The (game-show like) future of job interviews

by Dorian Minors

November 19, 2015

Analects  |  Newsletter


Job interviews aren’t particularly useful in the way they’re ordinarily conducted. They tend to get used because people think a good hire will be obvious, or that they are good judges of personality and intelligence. But the research doesn’t quite…

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Job interviews aren’t particularly useful in the way they’re ordinarily conducted. They tend to get used because people think a good hire will be obvious, or that they are good judges of personality and intelligence. But the research doesn’t quite stack up that way. The average employer tends to misjudge personality in an interview setting. In fact, psychologists will only really use interviews following some kind of diagnostic test to build rapport and clarify any confusing elements of the test itself. This is for a number of reasons; biases, memory flaws and internal politics to name a few.

Psychologists, as a result, have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how best to interview as a result. Not just for the benefit of corporations, but also because a lot of what we do involves gathering information about people. One particular style of interviewing is gaining an extraordinary amount of traction in the organisational world. It’s called the Multiple-Mini-Interview(s) and we’ll talk about what it is and how to prepare should you ever come across it.

First, a brief history

There tend to be two factors that influence how an interview is run. The first is whether or not it’s structured and the second is whether it’s a panel or a single interviewer.

  • Structure. Structure refers to the extent to which an interview is standardised (the same, interview to interview). It refers to how the questions have been engineered, what order you ask them in, whether follow up questions are asked and they’re also tested for their relevance.

Unstructured interviews aren’t very good at predicting job performance. The research indicates that they have a very weak correlation (.15). That’s not a percentage, that’s a correlation coefficient indicating that the interview accounts for about 2.25% of the variation in performance.

This is because people tend to ask more irrelevant questions and less relevant ones. It also makes for extremely difficult comparisons. However, they are very flexible, easy to arrange (if not execute correctly) and do help to build rapport with a potential candidate. Structured interviews are much better at predicting job performance (.51, or about 25% of the variation is accounted for) and allow for far better comparison since the questions are standardised and can be planned to be relevant. Unfortunately, there appears to be a ceiling effect; that is to say, no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to improve the predictive value any more than it already has been.

  • Number of interviewers. This is self-explanatory. More interviewers is more intimidating and can create group effects (like different people wanting different things), but reduce the bias present in single person interviews. Panel interviews are costly too, as you need to pull more people out of work to conduct it. But group effects can be positive (e.g. the contribution of experience and sharing workload).

The future of interviews

So, traditionally, we would either see structured or unstructured interviews from maybe one to three people, but all of these things have pretty significant limitations. Thus, the Multiple Mini Interviews (MMI) technique was developed. Essentially, in this model, multiple interview stations are set up at once. Each station is a mini interview that assesses only ONE competency with a separate interviewer in each. Kind of like a speed-date or a gameshow. You simply walk in and do the rounds in a cycle until all the stands are complete.

You might guess why this seemingly simple method of interviewing has been set up:

  1. It’s competency specific - each stand only assesses one thing with a focus. One might assess your interpersonal skills, one might assess your ability to do a profit and loss statement, one might assess your intelligence with an intelligence test, and so on. One can really nail the specific competencies one is looking for it a candidate because you set each thing up for a specific purpose.
  2. There is less of the ‘halo’ effect, or memory and context biases (assumptions of the person’s ability based on a couple of memorable events). Someone might mess up in one booth, but that’s forgotten by the next, because that interviewer doesn’t know about it.
  3. It eliminates group effects and stakeholder influences over the interviewers; there is only one focus at a time.
  4. It efficiently uses resources. In a panel interview or a single interview, each one takes up the entire time slot. With this type of interview, everyone is engaged and several interviewees can move through at once.

There are problems though; for example there’s the cost of engaging a great number of interviewers at once, especially for smaller businesses (although, this can be similar or less of a cost than having one interview for days on end). There’s the chance one could disturb co-workers (it’s quite a dynamic process that will probably generate a great deal of noise). Finally, there’s the issue of making sure everyone is capable of assessing the competencies that they are assigned. But for all these issues, the MMI method of interviewing is becoming greatly popular in many organisations, especially Universities (for selecting people to programs in particular).

So how does one prepare? Well, all you need to do is look at the job description. For the first time, you don’t need to weave the listed capabilities into a long-winded story about a time you displayed problem-solving skills. No, you simply need to prepare to be tested individually on each one. Yep, finally an interview that tests the actual skills you’ll need to do the job.

Speaking of studying, learn how you’re doing it wrong and how to fix it. Or learn how living in poverty actually stops you from thinking properly (which might explain part of why it’s so hard to get a job). Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and ‘the good life’ at The Dirt Psychology.

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