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Lies, damn lies and the selection interview: don't take them lies lying down.

When interviewers use generic interview questions, they might have difficulty evaluating candidates on their potential success for a job.

The title of this article is a takeoff from the book How to Lie With Statistics. The book illustrated some problems and abuses associated with the presentation and interpretation of statistical analyses. The authors noted three types of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics. Here, we change this lies statement and apply it to the selection interview context. We show how people can misuse the interview process to misrepresent reality.

A lie is an untrue statement made with the intent to deceive. A lie also can involve the intentional omission of important truthful information. An error is intentionally or unintentionally providing incorrect information. Therefore, a lie is always an error while an error is a lie only when incorrect information is intentionally provided. We assume that both detract from fair, accurate and effective hiring.

We do not intend to encourage selection interview lies. Our intent is to identify the problem areas and to suggest methods that might help remove the potential for lies and result in fairer selections.

Reasons for interview lies

There are many reasons lies and errors might occur during the selection interview process:

* To meet affirmative action plan goals;

* To hire an already determined person;

* To avoid hiring a blacklisted candidate;

* To hire a cheaper cost worker;

* To avoid hiring a legally protected class member;

* To save time having to justify the selection criteria or process;

* To meet noninterviewing job demands because of a lack of time;

* Lack of accountability.

* Interviewer lack of ability; and

* Different raters with different rating methods.

The selection interview is one of the most important steps in the selection interview process. Despite its importance, interviewing is often done ineffectively. Lies can occur in a variety of ways during the interview process. For example, job analysis can be poorly done. Similarly, interview scheduling and the timing of ratings might leave the interview process vulnerable to lies.

Ineffective job analysis

Interviewers can find the knowledge, skills and abilities through job analysis. Job analysis involves collecting and analyzing tasks, duties and specifications of jobs. Job specifications identify knowledge, skills, abilities, education, training and experiences required for a person to do the job. Selection interviewers should identify the candidate who best meets the specifications.

Interview evaluations might breed error into the process at a very early stage by not conducting a job analysis or by having it poorly completed. Poor job analysis might help the appraiser justify creating evaluation instruments that have little to do with the job. Therefore, invalid job analysis makes it difficult to develop job-related interviews based on the content of the job.

Job analysts can do poor job analyses many ways. People can receive no instruction in how to analyze jobs. Poor job analyses also can occur because organizations often have untrained or poorly trained personnel perform the data collection and interpretation of job analysis. Similarly, lies resulting from job analysis can occur when no one checks for accuracy. Analysts can leave important tasks employees mention in a job analysis questionnaire off the job description. Analysts can include nonjob-related tasks that do not reflect important aspects of the job.

To offset such deficient and erroneous practices, managers can add integrity to the job analysis process by selecting and training competent individuals to perform job analysis. Furthermore, management can provide the time and resources necessary for those performing the task to do so effectively.

Non job-related questions

When interviewers use genetic interview questions, they might have difficulty evaluating candidates on their potential success for a job. The relationship between the candidate's answers to these questions and the content of the job interviewed for is less direct.

Problems can happen when the interview is not job-related. For example, we are familiar with a person who went to an electronics firm to apply for what he believed to be an opening on an assembly line. This person first completed an application blank and was later called in for an interview. The personnel manager performed the interview and asked the interviewee several questions. The interviewee believed he had answered the questions quite well and was confident he would receive an offer for employment as an assembly worker. The interviewee was right, but he was also wrong. He received an offer for employment but not an offer for assembly work. Instead, he received an offer to be the assistant personnel manager.

The interviewer might have been so impressed with the application of the candidate that he switched directions during the interview. However, the candidate told us that all the questions asked were generic and could have been asked for any job. Thus, the questions were not specifically geared for an assembly line position nor were they relevant to the position of Assistant Personnel Manager. Job-related interviews should not consist of generic questions but questions that tap the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to do a specific job.

Another potential contributor to selection interview lies is the interview evaluation instrument. The interview evaluation instrument might not be based on the job's content. A failure to tailor-make the interview evaluation instrument increases the opportunity for unreliable and invalid ratings.

When an interview evaluation form is based upon the content of the job, the interview is more effective. Interviewers can more easily evaluate the information obtained during the interview.

It is not uncommon to have more than one person interviewing the different candidates for a job. If the different interviewers do not use the same interview questions and rating instruments then it is difficult to have reliable ratings. The information obtained and evaluated will not be the same and the interview process is highly susceptible to errors. Standardization of questions and rating forms is one way to increase the reliability and validity of interviews while reducing the subjectiveness and arbitrariness.


A common problem in interviews is the inability or unwillingness of managers to accurately record employee behaviors in the interview. Because managers do not have enough specific information related to performance, they might fabricate it based on general impression.

