Having sat through a series of interviews with job candidates (and been on some myself) I have begun to wonder why we take the interview so seriously as part of the job process. I understand that if you’re hiring someone you want to see what they’re like – but I’m curious about how and why the interview is weighted. My concerns about this are multiple.
It advantages people who are comfortable around folks with more power with them, and these people tend to come from advantaged social positions. It suggests that one fairly short moment of interaction can encapsulate a candidate. It allows departments to make decisions on the basis of personality or justify decisions on a brief sense of a person and not a sustained look at their work.
Now I am not (repeat: NOT) calling out my own institution or others I’ve been associated with. I’m curious about the process more generally in the discipline. I’ll throw my own experience out as an example. When I was on the market several people said some variation of the same thing to me: “Once you get an interview, you’re set. You may not be first walking in the door, but you’ll get the job!” This was meant to encourage me. It did. But it also struck me as odd. The translation I took away is, “You have the requisite skills to work the interactional process of the interview”. Or more cynically, “Don’t worry, the process is unfair, but lucky for you its unfair in your favor”. This cynical reading was supported when I was publicly called out (by friends and others online) as being an example of how the process was unfair. I’m not seeking approval here. In fact I somewhat agree with the cynical reading. And that agreement makes me wonder why we prize the interview as strongly as we do.
My more empirical question behind this is how good of a predictor departments actually are in the selection process (in identifying talent). There are obviously huge intervening consecration effects (as well as investments by departments in their selectees, etc). But I wonder about that – I can’t think of a good way to study it; if someone could I think it would be fascinating. I also think about this for college admissions (in my case, they’re selective, but how “good” are they are prediction). But that’s another post.