Rate Your Candidates Against an Ideal

Picture yourself at the end of a long day of interviewing candidates for your faculty position. The last three interviews have been successively worse, and you are dreading the final interview.

“I’m pleased to meet you. I’m Joan,” the last candidate says in a friendly manner, smiles and clasps your hand with one firm shake. You sit up a little straighter. Already Joan is better than the last candidate, whose bone crushing handshake left your hand sore throughout his interview. Joan is dressed professionally in a blue suit—again, she’s looking better than the last three candidates, one of whom had certainly attracted the eyes of the men on the panel with her low cut blouse and ultra short skirt, and another of whom had worn the most garish suit ever.

Halfway through the interview you are ready to extend on offer to her. When she leaves the room, you look at the other interviewers and say, “She’s got my vote.” They nod with enthusiasm except for one, who shakes his head
slowly. “She was terrific. But we said we wanted someone with a background in Spanish literature, which she doesn’t have. The first guy this morning specialized in Spanish lit, and he interviewed well, too.”

A contrast effect can spuriously influence candidate ratings. An average candidate who follows two outstanding candidates may be rated “below average” while that same average candidate could be considered “above average”
if she or he followed two unsatisfactory candidates.

Rather than rating candidates against each other, create an image of your ideal candidate and rate each interviewee against that ideal. In this way your first candidate and your last candidate, and all those in between, are measured against your needs for the position, and not against each other.

Dindy Robinson is Director of Compensation at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas.

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