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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Uniqueness Effect in Selection Interviews

Summary and Commentary by: Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

It is a known factor that gender, physical appearance and race can influence an interviewers evaluation, whether intentional or unintentional. Studies have also shown that interviewers tend to prefer applicants that are similar to themselves. The contrast effects also impacts interviews where candidates are evaluated based on preceding interviews.  Roulin et.al. (2011) has decided to introduce a new bias called the "uniqueness effect".

The uniqueness effect was first introduced by Sndyer and Fromkin in 1977. Roulin et. al. (2011) has taken their definition and adapted it to personnel selection. Roulin et. al. define the uniqueness effect as "the effect of an applicant's distinctive characteristics or answers on recruiter's evaluations and decisions in the selection process (p.44)."

79 participants were recruited from a swiss university. 85% of the participants were masters students and 15% were senior bachelor students. Participants were asked to read one of two types of job descriptions, a creative position (marketing) and a less creative position (accounting). Following reviewing the descriptions, participants read four transcribed answers to interview questions. The transcriptions were obtained from four mock interviews from male job seekers. Questions included:

  1. Tell me about yourself
  2. What is your main weakness?
Question one included responses of equal values. Three applicants gave non-unique answers to question two and one provided a unique answer. After reviewing the Q&A, participants evaluated the answers based on quality, job-related competence and the likelihood of termination for each applicant on a 6 point likert scale. Participants were also asked to select one applicant to hire.

The researchers conducted a 2 X 2 X 2 factorial plan to analyze results using a within-subjects methodology. A main effect was present for uniqueness, F(1,75) = 8.94, p < .01, in which unique applicants were rated higher than (M = 4.25) than non-unique applicants (M = 3.81). Job type (creative vs. non-creative) also produced a main effect, F(1,75) = 10.0, p = .002, which creative jobs recieving lower evaluations (M = 3.81) than non-creative jobs (M = 4.14). Results compared unique candidates to non-unique candidates are demonstrated in Figure 1. Figure 2 demonstrates the hiring choice for unique applicants in job type.

Several limitations to the study are present. More specifically, all participants were students and therefore are more likely to place more emphasis on academic background than job qualifications. Furthermore, the study is limited to the swiss culture and therefore may not be applicable to all cultures. 

The study demonstrates that providing unique responses to an interview may increase one's attractiveness as an applicant. However, HR professionals must question if this a positive or negative. Uniqueness does ensure that the candidate is not providing a "cookie-cutter" answer but it also risk being less applicable to the job. Unique answers can be effectively evaluated by incorporating anchors into the interview. This assists managers is effectively evaluating the answers. It also ensures that unique answers are tracked and recorded for further debate. Furthermore, using anchors will reduce the likelihood of similarity effects or contrasts effects. 

Quality of an answer is far more predictive of performance instead of unique answers. Therefore, the downside of unique responses is that it may not be representative of the skills needed to be successful in the job. This once again reinforces the need for anchored responses. While a unique answer may be easily recalled, using anchors ensures that responses are scored based on the required knowledge, skills and abilities. 

Source: Roulin, N., Bangerter, A., Yerly, E. (2011). The uniqueness effect in selection interviewing. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 10 (1), 43-47.