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Interview Formats

Today the employment interview has evolved and is now found in several versions or formats, each with its own optimal predictive criteria. The primary distinction with regard to interview formats is whether they are structured or unstructured. Structured interviews consist of standardized questions based on a job analysis and asked of all candidates in the same order with little to no follow-up questioning (Campion, Palmer & Campion, 1997). Also, with the structured format, interviewer training through the rating of videotaped candidates with feedback is encouraged so that all interviewers reach a similar level of reliability in their ratings. Note-taking during the interview is also encouraged so that the interviewers will recall details more accurately. In addition, the interviewer(s) then use a detailed rating form to evaluate the candidate’s responses. The unstructured interview, on the other hand, consists of small-talk, perhaps some standardized questions and several spontaneous questions initiated by the interviewer as well as follow-up questioning to the candidate’s responses (Campion, Pursell & Brown, 1988). Prior to the 1970s, employers entered the selection process with the single criterion of performance prediction in mind (Ulrich & Trumbo, 1965). Employers would choose what they thought was a ‘structured interview’, but in reality was unstructured in format. These early interviews consisted of pre-planned questions, however on closer inspection, the interviewers did not consistently adhere to a script but asked supplementary questions spontaneously, thus characterizing the format as more unstructured than structured (Campion, Palmer & Campion, 1997; Campion, Pursell & Brown, 1988; Levashina, Christopher, Morgeson & Campion, 2014; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Research, theory and practice served as the impetus that spotlighted the need for strict standardization of the structured interview to obtain good levels of predictive validity.

Predicting the job candidate’s skill set, however, was not enough for practitioners as they were still plagued with the long-term problem of employee turnover. As a result it was realized that the structured interview was not able to predict the fit of the candidate to the organization. Researchers then started to examine other contributory factors of turnover, such as constructs of the candidate’s personality, which had previously been overlooked (Blackman, 2002a, 2006). Researchers then started asking ‘Does the candidate have the personality traits that optimally fit the job description and ultimately the climate of the organization?’ Realizing also that counterproductive behaviour is another personality-related factor that contributes to turnover, researchers knew that accurately assessing traits like dependability and conscientious that are directly linked to counterproductive behaviour was crucial (Ones, Viswesvaran & Schmidt, 1993; Townsend, Baciga- lupi & Blackman, 2007). It was soon apparent that the lack of these two prominent traits could potentially lead to chronic absenteeism, tardiness, volatile behaviour and even lack of attention to detail on the part of emploees (Taylor & Small, 2002). No doubt, in jobs where fatalities are a risk (e.g., Emergency Services dispatchers, firefighters, air traffic controllers and offshore oil and gas workers) accurately assessing these traits in a job candidate is essential.

The first priority for researchers was to ask, ‘How accurate are lay interviewers in assessing job-relevant personality traits during the selection interview?’ If an organization was relying on personality inventories to select candidates, this question was not relevant, but for those organizations that used the interview as their principal selection method it was crucial. Blackman’s (2002a, 2000b) research pointed to the type of interview format used to answer this question. Blackman (2000a) examined the accuracy of personality j udgements made by lay judges who used either a structured interview format or an unstructured format in an experimental setting. Her study found that college student interviewers who used the unstructured format produced significantly more accurate personality judgements of job candidates who were applying for a student clerical position when self-interviewer and peer-interviewer agreement was used as the criteria for accuracy. It is interesting to note in this study that the structured interview contained significantly more personality-related interview questions than did the unstructured format, yet the unstructured format still prevailed with regard to superior accurate personality judgements. Blackman found that the unstructured format elicita small-talk and many diversions in conversation which allows candidates to drop their guard. When this occurs, the applicants’ true persona emerges. The relaxed job candidate might even see the interviewer as a friend and admit to relevant knowledge about their shortcomings. This allows the interviewer to glean information about the candidate’s personality as well as their integrity. As candidates feel very comfortable with this format much more of their nonverbal behaviour is revealed, with references to past or future behaviour (Townsend, Bacigalupi & Blackman, 2007). Taking candidates out for coffee or lunch, or giving them a tour of the organization, are prime venues for an unstructured interview. Research reveals that candidates participating in an unstructured interview elaborate more in their responses, display significantly more nonverbal behaviours and have longer interviews than candidates in structured interviews (Blackman, 2002a). The inherent nature of this format lends itself to accurately predicting multiple criteria. Specifically, job-related personality characteristics and constructs such as conscientiousness, agreeableness, dependability, organizational citizenship, integrity and person-job fit can be more accurately predicted from an unstructured interview compared to other formats and even matching the accuracy of standardized personality and integrity tests (Blackman, 2008; Townsend, Bacigalupi & Blackman, 2007). Townsend and colleagues administered an integrity test very similar in content to the Reid Report (Reid London House, 2007) to job candidates in an experimental study. Then peers who knew the applicants well provided assessments of the job candidates using the integrity inventory, thus giving an additional perspective. The job applicants then participated in a structured, face-to-face interview. After the interview, the interviewer completed the integrity survey on the candidate. Self-interviewer agreement on the integrity inventory was very high, yet it was not significantly different from the high levels of peer-interviewer agreement that was obtained. It should be reassuring to interviewers to know that their integrity assessment made during an interview is just as accurate as that made by a well-acquainted peer of the job candidate and that of the applicant himself. Blackman (2008), however, urges that the interviewer still use the structured interview format to predict the candidate’s skill set and then follow up with promising candidates by using an unstructured format to screen for personality and integrity-relevant traits.

