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The case studies in Rethinking Interviewing and Personnel Selection find support for Herriot (1993, 2003) and Fletcher's (1997, 2003) claims that the selection interview is a social process which may gain from a degree of semi-structured interaction with candidates.




Almost everyone is interviewed for a job. In many cases, the process and outcome has influenced what we do, where we work, what we earn, how we are viewed by others and how we regard ourselves. Hence, it is not surprising that there is a vast literature on personnel selection and how to interview.

Teresa Carla Oliveira

1. What Selection Theory Claims

Mainstream selection theory is normative in claiming that an interview should be premised only on overt criteria; that managers as selectors should rely only on inference from candidates’ attributes and avoid sensing, feeling or intuition in decision-making. Such theory is the ‘highway code’ of selection methods. In particular, no interviewer should ‘go it alone’ and trail ‘off road’ in semi-structured or unstructured dialogue with candidates that may involve questions not put to all of them in the same way.

Teresa Carla Oliveira

2. Who Knows for a Fact?

One of the claims for modern social science is that it infers from facts. Some of this stems from the positivism of Auguste Comte, who argued that there were three stages in the evolution of knowledge — fictions, as in myths; metaphysics, as in speculative philosophy; and scientific theories, based on evidence. Yet Comte qualified claims to know something ‘for a fact’ and warned against assuming to do so rather than allowing for a high degree of scepticism. He submitted that the proper function of intellect was the service of society, was critical of mathematical modelling, claiming that algebra could as readily usurp rather than enhance understanding, and declared that if a theorem was not approached in the same way as a poem, it could deprive us of our humanity (Comte, 1848, 1865; Muglioni, 1996).

Teresa Carla Oliveira

3. Yet How Do We Know?

The previous chapter drew on Gestalt psychology to suggest that one of the reasons for the hold of an intellectual paradigm is that people may be disposed to view the same phenomenon in different ways. This chapter indicates that the hold of a paradigm may also be embedded in ‘the matter of the mind’. It outlines findings from left and right hemispheric brain functioning, which demonstrate that the left hemisphere both can be premise constrained and can ‘confabulate’ or invent its own ‘virtual reality’ while displacing or denying right hemispheric sensing, feeling or intuition that the paradigm is dysfunctional.

Teresa Carla Oliveira

4. What’s the Logic?

Managers are always being called upon to justify their decisions. Just claiming that something ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ will rarely suffice unless it works. Hence, for decades, there has been a preoccupation with various forms of modelling on a ‘rational’ basis. Yet Henry Mintzberg (1975) found 40 years ago that few top managers use sophisticated models or information systems of any kind. Most relied on what they heard from others rather than what was set out in databases or information sheets or explicitly modelled. Further, very few wrote down what they heard, so that ‘the strategic data bank of the organisation is not in the memory of its computers, but locked deep in the minds of its managers’ (ibid., p. 10).

Teresa Carla Oliveira

5. Where’s the Proof?

Normative selection theory is enamoured by predictors. As with economics, these give it the claim to be a science rather than an art. By contrast, Keynes (1936) warned that the mathematical basis for prediction does not exist either in economics or politics or in personal life. Pareto (1909), an engineer, sociologist and economist, gave the same warning, though many economists citing him have displaced this (Oliveira & Holland, 2012). Hume (1739, 1740) stressed that prediction is hazardous and claimed that proof of cause and effect is impossible. Popper (1957, 1959) argued that one can only falsify, not verify.

Teresa Carla Oliveira

6. Why Dismiss Intuition?

Intuition is the Cinderella of social science, associated with sub-rational unstructured thought, devoid of logic or rules. This has also gained lexical authority. Intuition has been defined as ‘immediate apprehension by the mind by sense or by senses without the intervention of reasoning; direct or immediate insight, an act of intuition separate from logic’ (Oxford Shorter Dictionary, vol. I, p. 1407).

Teresa Carla Oliveira

7. Interviewing and Psychological Contract

As outlined earlier, a leading advocate of normative interviewing, Dipboye, has submitted that interviewers should eliminate extraneous conversation with candidates and explain to them that they cannot ask questions (Dipboye, 1996). By contrast with this approach, Herriot (1993) and Fletcher (1997) have recommended that interviewing should be a social process of mutual interaction.

Teresa Carla Oliveira

8. Tacit Knowledge and Implicit Learning

Previous chapters have made claims for the importance of tacit knowledge and implicit learning. They have cited the case of Nonaka and others that tacit knowledge can be surfaced through discourse (Nonaka, 1994; Nonaka & Takeuchi, 1995; Ichijo & Nonaka 2007). They have recognised that there has been challenge to this from Akbar (2003) and Gourlay (2006), who have claimed that any ‘know how’ combines both tacit and explicit knowing domains. They also have allowed that there is a debate on how implicit is implicit learning (Berry, 1993).

Teresa Carla Oliveira

9. Rethinking Selection Theory

Previous chapters have recognised that normative theory is the ‘high road’ of personnel selection. No one should go ‘off road’, traverse uncharted terrain and start asking supplementary questions of one candidate rather than others. Selectors should conduct interviews in the same way for all candidates. Fractal rather than general indications of candidates’ attributes should not be followed up. Selectors should stick to the normative ‘Highway Code’.

Teresa Carla Oliveira

10. What Managers Have in Mind

Earlier chapters have stressed the importance of structured methods in selection procedures but questioned the normative presumption in favour only of structured interviewing. The case study B reported in this chapter were with managers in a European broadcasting company which modelled its selection procedures on those of the British BBC and closely followed the structured procedures for selection recommended in normative theory including pre-interview screening, one-to-one psychometric tests and role-play and trainability assessments.

Teresa Carla Oliveira

11. Power and Panel Interviewing

This chapter illustrates leadership and power dynamics in selection decision-making. It relates this to Henry Mintzberg’s (2006) claim that leadership can be found at any level rather than only at higher levels in organisations. It does so with reference to the earlier conceptual framework of conscious and unconscious logic, as well as to theories of position power, latent expert power, and operational power and also to Michel Foucault’s (1975, 1978, 1980, 1982, 2002) concept of power-knowledge.

Teresa Carla Oliveira

12. So Where Now?

As stressed from the outset, there is a strong case for structured selection procedures. But not that all interviewing should be structured, but rather should also allow for semi-structured discourse with candidates. Further, if a problem for normative selection theory is that many managers to a greater or lesser degree appear to disregard its recommendation of wholly structured interviewing, the fault may lie less with managers than in the theory, for several reasons.

Teresa Carla Oliveira


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