A Brief History of the Employment Interview

By Posted in - Interviewing on November 19th, 2014 1 Comments

Early History – Ancient Selection Techniques

Selection decisions no doubt have been made since the beginning of time. Making such decisions using selection techniques has a shorter history but still dates back to ancient times. The earliest record likely is in the Indian political treatise called Arthasatra. This treatise, written in 4th  century BC, described a rigorous process for the selection of ministers, priests and government employees. Aristotle and Plato suggested the use of measures of physical prowess for the selection of soldiers. While there are some early references of the use of selection techniques, most psychological methods for measuring individual differences did not appear until the 1800’s.
It is not certain when the employment interview was developed. Many scholars link the origin of the employment interview to Thomas Edison. Edison was faced with the dilemma of having hundreds of applicants who wished to work with him. He needed some way to identify the best of the many so he devised a series of 150 questions to evaluate their knowledge. Some of the questions were relevant to the job being sought but many were more esoteric and related to areas of general knowledge. Few applicants could answer all the questions and Edison had developed a way of differentiating and selecting candidates from a large pool.

Other industry leaders began developing their own employment questions which eventually evolved into the employment interview process in use today.

Modern Times – The Employment Interview Process

During modern times, the employment interview was researched extensively to identify the most effective interviewing approach. This research has clearly shown unstructured interviews are little better than flipping a coin while structured behavioral interviews are one of the most powerful selection tools in use today. The behavioral interview is the most well-known and researched example of a structured interview.
The key assumption of behavioral interviews is that past behavior predicts future behavior. In a behavioral interview, the interviewer attempts to elicit descriptions of specific behaviors that were taken in past situations that closely parallel the challenges that will be faced in the job. The interviewer is not interested in how a candidate generally behaves or would behave in a hypothetical situation but wants specific examples of actions taken in specific circumstances that the candidate has faced in the past.

The Future – Blended Interviews

The behavioral interview still has its problems including potential negative interviewer or candidate reactions and an awkward process flow. Behavioral interviews do not flow naturally as part of a normal conversation about the person and the job. The interview follows an overly formal process that is very different than how people would normally communicate and behavioral questions without a proper context can make it difficult to establish and maintain rapport with the candidate. The behavioral interview needs to evolve.

The Blended Interview is likely the next stage in the history of the modern employment interview. The Blended Interview utilizes a variety of question types in addition to behavioral questions. Behavioral questions are still at the heart of this process but the other question types are used to:

  • Establish rapport and put the candidate at ease which makes for a more productive interview
  • Provide a conversational flow and context for asking behavioral questions
  • Obtain better and more complete behavioral responses to the behavioral questions
  • The Blended Interview blends various question types in a natural conversational flow to:
  • Collect the best behavioral information possible
  • Generate a full view of the candidate
  • Provide a superior candidate interviewing experience

Contact OMNIview to find out more about Blended Interviews.

Patrick Hauenstein, Ph.D.

About Patrick Hauenstein, Ph.D.

Patrick Hauenstein is the President and Chief Science Officer for OMNIview. During his free time Pat likes to cook. He is particularly fond of traditional southern cuisine. Pat is also an animal lover ...
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