Interviewers have been turning their attention to other formats in their search for greater predictive validity and efficiency. The structured, unstructured, panel, multiple- applicant, telephone and video-conference are among the many formats that the interviewer can choose from. The multiple-applicant interview (two or more candidates are interviewed simultaneously by one interviewer) is another format that can be deployed as an alternative for interviewers who are hiring seasonal help or need to interview a large pool of applicants (Tran & Blackman, 2006). An example is the case of Wynn Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, which needed to hire 3,000 employees in a three-week period leading up to its opening. A one-on-one, structured interview would not be efficient, but the multiple-applicant interview would be ideally suited for this purpose. The evidence suggests that interviewers who implement this format should use it only to predict job performance and not personality factors (Tran & Blackman, 2006). The cognitive load and multi-tasking that the multiple-applicant interview requires was found to compromise the interviewer’s overall judgement. Tran and Blackman (2006) found that the one-on-one interview format was far superior in predicting the candidate’s personality-relevant traits to the multiple- applicant format, although after reducing the applicant pool by employing the multiple- applicant format, a more intimate, one-on-one, unstructured format could be employed to determine personality factors and the integrity of employees if necessary.

Some employers find that the panel interview, in which two or more interviewers interview the candidate, suit their needs best. This format has been found not only to predict job performance and personality factors (if used in an unstructured format) but also to improve the accuracy of the assessment (Dipboye, Gaugler & Hayes, 1997; Prusha, 2014). When several interviewers pool their ratings of a factor, the increase in accurate ratings is substantial. Another merit of this technique is that biases and self-fulfilling prophecies that a single interviewer might hold can be minimized. A final benefit found with this format is that it is perceived as a fairer method by candidates than a simple, one-on-one format as the candidate may fail to develop a relationship with a single interviewer and thus perceive the process as unfair if not selected (Dipboye, Macan & Shahani- Denning, 2012; Farago, Zide & Shahani-Denning, 2013; Kuo & Chang, 2011). This perception of fairness leads to good public relations for the organization, especially if three or more interviewers are involved. Interviewers sometimes forget the social process involved in the interview, where both the organization and the candidate seek to project themselves in the most favourable light. The candidate’s perception of the fairness of the interview and the questions asked will in turn determine the applicant’s opinion of the organization regardless of what they had held prior to the interview (Dipboye, Macan & Shahani-Denning, 2012).

For travel and efficiency sake, telephone and video-conference interviews have become increasingly popular in some countries, such as the US, facilitated by the development of communications technology, but these perceived benefits come at a price (Chapman & Rowe, 2002; Sear, Zhang, Wiesner, Hackett & Yuan, 2013; Straus, Miles & Levesque, 2001). Evidence suggests that interviewers should use this format only with the predictive criterion of job performance as their goal. When employing the formats the interviewer will find that the candidate’s responses via the telephone or video-conference monitor are briefer and have less informative details than one typically finds during a face-to-face format (Blackman, 2002b). The telephone conference call is efficient, but the accuracy of relevant personality factors is sacrificed. Nevertheless, these formats are useful for making broad cuts in the selection process before following up with in-person interviews with promising candidates.

It is important to remember that the selection interview should not be conceptualized as a one-time event. Instead, the effective interview should be conceptualized as a series of multifaceted interviews with different sources of judgement. Judgements from a variety of viewpoints create a fuller portrait of the candidate’s persona and skills from which to make an informed hiring decision. Using not only the main interviewer, but the incumbent, potential subordinates, potential peers and long-standing clients in the interview process can also add to the accuracy of judgements (Blackman, 2008; Funder & Colvin, 1988). Funder and colleagues took peer assessment of personality further in their research. They solicited judgements from the participants’ parents and friends. These sources from different aspects of the target participant’s life provided reassurance that in general people’s behaviour is cross-situationally consistent, that they display similar personality and behaviour patterns during the selection interview process at home or at school (Funder & Colvin, 1991). Funder and Colvin have also suggested that peers and lay interviewers are fairly accurate judges of personality when self-interviewer and peer-interviewer agreement is used as the criterion of accuracy. In addition, with multiple interviewer sources, any caveats about the candidate can be cross-referenced through this multifaceted approach. The multifaceted interview process parallels Campbell and Fiske’s (1959) multi-trait, multi-method philosophy with the long-term goal of obtaining convergent validity about the candidate’s job-related skills, personality traits and job fit.

The evidence suggests the need to prepare fully for the process, with interviewers thinking about what kind of criteria they wish to predict (e.g., integrity, personality, job performance). The fit between the criteria and interview format is crucial, as is the type of interview questions asked (see Table 9.1). The choice of interview questions is another important step that the interviewer should not take lightly. For the unstructured interview, in predicting personality any small-talk over a period of time has been shown to be highly predictive of the candidate’s personality (Blackman, 2002a). But for assessing job performance, behaviourally/situationally-oriented scenario questioning is optimal (Tay- or & Small, 2002). Asking the candidate to remember a time when they ‘had to deal with a difficult customer. What was the problem and how did they resolve it?’ these behaviourally cued questions allow the employer to ascertain candidates’ potential to think on their feet and their aptitude within a matter of minutes.

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