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What small psychological effects influence interviewers on a regular basis?

Janet Sun | April 17, 2013

It's not surprising that the minutiae of our daily lives can impact how we feel during an interview. After all, no one can be utterly objective all the time, but we strive to be fair, especially when looking to hire graduates and other candidates for entry level jobs.

One of the best ways to avoid falling into the trouble of letting your mood or feelings get in the way of your better judgment is to look at the most common psychological effects. No matter how subconscious, any of these could play a role. John Sullivan, Ph.D., an expert in HR and industry thought-leader offered a long list of general interview problems at, and among them was a special section designated just to those pesky psychological bugs that could get in the way. 

1. Seeking out rejection reasons
You've likely heard someone comment that bad or painful memories stand out more starkly than happy ones. When you go into an interview looking for reasons to turn down an applicant rather than view them holistically, you're running the risk of blinding yourself to their good qualities. As Sullivan points out, there's no point giving negative responses twice the weight. Even a three strikes rule can be a little extreme. Instead, give the applicant the benefit of the interview to make a good impression. Starting out on the wrong foot happens.

2. The "halo effect"
Sullivan points out that interviewers are full of foibles as well. And evaluator can easily become overly impressed by a few personal characteristics about a candidate. These could be anything from great looks to a shared interest or impressive vocabulary. However, if this begins to color the rest of the interview, an objective opinion is a lost cause. As a result, it's important to remember that one or two qualities are only small parts of a whole.

3. Recency comparison or contrast effect
Sullivan uses these two terms for when an interviewer has had a few bad candidates in a row. When the standards are suddenly lowered, the next mediocre applicant who walks through the door may seem fantastic by comparison. And, of course, the reverse is also possible. The best tactic is to not overload interviewers with too many meetings a day. This helps avoid interviewer fatigue as well.

4. The right personality
If you're interviewing for a sales position, a meek and quiet individual probably isn't your prime candidate. However, if it's a behind-the-scenes position, and this man or woman is a whiz with the technical stuff, don't write him or her off!

5. Intoxicating enthusiasm
Sullivan points out how powerful a little enthusiasm from a prospective employee can be. Passion and drive are both wonderful things, but they're also incredibly easy to fake and even when genuine are a poor stand-in for actual experience or prerequisites. Keep a discerning mind.

6. Evaluating the cultural fit
Every office has it's own culture, with specific language and tradition. As a result, you'll want to find candidates who seem to fit into this culture and will make good prospective workmates beyond just their aptitude for the job. However, as Sullivan says, being able to assess this in an hour or less is extremely difficult. Like with the "halo effect," it's easy for personal feelings to become enmeshed.

While there are no quick fixes for this, it can be partially solved by creating a pipeline for employees that begins with internships. Interns will either mesh with culture over time or not – and if not, it's okay, since the position is temporary. If one of your company's major goals is education, retention and advancement for star employees through your company, internships are a great place to start. As Business Insider notes, the success of an internship can often be measured by job offers given at the end of the term, as well as how many interns accept the position. According to KPMG, an audit and tax advisory firm the source spoke with, both of those stats average around 90 percent. Striving for those numbers should be the goal of every internship program.

7. The one-way conversation
Sullivan's ERE piece observes that some interviewers do all the talking, rather than letting the actual candidates present their information. This is an easy one to avoid - simply stick to a structured list of question and answer with more time allotted to the answer portion.

8. The golden child
Every so often, that perfect interview will happen. A candidate is, quite literally, too good to be true. Sullivan notes that sometimes these applicants get rejected not despite but because of their absurdly high ratings – perhaps the interviewer believes there was cheating, for instance. In these situations, it's best to refer to the resume. Is it possible that this candidate is just very good at the interview process? Do they have a background in HR themselves? Don't write someone off for any reason, including being perfect for the job.

Category: Employers

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