Does interview order affect whether I get hired?

Does interview order affect whether I get hired?


interview orderI’m a finalist for a position. I have already had a one-hour phone interview and a two-hour in-person interview. One more interview to go, and it will be four hours split among four people. I have a two-week window to choose from and wasn’t sure if I want to be one of the early ones, or one of the later ones. I think you could make a case for either. What’s your advice about how I can use interview order to get an edge?

Nick’s Reply

I have long contended that it’s not good hiring practice to interview too many job candidates, especially on the same day. The more people a manager interviews, the less likely the manager will be able to distinguish them, especially if the meetings occur all in one day. But your question is actually a good one because of how our memories work, and because memory affects the choices we make — including how managers select new hires.

Interview order and memory

In the study of human memory, there’s something called the serial position effect. Research has shown that when we memorize a long list of words, we tend to remember the very first ones (the primacy effect) and the last ones (recency effect) better than those in between.

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Cognitive psychologists suspect this is true because we have two kinds of memory stores: long term and short term. Short term memory helps us remember words we saw most recently. Long term memory helps us remember words from longer ago — the first words from a list.

The mechanism is believed to work like this. We have more time to consign the earliest words to long term memory, so they’re more available for recall.  We remember the most recent ones because they’re still in short term memory. Words in the middle of the list are too recent to make it into long term memory and too “old” to still be in short term memory, so we tend forget them.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to apply the serial position effect to job interviews, but I think it presents a provocative choice to job applicants.

Can interview order help you stand out?

I think your slot in the interview schedule could be meaningful. But it’s not as simple as first and last candidates having the best chances of getting hired because, of course, there are so many factors at play. A candidate in the middle may interview brilliantly and thus be the most memorable, or if you are the last candidate and you royally bungle your interview the manager will remember to reject you! Or, an excellent early candidate may set the standard for all the rest and thus have an edge.

My answer about which day in a two-week schedule to select depends on too many unknowns. I’d pick a time that’s good for you and don’t worry about it. It’s far more important to focus on being ready to demonstrate how you’ll do the job in a way that truly gets the manager’s attention and makes you memorable. I think that’s the most reliable way to give yourself an edge.

Does when you interview really matter?

So, why did I bother discussing the serial position effect and then suggest it might not give you an advantage after all? It turns out there’s some provocative research specifically about this memory effect in hiring — and I want to know what other readers’ experiences have been and what everyone thinks!

Please read this brief Seattle Times article about whether interview order can give you an advantage in job interviews. Then let’s discuss whether it really matters and how.

Have you been hired because you were the first or the last? Given a choice, would you take the first interview slot or the last? Do you believe that when you’re in the middle interview schedule you’re less likely to be hired? Let’s hear your real-life experiences!

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