Recent research suggests that job interviews not only provide potential employers with irrelevant information, but actually “undercut… the impact of other, more valuable information about interviewees,” according to Jason Dana (Yale), in a recent column in The New York Times. How, if at all, should the hiring of philosophers be affected by these findings?
Here is one experiment that Dana ran:
[W]e had student subjects interview other students and then predict their grade point averages for the following semester. The prediction was to be based on the interview, the student’s course schedule and his or her past G.P.A. (We explained that past G.P.A. was historically the best predictor of future grades at their school.) In addition to predicting the G.P.A. of the interviewee, our subjects also predicted the performance of a student they did not meet, based only on that student’s course schedule and past G.P.A.
In the end, our subjects’ G.P.A. predictions were significantly more accurate for the students they did not meet. The interviews had been counterproductive.
It gets worse. Unbeknown to our subjects, we had instructed some of the interviewees to respond randomly to their questions. Though many of our interviewers were allowed to ask any questions they wanted, some were told to ask only yes/no or this/that questions. In half of these interviews, the interviewees were instructed to answer honestly. But in the other half, the interviewees were instructed to answer randomly. Specifically, they were told to note the first letter of each of the last two words of any question, and to see which category, A-M or N-Z, each letter fell into. If both letters were in the same category, the interviewee answered “yes” or took the “this” option; if the letters were in different categories, the interviewee answered “no” or took the “that” option.
Strikingly, not one interviewer reported noticing that he or she was conducting a random interview. More striking still, the students who conducted random interviews rated the degree to which they “got to know” the interviewee slightly higher on average than those who conducted honest interviews.
Dana writes that “The key psychological insight here is that people have no trouble turning any information into a coherent narrative,” and that this is true even when the information is incorrect. Furthermore, Dana explains how unwilling people are to accept evidence of this sort.
How should this affect hiring in philosophy? Some departments already forego official preliminary conference or video interviews and skip right to campus visits. What are the reasons, if any, for sticking with them? And should there be less interviewing during campus visits, too? Or perhaps none at all?