform a job well over a long period of time.  This is partly because interviewing skills are not the same as job skills and partly because different interviewers evaluate the same cadnidates differently.
  2. Interviewers talk more during interviews than they listen.
  3. Interviewers often pay more attention to negative information than to positive.
  4. Interviewers typically make up their minds early in the interview rather than conducting the whole process with an open mind.

These are some major issues with interviewing as a way of choosing whom to hire.

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While the written application (particularly the application letter, if there is one) highlights the candidate's writing skills, the interview highlights the candidate's interpersonal skills in a face-to-face (and, let's be honest, stressful) situation. Those are two very different sets of skills, of course, and I have seen how a candidate who looks very good in one situation (such as "on paper," in the initial written application) can fail miserably in another situation (such as in a face-to-face interview).

In a recent search on my university campus, one candidate did very well at the interview because he remained calm and presented himself as interested, accessible, and familiar. He talked about how his family was from the general area, for example, and even spoke with more than a hint of the regional dialect. The other candidate may very well have been a better "fit" with our university (he teaches the very sorts of courses that we need, while the other candidate does not), but he failed to make this personal connection with most of the members on the search committee and was clearly very nervous during his presentatoin.

The entire search process, too, is usually pretty short, and the selection committee is asked to make important decisions with limited time and limited information. I'm not surprised that the wrong candidate is hired sometimes and the right one is turned away. I suspect this sort of thing happens more frequently than most of us might like to think!

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