Why Informal Job Interviews Are Worthless

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Searching for insights in an interview is like searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.

Research shows that free-form interviews are overrated, yet many employers still rely on them when deciding whom to hire, writes Jason Dana, an assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management, in an article in The New York Times. Mr. Dana and a team of researchers conducted a job-interview experiment that showed that interviewers put more faith in their own feelings than objective facts. Students interviewed other students and then forecast the future grade-point average of an interviewee based on their interview, the student’s course schedule, and his or her previous GPA, he explains. As an added twist, he secretly instructed some subjects to answer questions randomly. Student interviewers were also asked to predict the success of some students they’d never met, based solely on past GPA and upcoming course schedules, he adds. 

The result? The predictions made on data alone were far more accurate, he and his colleagues found. Curiously, though, the interviewers still prided themselves on being excellent judges of character and insisted that they’d gleaned important insights from the interviews, even when the answers were bogus (which none of them realized), Mr. Dana adds. The takeaway is that interviewers tend to make snap judgments about interviewees and then interpret (or misinterpret) cues from interviews in ways that suit their beliefs, he writes. In fact, informal interviews may reveal more about the interviewers than the candidates, he notes. They’re also a recipe for unconscious bias in hiring and the reason so many organizations clone social inequities without meaning to. That’s why Mr. Dana would like to see unstructured interviews replaced by structured ones, in which candidates are asked the same questions and scored by similar criteria, he says.

Speaking of cloning ...

Not only are managers naturally inclined to hire candidates who resemble them, they’re also apt to pick protégés in their own image, writes Richard Farnell, a doctoral candidate in education at Northeastern University, in an article in the Harvard Business Review. “They see less experienced versions of themselves in these folks, and so they’re inclined to believe in their potential” and “want to nurture it,” he says. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to help someone who reminds you of you, it’s that same impulse that’s fostered decades of discrimination against those who don’t fit the dominant mold, he writes. It’s up to managers to reach across gender, racial, and social lines and “help close that gap,” Mr. Farnell says. If you’re not mentoring people beyond your demographic, you might be marginalizing employees from diverse backgrounds and missing out on their talents and contributions, Mr. Farnell concludes.

Why you shouldn’t discount your elders.

Americans tend to think inventiveness fades with age, but a recent article in The New York Times suggests the opposite may be true. John Goodenough is a case in point, writes Pagan Kennedy, the author of Inventology: How We Dream Up Things That Change the World and a contributing opinion writer for the newspaper. At 57, he helped create the lithium-ion battery; now, at 94, he’s about to patent a battery that could wind up being “so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles,” she notes. Sadly, people like Mr. Goodenough often encounter ageism, especially in technical fields, she writes, adding that the frat-boy culture of Silicon Valley has only gotten younger and cockier. Yet a plethora of research suggests that talent ages like fine wine. Research from the U.S. and Japan shows that more patents are filed by 40-somethings, while seniors 55 and up generate “the highest-value patents,” she writes. Likewise, a look at Nobel physics laureates since the ‘80s shows that many of them hit their stride around age 50, Ms. Kennedy adds. She points out that speculators have long thought Mr. Goodenough might be in the running for a Nobel Prize, and should he get the nod, he’d be the oldest laureate yet. I wouldn’t bet against him.

Women, interrupted

Tired of having guys talk over you at work? You’re not the only one. It seems that even female Supreme Court justices can’t get a word in around their male colleagues. A new study out of Northwestern University examined the number of times justices were cut off in oral arguments and found that male justices interrupted female justices three times more than they did each other, a post on the SCOTUSblog notes. In 2015, almost 66 percent of the interruptions were aimed at Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor, the authors observe. They also found that conservative justices talked over their liberal colleagues at more than twice the rate that liberal ones did, the post concludes.

Meanwhile, Claire Zillman, a writer at Fortunesuggests the study may offer a lesson for women on dealing with men who interject too much. According to Zillman, the researchers noticed that “as women spent more time on the court,” they stopped using deferential language that invited other justices to “jump in” and adopted a more assertive speaking style — adding that both Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were interrupted less frequently over the long haul as a result: “They cut back on a tendency to pose questions politely with prefatory words and phrases like ‘sorry,’ ‘may I ask,’ ‘can I ask,’ ‘excuse me,’ or by addressing the advocate by name,” she writes.

Short Takes

Don’t let them steal your joy.

In a recent Vitae column, Raina Leon, an associate professor of education at Saint Mary’s College of California, described a dehumanizing encounter with a student who directed a racial slur at her that left her reeling: “That's when I heard it. One word. The most toxic word. I have been called it before but not for many years. Nigger.” The experience was a sad and potent reminder of what it means to be dark-skinned in America, and that even as a respected professor, one must still contend with being defined by skin color, she explains.

The pathway to the college presidency is changing, and a new report explains how.

Serving as provost used to be a routine stop on the way to the president’s office, but many deans are now skipping that step, an article in The Chronicle notes.

Is your baby biased?

Recent studies show that children have absorbed some gender and racial stereotypes by the time they’re in kindergarten, but new research suggests that bias may actually begin in infancy, an article in the Daily Mail reports.

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