Want to ace that interview? Make sure your strongest competition is interviewed on a different day

January 17, 2013, Association for Psychological Science

Whether an applicant receives a high or low score may have more to do with who else was interviewed that day than the overall strength of the applicant pool, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Drawing on previous research on the gambler fallacy, Uri Simonsohn of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School hypothesized that admissions interviewers would have a difficult time seeing the forest for the trees. Instead of evaluating applicants in relation to all of the applicants who had been or would be interviewed, interviewers would only consider them in the frame of applicants interviewed on that day. This is often referred to as "narrow bracketing."

Much like bet on red after the wheel stops at black four times in a row, an interviewer bets on "bad" after she interviews four "goods" in a row; the difference in this case is that the interviewer controls the wheel.

If the interviewer expected that half of the whole pool would be recommended, she would avoid recommending more than half of the applicants she interviewed in a given day.

Simonsohn and Gino analyzed ten years of data from over 9000 MBA interviews to test their .

As predicted, interviews earlier in the day had a on the assessments for the interviews that followed—if the interviewer had already given several high scores, the next score was likely to be lower. This held true even after various applicant characteristics and interview characteristics were taken into account.

As the average score for previous applicants increased by .75 (on a 1-5 scale), the predicted score for the next applicant dropped by about .075. This drop may seem small, but the effect is meaningful. An applicant would need about 30 more points on the GMAT, 23 more months of experience, or .23 more points in the assessment of the written application to make up for the drop. And the impact of previous scores grew stronger as the progressed through the day.

"People are averse to judging too many applicants high or low on a single day, which creates a bias against people who happen to show up on days with especially strong applicants," Simonsohn and Gino observe.

Interestingly, they found that the effect was twice as large when a rating followed a set of identical scores (e.g., 4, 4, 4), compared to a set of varied scores (e.g., 4, 3, 5) with the same average.

Simonsohn and Gino were surprised by the overall strength of their findings. "We were able to document this error with experts who have been doing the job for years, day in and day out."

They point out that these findings are relevant to many different kinds of judgments, from evaluating job candidates to approving loan applications, even choosing contestants trying out for a reality show. And because many jobs in real life involve making these subsets of judgments, the error could be more pervasive than we realize.

So, if you want to get that job, or that loan, or make it onto that reality show, you might want to make sure the strongest contenders stay home that day.

Explore further: Looks do matter, according to new study: Facial disfigurements negatively impact job applicants

Related Stories

Looks do matter, according to new study: Facial disfigurements negatively impact job applicants

November 9, 2011
People with birthmarks, scars and other facial disfigurements are more likely to receive poor ratings in job interviews, according to a new study by researchers at Rice University and the University of Houston.

Employers less likely to interview openly gay men for job openings: study

October 3, 2011
A new study suggests that openly gay men face substantial job discrimination in certain parts of the U.S.

Recommended for you

Cannabis—it matters how young you start

May 18, 2018
Canadian researchers find that boys who start smoking pot before 15 are much more likely to have a drug problem at 28 than those who start at 15 or after.

Long legs turn women's heads, arm length immaterial: study

May 16, 2018
Labouring over the age-old question "What do women look for in men?", scientists added an item to the list Wednesday: legs slightly longer than average, with a good shin-to-thigh ratio.

Elevated homocysteine identified as metabolic risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases

May 16, 2018
The amino acid homocysteine occurs naturally in the human body, generated as a byproduct of methionine metabolism. Genetic diseases or an imbalanced diet, with too much red meat or deficiencies in B vitamins and folic acid, ...

Researchers find clues to treating psychoses in mental health patients

May 16, 2018
Psychotic disorders often are severe and involve extreme symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations in which people lose their sense of reality. Researchers at the University of Missouri recently found evidence that boosting ...

Most deprived are nearly twice as likely to develop dementia

May 16, 2018
Older adults in England with fewer financial resources are more likely to develop dementia, according to new UCL research.

People make different moral choices in imagined versus real-life situations

May 16, 2018
Researchers often use hypothetical scenarios to understand how people grapple with moral quandaries, but experimental results suggest that these scenarios may not always reflect real-life behavior. The findings, published ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.