Is It Better to Interview First or Last? (2023)

You are invited to campus for a job interview and asked, 'When can you come in?' Many candidates think they can gain an advantage when employers give them a choice of days and times by exploiting an order bias.

The first candidate to interview might benefit from a committee's primacy bias. The last candidate to interview might benefit from a recency bias.

There are conflicting opinions about this. Many reference a February 2013 article published in Psychological Science by Uri Simonsohn of the Wharton School and Francesca Gino of the Harvard Business School. Based on more than 9,000 M.B.A. interviews over 10 years, the researchers determined that candidates interviewed earlier in the process received a more objective evaluation.

They claim that interviewers engaged in "narrow bracketing," in which evaluators are reluctant to give a high score to a candidate who followed consecutive candidates who also received high scores.

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Still, that doesn't mean you should go first.

"If it was a good day with many good candidates, it's really a bad idea to be the last," Simonsohn told NPR. "But if it was a weak day with many bad candidates, it's a really good idea to go last."

There's no way of knowing the quality of the other candidates or even if the committee will be interviewing other candidates on a particular day, but you can make assumptions based on the anticipated talent pool and the choice of days and times the institution gives you.

Some career experts claim there's a recency bias because the latter candidates are fresh in the minds of the committee and there's no reference point for the first evaluation. But most research indicates that the first AND last have an advantage based on a serial position effect.

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Joe Shaheen, a recruiting consultant and editor of the Human Talent Network, observes that recency and primacy biases depend on the length and complexity of the interview process.

Citing a study published in Human Performance called the "Order Effects in Making Personnel Decision Making," Shaheen identifies two response models, or ways decisions are made in the interview process: step-by-step and end-of-sequence.

Step-by-step evaluations take place incrementally as interviewers develop a view of the candidate. In end-of-sequence, judgment is withheld until the end.

If interviewers must judge a large amount of information quickly, they don't have time to make step-by-step evaluations and they reserve their decision to the end.

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"In that case," Sheehan writes, "the most recent information seems to be the best, and a bias effect occurs toward the most recent interviews in judgment and possibly the most recent candidates interviewed."

But when the interview process covers a long period of time, interviewers become mentally fatigued and rely on their first impression of a given candidate and tend to choose the applicants interviewed earlier in the process.

In the case of a simple and quick interview process, Sheehan concludes, interviewers simply judge quickly, and primacy dominates.

So what does this mean when interviewing for jobs in higher education? The interview process is typically a long one with delays from the academic calendar and assembling committees from multiple functional areas. No matter the way decisions are made, step-by-step or end-of-sequence, that tends to favor the first candidate interview.

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You might gain a slight advantage by being first, but more often than not the distinctiveness of candidates will suppress any order biases.

Although it's interesting to think about what effect order bias might have on your job search, and it's important for those on hiring committees to consider their biases, it's not a factor you have much control over.

Tell us what you think: Is it better to go first or last?


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