Improving the Interview Part 1: The Individual Selection Interview

The Interview. No other selection device is as ubiquitous, while at the same time as misunderstood. Like an A-list celebrity, all you have to say is “the interview” and everyone can tell you stories, generate an opinion regarding love it or hate it, and tell you why it has received too much (or too little) notoriety, press, and attention.

In the next two blogs, I will look at the topic of “Improving the Interview.” This month, we will discuss the Individual selection interview, which is conducted in a one-on-one setting between an interviewer and an interviewee. In the next blog, we will investigate improving the board or panel interview.

If Everyone Uses It, What Could Be Wrong? 

Can a technique that every organization uses really be that bad? Well, the problem with the interview is that early studies found that the typical unstructured interview (referred to as “unstructured” because the interviewer was left to conduct and rate the interview as he or she wished) was not very reliable or valid. That is, despite the beliefs of human resource personnel and supervisors, the traditional interview was not a very good indicator of talent, merit, or the best candidate for the job.

The saving grace for the interview was the finding that introducing structure greatly increased the reliability and the validity of the interview. Depending upon the particular study, adding structure to an interview could double its validity as a predictor of job performance, turning it into one of the more valid selection devices.

Structure of Questions and Rating Scales

Structure can be introduced both into the questions asked as well as the way in which interviewee performance is evaluated. In terms of the questions themselves, each candidate should be asked the same questions in the same manner. The questions should present the interviewee with a situation and ask how he or she would respond, or a candidate may be asked to describe how they may have handled a problem situation in a past job.

A typical past history question would be – Tell me about a time in school or on a job where you were asked to lead a team in responding to a significant challenge?

A typical scenario questions would be – You see another employee in a different department violating an important safety regulation. What do you do?

In addition to introducing structure into the questions, we can increase the objectivity of the evaluation or rating. This is usually done by using Behaviorally Anchored Rating Scales (BARS). A simple BARS for rating Oral Fluency might look like:

5 – Always speaks clearly and uses correct grammar.

4 – (Use if between a 5 and a 3).

3 – Is sometimes hard to understand; has long pauses; speaks too rapidly or too slowly.

2 – (Use if between a 3 and a 1).

1 – Is very difficult to understand; uses words incorrectly; swears or uses offensive language.

What Else? – Other Suggestions for Improvement

A blog imposes space limitations. So, I will summarize a list of additional recommendations for improving the reliability and validity of the interview:

  • Keep it job related. Structure is important, but so are the constructs, competencies, or knowledge, skills, or abilities assessed during the interview. Be sure to base your questions on a job analysis and on job related situations or scenarios.
  • Ask each candidate the same question in the same order.
  • Limit prompting, follow-up questions, and responses to queries (but see below).
  • Do not allow questions from the candidate during the interview except for possible clarification of the nature of the question (but see below).
  • The longer the interview, and the more questions, the better.
  • Take notes or record responses in some manner (this is a tough one because you do not want to spend so much time taking notes you miss the interview; in some cases, the interview may be recorded, but this is not always feasible).
  • If possible, use the same interviewer for all candidates.
  • Train the interviewers; training should be designed to increase the accuracy of the process, provide a common frame of reference for all interviewers, and eliminate common rating errors.
  • Rate the candidate on multiple, behaviorally-based scales (BARS), and combine the ratings on the scales quantitatively or statistically.
  • Watch for knock out factors; these are responses you might not expect or might not otherwise discover, such as a firefighter candidate who will not climb ladders or a police officer candidate who would never fire a gun.
  • There are factors that can be uniquely assessed in the interview, including oral communication skills and resistance to stress.
  • At all times, avoid questions that are discriminatory or might involve the appearance of discrimination; know your state laws, as some states prohibit asking certain types of questions.
  • As an interviewer, be well-prepared; review the questions and rating scales ahead of time.
  • Avoid the “weird questions” – such as why are sewer covers round.

Can I Be Friendly?

Can the interviewer be friendly to the job applicant? Does structure mean that the interviewer must be emotionless and refuse to offer any clarification or feedback? Is there such a thing as too much structure?

The introduction of structure into the interview has led some experts to argue that the ideal approach is complete structure, featuring a stone-faced interviewer who refuses to answer any questions or provide clarification in response to applicant queries.  Many of the readers of the blog may have experienced a phone interview, where the interviewer simply reads question after question, pausing only to allow time for a reply.

In my opinion, I see value in the interviewer interacting with the interviewee in a civil and friendly manner, within reasonable limits. By maintaining a cordial but professional attitude, the interviewer puts the candidate at ease and helps to reduce any performance anxiety.

One should also remember that the interview is an interaction that has a strong influence on the applicant’s perception of the company or organization. As with any test, the interview contributes to the brand image that the candidate develops of the potential employer. A cold, emotionless interview can lead to a negative brand image and lower retention of candidates during the interview process. Frustrating the candidates by refusing to answer legitimate requests for clarifications of questions can also lead to the development of a negative image of the organization, as well as candidate withdrawal from the process.

The Interview Is a Major Part of the Recruitment Process

Which leads us to our next point and that is the interview plays a major part not only in selection but in recruitment and in closing the offer to talented candidates. Job applicants have their own view of the purpose of the interview and their own set of questions for which they seek answers. All too often, those of us who are academics and researchers seem to forget that job candidates may see the interview as a major opportunity to tell their own story, obtain information on the company and the selection process, and ask questions about the job, pay, and benefits. In an individual interview by a supervisor or manager, as much as half the time may be devoted to trying to attract rather than select the candidate.

I would advise dividing the interview up into two parts. The candidate should be informed that during the first half of the interview, a set of structured questions will be asked of the candidate and the interviewee should respond with appropriate responses. After this process is completed, then the candidate will be allowed time to ask their questions. By doing this, the interview can serve the dual roles of selection and attraction-recruitment-closing.

Can People Detect Lying?

I am often asked whether interviewers can detect lying in the interview. The short and simple answer is – NO. Unless you are extremely well trained, or know the person extremely well, it is unlikely you can detect whether a person is being truthful in the interview.  Also, it is much more difficult to read body language than most people believe. Now, it has happened to me where people say – oh, “I better tell you the truth because I know you can tell if I am lying.” However, someone having such faith in my psychic abilities happens only rarely (but if we ever meet socially, yes I can tell if you are lying).    

Part 2, Next Month

In Part 1, I have covered the individual interview. Next month, I will offer Part 2 of our series on the interview.  In Part 2, I will discuss the panel or board interview, including the availability from IPMA-HR of a product known as POSIS.

Until then, I welcome your comments, questions or criticisms.  There should be a reply box located at the end of this blog. You can also email with comments or suggestions at

I would also like to remind you that I will be offering Conducting a Job Analysis, a 1-day course at the IPMA-HR International Training Conference on Sunday, September 18th in Kansas City.  For more information on the conference, please click here.

This entry was posted in Assessment, Interviews and tagged , by Dennis Doverspike. Bookmark the permalink.

About Dennis Doverspike

Dennis Doverspike, Ph.D., ABPP, is President of Doverspike Consulting LLC. He is certified as a specialist in Industrial-Organizational Psychology and in Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), serves on the Board of the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology, and is a licensed psychologist in the State of Ohio. Dr. Doverspike has over forty years of experience working with consulting firms and with public and private sector organizations. He is the author of 3 books and over 150 other professional publications. Dennis Doverspike received his Ph.D. in Psychology in 1983 from the University of Akron.

4 thoughts on “Improving the Interview Part 1: The Individual Selection Interview

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