Improving Employment Interviews

Psychologists help transform employment interviews from a nearly worthless experience into one that does a good job of predicting job performance.


For over 50 years, psychologists criticized employment interviews on the grounds that they were subjective, subject to bias, and most important, poor predictors of future job performance. Hundreds of studies of the employment interview had led most industrial psychologists to conclude that they were nearly worthless and that interviews often did more harm than good. In the 1980's, psychologists Gary Latham, PhD, Lise Saari, PhD, Elliot Pursell, PhD, and Michael Campion, PhD, suggested that interviews could be improved by providing structure, specifically by focusing the employment interview on questions that highlighted the interviewee's ability to make good judgments in a variety of situations. Industrial psychologist Tom Janz, PhD, suggested another strategy for structuring employment interviews, by focusing on descriptions of past behavior rather than responses to hypothetical future situations.

Reviews of research on interviewing suggest that both of these structuring approaches work well, and that the problem with typical employment interviews is their lack of consistency and structure rather than their inherent invalidity. A variety of strategies for imposing structure have been suggested, including providing interviewers with scripts and standard sets of questions, developing scoring guides for interviewee responses, and using multiple interviews. All of these methods appear to help in improving the usefulness and fairness of employment interviews.


Virtually every employer uses interviews to make decisions about which applicants to hire, and prior to the development of structured interviews, it was widely believed that these interviews had little effectiveness and that they had tremendous potential for discrimination and bias. Reviews of research on structured interviews shows that virtually any method of imposing structure contributes to the effectiveness of employment interviews, and structured interviews typically show less of a tendency to discriminate on the basis of race than is sometimes shown by cognitive ability tests and other valid methods of making selection decisions.

Practical Application

Millions of employment interviews are carried out each year; virtually every American who enters the workforce will go through at least one employment interview and often many. From the 1930's through the 1980's, the only advice psychologists could give to employers and employees was to be wary of the interview, advice that was neither helpful nor accepted. Since the development and validation of structured methods of interviewing, psychologists have been able to give well-validated, practical advice to employers that allows them to conduct interviews that do a good job predicting future performance, and that are less subjective and less prone to bias than the unstructured interviews used prior to that time.

Cited Research

Campion, M. A., Palmer, D. K., & Campion, J. E. (1997). A review of structure in the selection interview. Personnel Psychology, Vol. 50, pp. 655-702.

Campion, M. A., Pursell, E. D., & Brown, B. K. (1988). Structured interviewing: Raising the psychometric properties of the employment interview. Personnel Psychology, Vol. 41, pp. 25-42.

Hunter, J. E., & Hunter, R. F. (1984). Validity and utility of alternate predictors of job performance. Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 96, pp. 72-98.

Janz, T. (1982). Initial comparisons of patterned behavior description interviews versus unstructured interviews. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 67, pp. 577-582.

Latham, G. P., Saari, L. M., Pursell, E. D., & Campion, M. A. (1980). The situational interview. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 65, pp. 422-427.

Wiesner, W. H., & Cronshaw, S. F. (1988). A meta-analytic investigation of the impact of interview format and degree of structure on the validity of the interview. Journal of Occupational Psychology, Vol. 61, pp. 275-290.

American Psychological Association, May 20, 2004