A recommended practice is to require interviewers to take notes during and immediately after the interview. Documentation might be necessary to help justify interview decisions from an EEOC legal perspective.

Selection interview scheduling

When job candidates are interviewed days, weeks and even months apart, the interviewer is more likely to forget the facts and decrease his/her ability to compare the interviews. So interviewers should try to decrease the time gaps in their interviewing schedules.

Also, interviewers might interview candidates and postpone making the actual evaluations of the candidates until a much later time after the interview. Again this leaves the interviewer vulnerable to memory lapses and consequent errors in his/her evaluations. The preferred approach is to conduct the interview and jot down some notes during the process. Be very aware of the criteria upon which you will rate the candidates. After the interview, complete your notes, make the evaluation of the candidate on the interview evaluation form, and document your results. Do not put off rating a candidate until after you have rated other candidates.

Beyond the recommendation of keeping interviews job-related with questions based on the content of the job, there are other practices that should be followed. Take notes during the interview. However, they should not distract the candidate or cause the interviewer to become inattentive to what a candidate is saying. Interviews should also be consistent from candidate to candidate. Semi-structured interviews that ask the same questions in the same order from each candidate are recommended. Semi-structured interviews do allow some flexibility as the particular circumstances might require. Interviewers also should use interview evaluation forms on which to make ratings of candidate interview performance. Rating forms should be based on job analysis information (job-related). Interviewers must process enough job-related information during the interview to evaluate candidates. The evaluations should be made at the conclusion of the interview after all interview information has been obtained and after a review of interview notes.

Management should assure that interviewers develop job-related questions based upon valid job descriptions. Research has supported the effectiveness of this approach. For example, if a job requires interpersonal skills, verbal communications, public relations and a high level of personal motivation, then interview questions should be developed that will obtain information to evaluate these criteria. Any questions that are not designed to measure one or more of these job-related criteria should be omitted from the interview.

Top management support

Management can encourage ethical behavior by clearly communicating organizational policies on selection interviewing. Also, managers can post a code of ethics and discuss it with all interviewers. An organizational climate should exist that shows management's support for an accurate interview evaluation system.

Interviewers should be given adequate time to complete interviews, notes and comments, and evaluation forms. Rush jobs are often incomplete jobs. Reducing the period between observation and appraisal will lead to more effective interview results.

The personnel manager or the immediate supervisor/manager typically conducts most interviews. However, including others in the interviewing process can enhance the quality of interview evaluations. The use of more than one "rater" can reduce a particular interviewer's influence. Interviewers are less likely to be vindictive, arbitrary or nonchalant if they know they are accountable to others. Also, a few rating perspectives might well outweigh one untrue rating.

Companies should have interview results and patterns of interview results assessed and reviewed by the personnel department or higher managers. Individual interviewers who show questionable results should be given additional training.

Train interviewers

Training is an effective method for sharing information and developing the interviewing knowledge and skills useful to become effective interviewers. In addition, interview training programs are an excellent place to instill ethical values on the interviewer and to emphasize the importance of accurate and fair ratings.

People tend to do what they get rewarded for. So evaluate interviewers in part on their efforts and success in conducting interviewing. When interviewers develop job-related questions and interview rating forms, these behaviors can be recognized. This will more than likely encourage interviewers to dedicate more time and effort to the process.

Interviewing is a subjective process that is subject to errors and deception in many areas. However, as in the American judicial system, "ignorance of the law is no excuse." Lies and errors are unacceptable. These mistakes can affect interview ratings by reducing the amount of information collected from job analysis, including generic or non job-related questions in the interview, failing to develop a job-related interview rating instruments, not taking notes or only taking inadequate notes during the interview, and failing to rate candidates in a timely fashion.

To reduce lies in interviewing, organizations should encourage top management support for the process, communicate interviewing policy, improve the integrity of job analysis and job descriptions, train interviewers, reward effective interviewing practices and help interviewers to develop more effective evaluation instruments.

For further reading

Darrel Huff and Irving Geis. "How to Lie with Statistics," New York: W. W. Norton, 1954

Gundars Kaupins and Mark Johnson. "Keeping Lies Out of the Performance Appraisal," Industrial Management, January/February 1992, Vol. 34, No. 1

Mark A. Johnson, Ph.D., is an associate professor of personnel/human resource management at Idaho State University. He teaches courses in personnel selection, interviewing and evaluation, has consulted firms regarding their interviewing and selection processes and has conducted extensive research on personnel interviewing and selection processes. Gundars E. Kaupins. Ph.D., is an associate professor of management at Boise State University. He has taught personnel selection processes and has performed research and consulting activities on the subject.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Johnson, Mark A.; Kaupins, Gundars
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:May 1, 1993
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