job interviews
"Who would be invited to your ideal dinner party?" (Image: Unsplash/Tim Gouw)

OFFICIAL DEFINITION

The purpose of a job interview is to allow an employer to evaluate the personal and professional qualities of a potential employee.

RAZER DEFINITION

The purpose of the job interview today is as it was at the time of its creation: largely for the amusement of the employer. Originally, Thomas Edison. Although notoriously devout in the creation of his own myth as an inventor, it does seem likely that Edison introduced a crucial nuisance to 20th-century recruitment: the psychometric test.

In 1921, The New York Times reported on the letters of complaint received from “victims” of the employment test, one of whom decried the ordeal not as a “Tom Edison test” but a test of Tom Foolery. “What is the first line in The Aeneid?” he wanted to know. Of cabinet makers, the polymath would ask, “Who was the Roman emperor when Jesus Christ was born?”

Nikola Tesla really ought to have kicked that bloke’s arse.

WHY IT MATTERS

Job interview techniques matter most to the people paid to “reinvent” them in Business and Management Schools. There is very little research indicating that formal or informal interview techniques are useful in predicting job performance. There is a good deal written by scholars and in popular press about the uselessness of job interviews. Nonetheless, the darn things persist.

They persist, and they persist in reinforcing rather than counteracting cultural prejudices. Until the scientistic veneer pioneered by Edison, and by psychologist Robert S. Woodworth, is displaced  from the process, employers will continue to justify their choice of candidates with shonky tests and hoity toity terms, like “cultural fitness”.

Notwithstanding that Edison’s original test was chiefly intended as (another) project of Edison-aggrandisement, the Western 20th century did demand some form of instrumentalised recruitment. Physical fitness had been the only requirement to secure unskilled paid work in the industrial age. With the rise of knowledge or white-collar work, new mass techniques were required. We just haven’t come up with anything good, yet.

WHO CARES?

In a time of underemployment and wealth inequality, the job interview can tend to reveal its inadequacies more readily to cash- and time-poor candidates. The process is, correctly, perceived by many job seekers less as an obstacle to overcome or a battle to win and more as a charade to endure. Thus, it is in the interests of the well-funded business and management departments at universities or the well-paid human resources executive to make the thing most of us know is a joke appear meaningful, lest we all laugh them out of their bullshit jobs.

The job interview process is risible. Not only is the indignity inflicted on casual labourers seeking low-skill work such as telemarketing, but it is imposed often in a “group interview” setting with the one-size-fits-most language of the Leadership Industry trickling down to minimum wage workers.

RELEVANT FACTS

  • A 2009 field audit conducted by the Australian National University found that the cultural origin of an applicant’s name affected the chance of being granted a job interview. Applicants with Chinese names were the most significantly overlooked.   
  • Yale University psychologists published a study in 2013 suggesting that the dominant conversational interview style is a poor predictor of job performance.  
  • Anecdata suggests the question most often asked in English language job interviews to be: “What is your greatest weakness?” Instinct suggests the applicant should make no reference to their propensity for theft of office supplies.
  • Some research indicates women seeking employment in male-dominated sectors are likely to be interrupted more often during the interview process.

THE LAST WORD

At around the time Edison was devising his idiosyncratic torture test, the Woodworth Psychoneurotic Inventory was introduced. This was initially designed to test World War I recruits for their resistance to shell shock, but became a standard in US white-collar employment until the 1930s.

After World War II, the reckless hits just kept on coming with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Inspired by the nutty Carl Jung and devised by a mother and daughter team of personality hobbyists, the MBTI is the cockroach of psychological fads: it just won’t die. Yet, the widely discredited self-report survey is still used today as an instrument in elite and minimum-wage recruitment.

job interviews
“The tie says ENTP, but the undercut screams INTJ. You’re hired!” (Image: Unsplash/rawpixel)

The predictive power of this recruitment testing may be roughly equivalent to horoscopes, but this can be said of most Western job interview techniques, lately attempting a revival by the use of virtual reality. If there is any purpose at all to job interviews beyond the maintenance of business and management schools, it is to test the tolerance of candidates for the absolute nonsense they will likely endure in the workplace.

FURTHER READING

Brenda L Berkelaar 2017 Different ways new information technologies influence conventional organizational practices and employment relationships: The case of cybervetting for personnel selection

Frontiers in Psychology Editorial: Impression Management and Faking in Job Interviews 2017

Peterson, R (2001). History of Frequent Flyer Programs. WebFlyer, May.

2012 Why workplaces must resist the cult of personality testing The Conversation

Wage slave propaganda from the running dogs at TED Talks (video)

Peter Fray

Help us keep up the fight

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today and get your first 12 weeks for $12.

Cancel anytime.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW