Perception is defined as the process of acquiring, selecting, interpreting and organising stimuli hitting our senses. Selection of a stimulus depends on the circumstance, external factors and internal factors. Interpretation is a filtering mechanism which judges the importance of a particular stimulus and based on the interpretation of the stimulus we react (Martin,J,1998,p 37-49). While interacting with another individual also, we form our opinion about the other’s motives, attitudes, behavior on the basis of our observation of the other’s behavior.
This interpretation of another’s behavior is often based on attribution based on our past experiences and comparison with other persons behavior. Attributions may be external or internal, where the former tells us something about the situation and the latter something about the individual. Whether a behavior is the reason of external or internal factors depends on whether an individual displays different behaviors in different situations, secondly on how many persons display the same behavior in the same situation and thirdly whether there is consistency in the individual’s behavior.
An interview is the oldest and popular method used by organizations wherein the influence of perception is maximum. An interview can be defined as an opportunity for both the applicant and the organization to gather information about each other. They are tools that measure cognitive ability, job knowledge, social skills and most importantly person-organization fit. Interviews can be unstructured, focused or semi-structured or structured interviews.
Unstructured interview consists of communicative discussion between the interviewer and the applicant which is not planned, does not have a specific direction, is not controlled, flexible and has no format. It takes its own course and is not very reliable as the interviewer cannot compare the abilities of two applicants. Focused interviews structured interviews that are planned and have a specific direction but are flexible. They have a specific format as regards the main topics that need to covered and thus fulfills the objective of the interview.
In Structured interviews the topics, questions and answers are all preset and where the interviewer asks a standard set of questions and the interviewee is expected to answer those questions. The entire process cannot be modified (Searle,2003,p 104-105). Though interviews are a popular method of personnel selection, they are not completely valid as they are often influenced by various factors that reduce its validity. However, prior to discussing each of these factors affecting perception, it is important to realise what are the basic determining factors in an interview.
The first include the background of both the interviewer and interviewee, namely, sex, race, creed, etc. The second are the attitudes, values, ethics, expectations and motivations of both the interviewer and interviewee. Thirdly, the behavior and prior experiences of both the interviewer and interviewee play an important role in determining the actual result of the interview. In addition to these factors, details regarding the job, the organization, previous interviews affect the perception of both the parties while deciding.
These determinants play a very important role in personal perception and thus lead to errors in perception. These errors include attribution error, stereotyping, halo effect, projection and selective perception. Attribution errors are broadly divided into fundamental attribution error where the person’s internal factors are given more importance then the external factors and self serving bias where internal factors are given more importance then external ones.
The second error in perception is stereotyping, which simply put means generalization of behavior on the basis of the group that he/she is a member of. Another error in perception is our tendency to stretch one good quality in an individual as all pervasive, thereby making that individual totally suitable for a particular task even if he/she is not. This is called the “Halo Effect”, wherein a positive attribute in an individual makes the person good in all respects. The reverse of this is called the “Horns Effect”, wherein one negative attribute negates all good qualities in an individual.
Another perceptual error occurs when we try to judge the world with our own yardstick. In other words, we sincerely believe that the other individual feels and acts just like ourselves. Finally individuals have a tendency of only registering those stimuli that an individual wants to and ignoring those that are not important from the individual’s point of view and this leads to perceptual errors. Various researchers have conducted many studies on these perceptual errors made by interviewers in the context of job interviews.
According to their studies, there is a strong negative bias on the part of the interviewer to the extent that the interviewer will look for information that will necessarily disqualify a candidate as the interviewer wants the person to be successful in the job and wants to reduce all chances that the person might not and hence even one unfavorable impression of the interviewee can lead to him/her being rejected. Also similarity between the interviewer and interviewee leads to perceived similarity in attitudes and values and thus the interviewer might be positively biased towards to interviewee.
In fact in such a situation, this similarity should enable the interviewer to make a correct judgement about the candidate and not affect the decision on the basis of bias (Who should conduct job interviews? , 2004). Many studies have also concluded that applicants are reviewed on the basis of other applicants rather than on their individual capabilities. The interviewer’s mood also plays an important role in decision making so also the flow of information during an interview. Studies also show that the interviewers make their decisions within the first few minutes of the interview.
Another study by Herriot (1989) states that most interviewers readily assume that a person’s behavior during an interview is a correct indication of how that person will behave on the job. This assumption is based solely on the individual’s behavior and temperament and the situation under which he/she behaves in a particular manner is not considered. Hence there is an error in perception on the part of the interviewer. Such errors of perception can be reduced primarily by trying to maintain impartiality.
This can be done by firstly changing the tone of negative comments to neutral ones, secondly by both the interviewer and interviewee focusing on common interests and thirdly by acknowledging each others feelings and interests. Another way to reduce the error is by exchanging roles and understanding the others predicament as this leads to a better understanding and mutual respect between both the parties. Reliability and validity of the interview process has been a major problem in the interview process.
To improve the reliability and validity of the interview process primarily interviews conducted must be structured as then the interviewees are compared on the same scale. Secondly, the questions asked should be job specific as this would help the interviewer understand whether the interviewee would be successful in that particular job. A common scoring system by which the interviewer can compare and contrast all the interviewees on the basis of whether a particular response was good or bad depending on how they scored on the score card ensures that the selection criteria is fixed and structured, thereby leaving no scope for ambiguity.
Trained interviewers will also go a long way in ensuring a valid interview so also having more than one interviews or a panel of interviewers. Performance based interviews should be conducted (Problems with interview process, 2005). A very recent example of attribution error has been in the post integration situation in Hong Kong. One of the primary reasons for this is the differences of economy of both China and Hong Kong. Hong Kong under British rule had flourished to establish various business enterprises internationally.
China on the other hand continued to be traditional due to its traditional governing systems. The integration process resulted in a lot of mainland Chinese immigrating to Hong Kong in search of better opportunities and a higher standard of living. The immigrants largely consisted of persons from the labor class mainly unskilled or semi skilled and very few were professionals. These immigrants were compared with the existing Chinese in any job selection process.
The fact that they were immigrants from China and that they were not adequately trained played an important role in the selection process as they were socially excluded and discriminated by the existing Chinese (Kam-yee, Law ; Kim-ming, Lee, 2006). The entire discussion as laid out above prove that biases and prejudices play an important role in decision making, more so while selecting suitable candidates. Proper training and proper selection of interviewers can go a long way in reducing such errors of perception.
Kam-yee, Law; Kim-ming, Lee (2006).Citizenship, economy and social exclusion of mainland Chinese immigrants in Hong Kong (1). Retrieved 2nd February 2007 from http://www. accessmylibrary. com/coms2/summary_0286-16050951_ITM Martin, J (1998). Organizational Behavior. (1st Ed. ) International Thomson Business Press: Kent, 36-49. Problems with interview process (2005). Retrieved 2nd February 2007 from http://www. macgregornet. com/news/detail/000000044/employer/ Searle, R (2003). Selection & Recruitment A Critical Text. The Open University: Keynes, Who should conduct job interviews? (2004). Retrieved 2nd February 2007 from http://www. dattnerconsulting. com/who. html