Golden Business Ideas


Job Interview Myths

When faced with a major hiring decision, a personal interview with the candidate is de rigueur. In fact, some organizations put a candidate through a series of interviews with every key executive from the CFO down to the assistant vice-president.

That lengthy process raises legitimate questions: Are all these interviews worth it? After candidates pass through the wringer, are their blemishes and strengths more cogently revealed for a better hiring decision?

Some recent research indicated the conventional interviewing process is seriously flawed. First of all, the first impression a job candidate makes in an interview becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, if the interviewer feels favorably disposed to the candidate in those first few seconds that lead up to a handshake, it’s likely that from then on, he or she will be judged positively. If responses to questions are self-assured, they will be judged as evidence of outstanding character; on the other hand, if the candidate creates an unfavorable first impression, those same self-assured responses will be interpreted as evidence of arrogance and bluster.

Another finding revealed yet another flaw of the traditional hiring process: More often than not, assessments of candidates are unanimous—that is, all the interviewers tend to agree that the person should be hired or passed over. So not only is that initial handshake a defining moment, but something a candidate radiates at that instant seals his or her fate for the rest of the interview. In all likelihood, then, companies don’t make hiring decisions on the basis of the candidates’ responses to interviewers’ insightful questions, but based on some indefinable quality they evoke when they enter a room.

Given the difficulty of overcoming first impressions and the likelihood that a candidate is probably well practiced in providing the “right” answer to typical interview questions, does that mean a battery of lengthy interviews—or even one, for that matter—is a waste of time? In many cases, the answer may be yes. But if the interviewer works hard to resist the knee-jerk, first-impression reaction, he or she can ask questions that will provide clues to whether a candidate will be good for a particular job.

Here is the kind of question that has no right or wrong answers, but candidates’ responses can reveal whether they will fit the job:

You’re in a situation where you have two very important responsibilities, and both have deadlines that are impossible to meet. You can’t accomplish both. What will you do?

The likely responses—select the one that you can do best and the most quickly or determine which is best for the company—also reveal much. For example, if the candidate chooses the former, he or she acts as a solo practitioner (in other words, somewhat self-centered). If the latter is selected, it appears the needs of the organization, not the individual, have priority.

Caveat: Novice managers faced with their first hiring responsibility sometimes think that asking difficult “trick” questions is a good way to test how a candidate reacts under stress. Not only is that method ineffective in assessing a candidate’s future behavior, it is likely to distort the interviewer’s judgment of the candidate’s aptitude for the job.

The research cited here will not sit well with some people who put great faith in their interviewing prowess. While there may be exceptions, and even flaws, to this research (although it has been duplicated), it may be worthwhile to at least keep the results in mind when faced with a hiring decision.

If readers have other job-applicant interview questions they believe can elicit revealing clues about a candidate, e-mail them to the JofA at zarowin@mindspring.com .


An Invitation

The JofA publishes a monthly collection of Golden Business Ideas and invites readers to contribute their favorites (for attribution, if you like).

Send your ideas to Senior Editor Stanley Zarowin via either e-mail ( zarowin@mindspring.com ) or regular mail at the Journal of Accountancy, Harborside Financial Center, 201 Plaza Three, Jersey City, NJ 07311-3881.

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