Job interviewers are nearly always wrong about you

Nowhere are we more anxious about first impressions than a job interview. Here’s the hardest part: studies have found what interviewers think to be an unfair and unrealistic indicator of a candidate’s success.

Employers like to do in-person interviews to “get to know” a candidate, but studies have proven that the impressions they give are as accurate as flipping a coin, and can say more about their employer’s preferences and biases than the interviewee’s abilities.

The New York Times recently highlighted one such study in their argument against the practice.

In “The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews,” researchers discussed how people who predicted students’ success based on just their G.P.A. were more accurate than those who conducted interviews to make their predictions.

In other words, relying on hard data like G.P.A. and teacher recommendations was a better way to understand a candidate than interviews.

Moreover, the study showed we’re bad at knowing when we’re being played.

Half of the interviewees were told to give honest answers to questions, and the other half were told to give random “yes/no” and “this/that” answers to questions.

Interviewers getting random answers actually thought they “got to know” the student candidate more than when the candidates gave them honest answers.

This is how unshakeable our belief in the power of interviews is: Even when the researchers told the interviewers they had been played, the interviewers still didn’t grade the candidates harshly.

So now that we know that we’re never getting rid of them, how can applicants and interviewers better control for these snap judgments?

Why we do first impressions and how we can control them

First, we need to recognize why we make these first impressions. We tell ourselves stories, about ourselves and others, to create a context around the seemingly random events in life.

That search for structure and meaning is so intense that we love building narratives around these interviews, looking to read deeper meaning in surface answers — and in surfaces.

For instance, one study found that we make snap judgments on a person’s trustworthiness based on just their faces.

Tell your own story to prevent others from making one up

To combat interviewers’ preconceived stories, applicants can come in prepared on how to sell their own story, so that it becomes the narrative interviewers remember.

Business Insider says interviewees should go into an interview with “one good story that ‘wow’s” and showcases your talent. Did you spearhead a project? Did you manage a team? Bring those up.

Advice for interviewers: become aware of your biases

Interviewers can make the free-form interview process more fair by controlling for their biases and preconceptions.

How? In an unstructured interview, interviews should ask each candidate the same questions, and judge each one against the others.

This means being aware of the right questions to ask. That could mean chatting less and focusing questions only about job-related skills.

To make sure extroverts and introverts have a fair shot, Inc. Magazine advises interviewers to accommodate the disadvantages in both personalities: “If an extroverted person begins to dominate the conversation, trying to pre-emptively answer the questions they think you might ask, rein them in. Likewise, if an introverted person takes longer to warm up, be patient.”

The takeaway: first impressions do matter, but by accounting for our biases, they can become that much more accurate.