The “Curse” of Being the Last to Interview
You may think your MBA interview performance is based entirely on what transpires as you converse with your interviewer, but new research suggests otherwise.
In fact, the score you receive may have more to do with who else was interviewed that day than the overall strength of the applicant pool, according to a recent paper published in the journal Psychological Science, and also covered this week in Knowledge@Wharton’s article, “Why Being the Last to Interview of the Day Could Crush Your Chances.”
Rather than evaluating applicants in comparison with all of the applicants who had been or would be interviewed, Uri Simonsohn of The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania and Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School hypothesized that interviewers would only consider them in the context of applicants interviewed on that day, a phenomenon referred to as “narrow bracketing”, which is when an individual makes a decision without taking into account the consequences of many similar choices.
An interviewer who has already highly recommended three applicants on a given day may be reluctant to do so for a fourth applicant, the study’s authors found.
On a five-point scale, with five being the best possible score, a similarly qualified applicant who interviewed on the tail end of his top-scoring competition got lower scores overall than what he or she would have otherwise received. Conversely, those who interviewed after a group of weaker competitors got better than expected evaluations. The data covered more than 9,000 interviews done by 31 interviewers, none of whom were alumni.
“For instance, an interviewer who expects to evaluate positively about 50% of applicants in a pool may be reluctant to evaluate positively many more or fewer than 50% of applicants on any given day. An applicant who happens to interview on a day when several others have already received a positive evaluation would, therefore, be at a disadvantage,” Simonsohn and Gino write.
Interviews occurring earlier in the day had a negative impact on the assessments for the interviews that followed; if the interviewer had already given several high scores, the next score was likely to be lower. This held true even after various applicant characteristics and interview characteristics were taken into account.
“People are averse to judging too many applicants high or low on a single day, which creates a bias against people who happen to show up on days with especially strong applicants,” Simonsohn and Gino observe. The authors were surprised by the overall strength of their findings. “We were able to document this error with experts who have been doing the job for years, day in and day out.”
For b-school applicants, Simonsohn says his findings aren’t going to be of much strategic help. “There’s no magic in this for the user,” he notes. “You can’t see who you’re competing against and often can’t control the timing of your interview…. When the candidates are spread out over weeks and weeks, your competition is the entire applicant pool and not a subset of that. But in reality, your competition is drawn from two pools — everyone and the other applicants who get interviewed that day.”
Read the original paper at: Daily Horizons: Evidence of Narrow Bracketing in Judgment from 10 years of MBA-admission Interviews