Why job interviews make it harder to get a job cover image

Why job interviews make it harder to get a job

Dorian Minors • November 6, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Would it surprise you to learn job interviews aren't actually that useful for employers? In fact, in their most common form, job interviews aren't even necessarily required at all. Why? Well, they come with a number of limitations; they're very challenging to do well; and it's very easy to do them badly. Despite this, interviews are extraordinarily common. I personally, have never heard of anyone not getting interviewed (unless they personally knew their employer well, or were self-employed) for a new job. And job interviews can be helpful. They can:

  1. give employers an opportunity to to assess the skills and abilities related to the job of the person in addition to other information (so, to supplement a psychometric test for example); and perhaps more importantly
  2. give the employee a chance to vet the organisation (or to put another way, for the employer to sell the job to the candidate).

But unfortunately, they're almost never used for these purposes. Instead people tend to use them to assess people for their potential to achieve a cultural fit, or their personality for example. Both of which are supremely unreliable, when done in the form of an interview (even psychologists would suggest that interviews aren't the best for assessing personality, they'll tend to use some kind of diagnostic test followed by an interview to flesh out that more accurate data). In fact, the nature of interviews means that there are a whole host of issues in using one to select a candidate.

. So, don't be too nervous going in. They're just going to judge you (and do it really badly).

Stereotypes, prejudices and biases

People employ stereotypes all the time, and they can actually be broadly useful for a general conversation. But our initial impressions of people are formed very quickly and tend to over-ride our later judgements. That is to say, if you don't manage a first impression well, that bad initial judgement will make them literally ignore good things that come later. One classic example of this is the 'halo effect', where people assume that a person is good because of a few examples and ignore the rest of their behaviour. We tend to have an extraordinary amount of biases, the product of our brain trying desperately to streamline all the functions it has to perform, as well as our evolutionary and social history. It's hard to isolate these things when we're relying on a subjective interpretation of anything, let alone a person.

Context and memory effects

Memory is a fallible thing. It's often horribly inaccurate because it tends to try to pick up trends, emotions and feelings rather than the specifics. For example, the halo effect from earlier creates a perception of someone's 'goodness' or 'badness' based off a few memorable instances. And the confirmation bias we all suffer from will literally change your memory to fit your existing opinion.

. Thanks to this photo, you'll be wondering, in five years time, why you have a memory of some poor lady bleeding out in the shrubbery now.

Impression management

We all manage the way other people see us (it's a whole theory of it's own). Based on our particular goals (in this case, to look good) we'll present a particular image to fit. This image can very much influence an interviewer. So too can 'verbal fluency'; the confidence with which we speak and respond to questions really has a large effect on how we're perceived. What I'm saying here, is that an interview really isn't a great place to assess someone's true nature because how we see them isn't necessarily how they are.


No, not government politics. Internal politics. Often, there will be various pressures from various stakeholders to provide certain outcomes. The interviewer might one thing, the HR director another, the CEO yet another entirely and the interviewee might be working to influence something completely separately. This sort of thing can influence the outcome of an interview assessment, especially if there is a selection panel involved. Very commonly, although an interview panel shares the workload for the interviewers, one person will tend to dominate. These things can present challenges if they interfere with the assessment of the actual competencies of the candidate for the job they're being interviewed for.

Despite all this, they're used anyway

Interviews are really easy to implement. All you need is to set up a time. No need to set and score a test or deal with complicated procedures. There's an assumption that the correct candidate will be obvious, too, which is something that is certainly not backed by research. And commonly, there is a perception the interviews are simply 'what is done', without a great deal of rationale behind their instrumentation. But when they're used to assess things they aren't suited for (like intelligence or personality), one nullifies their usefulness. So;

. If you have to do a test to get a job, don't think of it as nonsense. Think of it as fair.

 Got an interview coming up? Nail that first impression and get those biases working for you. Or, as you hyperventilate before you walk in the door, maybe you'd like to know what a panic attack is (and why everyone can have them). Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and 'the good life' at The Dirt Psychology.

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.