Wednesday 3 November 2010




Organizations that wish to recruit new employees use a number of techniques to select the right people for the jobs available. One of the most frequently used technique of selection globally is conducting interviews with the applicants for the job. An interview can be broadly described as a process where a job applicant is evaluated in ‘a controlled conversation with a purpose’ (Torrington et al, 2002, p. 242). The format of the interview ‘can be biographical, i.e. following the contents of the application form or it can be based on the key competencies required for the job’ (Beardwell & Claydon, 2007, p. 207).

Interviews can be classified on the basis of their structure and on the basis of their content. On the basis of structure, interviews can be classified into two types, unstructured interviews and structured interviews. Unstructured interviews generally have not particular format and therefore it ‘allows the interviewer to ask follow-up questions pursue points of interest as they develop’ (Dessler, 2008, p. 254). Structured interviews, on the other hand, have a set sequence of questions and ‘replies are rated by the interviewer on preformatted rating scales’ (Beardwell & Claydon, 2007, p. 207). On the basis of content, interviews can be classified into two types, situational interview and behavioural interview. Situational interview ‘poses hypothetical situations to candidates and asks them how they would react to certain situations’. Whereas behavioural interviews are interviews where ‘applicants are asked to identify situations where they have experienced certain job-relevant situations’ (Leopold et al, 2005, pp. 170-71).

There are several specific types of interviews such as face-to-face interviews, panel interviews, telephonic interviews, group interviews and sequential interviews. Normally interviews are used in combination with other selection techniques such as assessment centres, tests, etc to evaluate the candidate.

Example 1: Npower Ltd, a leading supplier of gas and electricity in UK, uses telephonic interview as the first round of selection. If a candidate successfully passes, the telephonic interview, he or she is then called for a face-to-face interview (Source: Personal experience).

Example 2: Mercure Hotels, a leading chain of luxury hotels, select candidates using the panel interview which is followed by a simulation exercise where candidates are assessed on their performance at the actual job (Source: Personal experience).

Factors and problems that undermine the usefulness of an interview

Interviews often play the deciding factor in who gets employed for the job. This is unfortunate as ‘interviewing is not necessarily the most accurate basis for making a selection decision’ (Noe et al, 2004, p. 155). The factors and problems that undermine the usefulness of an interview are as follows:

  1. Subjective selection tool: One of the major factors that can undermine the usefulness of an interview is its subjective nature. ‘It is easy for interviewers to inject their own prejudices into the selection decision’ (Pynes, 2004, p.183). There is always the danger of bias. The subjective nature of the interviews also place the organization at greater risk of discrimination complaints by applicants who are not employed especially when the candidates are asked questions not directly related to the job role (Noe et al, 2004, p. 155).

  1. Low validity and reliability: Interviews lack validity as a way of making sound predictions about the future performance of the candidates as it ‘does not necessarily assess competence in meeting the demands of a particular job’. Also it lacks reliability in regards to measuring the same things for different candidates (Armstrong, 2006, p. 441).

  1. Unstructured interviews: Unstructured interviews are interviews where the interviewer is given ‘a degree of control to ask questions and raise issues rather than leading the process through a series of pre-planned questions’. Although such interviews give the interviewer more control over the situation, they are more time-consuming, are difficult to analyse the data collected, and gives too much control to respondent.

  1. Costly and time-consuming: Interviews are also considered a costly tool of selection. Every interview requires ‘at least one person to devote time to interview the candidate and applicants typically have to be brought to one geographic location’. Also other arrangements such as refreshments etc. are sometimes done for interviews that last longer. All this add up to high costs and make interview a costly tool of selection (Noe et al, 2004, p. 155).

  1. Early judgements: Interviewers can have a tendency to arrive at a judgement early on in the interview. This could be seen by the interviewee as an unfair treatment who gets this impression from the body language and nature of the questioning (McKenna & Beech, 2008, p. 194).

  1. ‘Halo’ and ‘Horn’ effects: The ‘halo’ effect is a situation ‘where the interviewers are positively disposed towards interviewees because they like or are attracted to them’. This results in interviewers looking at the answers of the candidates more benignly instead of judging on the raw content of the answers. ‘The ‘horn’ effect is the reverse of this, where interviewers are predisposed to hear the worst in what the candidates are saying’ (McKenna & Beech, 2008, p. 194). The ‘halo’ and ‘horn’ effects can significantly reduce the usefulness of the interview process.

  1. Distortion of information: One of the main problems of interviews is distortion of information. This may be ‘due to outright falsification or honest misunderstanding’. Interviewees may tend to exaggerate their abilities, skills, experiences etc. so as to impress the perceptions of others. This can also slow down the process of obtaining valid information (Dessler, 2008, p. 130).

