Why Focus Is So Important During Job Interviews

Posted on August 3rd 2014

Why Focus Is So Important During Job Interviews
Recruitment is a tough job, and one that few organizations can really safely say that they nail.  I know there’s a strong argument, especially with open innovation proving so fruitful, that organizations should widen their horizons a little and simply look to secure the best talent as and when they need it, however that is done, but there persists a strong desire amongst organizations to have the right people on their payroll 24/7.

A big part of this process therefore is attempting to sell your organization to the best and the brightest as a great place for them to work.  New research suggests that when recruiters enter that ‘selling’ frame of mind, it may end up doing more harm than good.

The research saw participants asked to conduct an interview with a person that was applying for a fictional position.  The group was divided into two according to their priorities, with one group told to get a good judgement on the applicant, whilst the other group were told to focus more on attracting the applicant to the company.

At the end of the interview, the interviewer was asked to compile a judgement of each candidate according to the Core Self Evaluation (CSE), which is a measure of self-esteem and belief in ones competence.  This measure was used as it is believed to be a good predictor of job performance.

The researchers were hoping to test whether a lack of focus on the task at hand (in this case judging each candidate) would cause us to succumb to biases or miss things that would ordinarily be obvious.  It’s all a part of what’s known as inattentional blindness, which was famously highlighted in the clip of a person in an ape costume walking through a basketball game without anyone noticing.

The experiment showed that this was indeed the case with job interview situations whereby interviewers were distracted by the task of also selling their organization to each candidate.  The results showed that those interviewers tasked with this job were poorer judges of character than those who were purely asked to judge each candidate.

A second experiment then tested this hypothesis in real-world examples involving MBA and teaching applications.  In both, candidates with high CSE were rated as highly likely to go onto success, but only when that rating had been delivered by an interviewer who had focused on evaluation rather than selling.

The authors conclude that “interviewers who focused only on evaluating applicants actually believed they were less able to select the best applicants than those who adopted a selling focus.” As is common with illusory superiority bias, the reverse was actually the case.  It does raise the challenge of course of how recruiters can both accurately judge abilities whilst also highlighting what great employers they might be.

Maybe the key for that last point can come from the open innovation world, where several studies have highlighted the key ‘sales points’ of giving people interesting and rewarding work, and freedom over how to deliver that work.

Adi Gaskell

Adi Gaskell

A writer on management and social media for sites such as Technorati, Professional Manager, CMI, DZone, Work.com and Social Business News, as well as at my own blog.

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