  1. Untrained interviewers: Interviews rely on the skills of the interviewer but many people are poor at interviewing. Interviews conducted by untrained interviewers may lead to unsound and wrong judgements (Armstrong, 2006, p. 441).

  1. Disagreements within panels: One of the common problems associated with panel interviews is that there may not be a consensus view on a same interviewee within the same panel. This may be because the ‘interviewers see different things in the same interviewee’ (McKenna & Beech, 2008, p. 194). This problem is sometimes mitigated using Sequential interview where there are several interviews in turn, each time with a different interviewer.

Example 3: AOL, the broadband service provider, uses sequential interview to select candidates for the jobs. Most candidates are interviewed by a number of interviewers and the candidate with overall high score gets selected (Source:


Therefore, interviews, despite being the most frequently used and most relied upon technique of selection has a number of weaknesses such as being subjective in nature, open to biasness, time-consuming, costly, too much reliance on human interpretation etc. These factors and problems can undermine the strengths and usefulness of interviews.

However, employers should try to eliminate and mitigate these factors and problems before using it as a tool of selection. One solution is amalgamation of structured and unstructured interview styles in the right proportion so that crucial questions are not missed while giving more control to the interviewer. Adequate training should be provided to the interviewer to conduct interviews without coming to early judgements and without the influence of halo and horn effects. Also interviews should be used in conjunction with other selection tools and selection decisions should not be solely based on the performance of the candidate in the interview.

Example 4: Infosys, the business consulting and I.T. major, select people using a number of selection techniques. It uses tests, exams, puzzle solving along with panel interviews to select people to work for the organization.


Books and Journals:

  1. Torrington, D., Hall, L. and Taylor, S. (2002) Human resource management. UK, Pearson education, Harlow, p. 242.
  2. Bohlander, G.W. and Snell, S. (2009) Managing Human Resources, 15th ed, South Western, Mason, p. 263.
  3. Beardwell, J. and Claydon, T. (2007) Human resource management: a contemporary approach, 5th ed, Pearson education, Harlow, p. 207.
  4. Leopold, J., Harris, L. and Watson, T. (2005) The strategic managing of human resources, 1st ed, Pearson education, Harlow, pp. 170-71.
  5. Dessler, G. (2008) Human Resource Management, 11ed, Pearson education, New Jersey, pp. 130-254.
  6. Bogardus, A.M. (2004) Human Resources Jumpstart, Sybex, Almeda, p.79.
  7. Nieto, M.L. (2006) An Introduction To Human Resource Management- An Integrated Approach, 1st ed, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, p.144.
  8. Arthur, D. (2005a) Recruiting, interviewing, selecting & orienting new employees, 4th ed, Amacom, New York, pp. 253-70.
  9. Arthur, D. (2005b) Managing Human Resources in Small & Mid-Sized Companies, 2nd ed, Amacom, New York, p. 170.
  10. Pynes, J. (2004) Human resources management for public and nonprofit organizations, 2nd ed, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, p. 183.
  11. Noe, R.A., Hollenback, J.R., Gerhart, B. and Wright, P.M. (2004) Fundamentals of human resource management, McGraw-Hill, p.155.
  12. McKenna, E. and Beech, N. (2008) Human Resource Management: A Concise Analysis, 2nd ed, Pearson education, Harlow, p. 194.
  13. Armstrong, M. (2006) A handbook of human resource management practice, 10th ed, Kogan Page, London, p. 441.
  14. Kovacich, G.L. and Halibozek, E.P. (2006) Security metrics management: how to measure the costs and benefits of security, Elsevier, Oxford, p. 101.
  15. Halibozek, E.P., Jones, A. and Kovacich, G.L. (2008) The corporate security professional's handbook on terrorism, Elsevier, Oxford, p. 111.
  16. Nixon, W.B. and Kerr, K.M. (2008) Background screening and investigations: managing hiring risk from the HR and Security Perspective, Elsevier, Oxford, pp. 8-13.
  17. Schramm, J. (2005) “Background Checking”, HR Magazine Vol. 50, No.1 (January 2005), p. 128.
  18. Anderson, N. (2001) Handbook of Industrial, Work and Organizational Psychology: Organizational Psychology, 2nd ed. Sage, London, p. 345-68.
  19. Grote, R.C. (1996) The complete guide to performance appraisal, Amacom, New York, p. 351
  20. Sashkin, M. and Kiser, K.J. (1993) Putting total quality management to work: what TQM means, how to use it & how to sustain it over long run, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco, p. 94.
  21. Lemak, D.J., Reed, R, & Satish, P.K. (1997), Commitment to total quality management: Is there a relationship with firm performance? Journal of Quality Management, (2)1, pp. 67-86.
  22. Human Resources Procedures for Employee Management, editors and printers (2008), Bizmanualz, p. 263.


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