What we should be teaching in interview training

Every now and again during interview coaching, I will stop and ask the client, “What do you think I’m looking for with that question?”. Having read an article by some organisational psychologists at the University of Zurich (Kleinmann et al., 2011), I’m going to ask that question a lot more.

In various studies these researchers have studied something called ATIC (ability to identify criteria) defined as ‘a person’s ability to correctly perceive performance criteria when participating in an evaluative situation’. Obviously, the more acute your ATIC, the more you can suss out what assessors are looking for in a given selection exercise and thus you can select behaviours designed to demonstrate those qualities. This is likely to be most important in more ambiguous situations where it is not exactly transparent what the assessors are looking for.

They measured individuals’ ATIC by getting them to undergo assessment centre exercises and then asking them to list the dimensions that they thought were being assessed by the exercise and appropriate behaviours related to those dimensions. They then compared candidates’ answers to those of expert evaluators and found that candidates varied in their ability to recognise what was being looked for. They also found that the higher your ability to identify the assessment criteria for a particular exercise or question, the more likely you were to be evaluated highly by selectors against those criteria.

It seems that ATIC isn’t just about how smart you are. Although it correlates somewhat with cognitive ability, it doesn’t appear to be the same thing. It also has something to do with social effectiveness, which includes your ability to pick up on the behaviours and reactions of the people around you and to monitor your own behaviour. In this way it is related to your ‘political skill’.

There are many jobs in which it is highly useful to be able to interpret ambiguous signals about what other people want from you and to adapt your behaviour to deliver what is required. Your ATIC score, therefore, can also be related to how well you perform in such a role and how likely you are to impress your boss. The report authors suggest that assessment centres and structured interviews are reasonably good at predicting future job performance because what they are really measuring is your ability to pick up on what factors people are judging you on.

In the light of this, what changes might you make to the interview and assessment centre coaching you give to clients?

Further reading

Kleinmann, M., Ingold, P., Lievens, F., Jansen, A., Melchers, K. & Konig, C. (2011). A different look at why selection procedures work: The role of candidates’ ability to identify criteria. Organizational Psychology Review, 1(2), 128-146. DOI: 10.1177/2041386610387000

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  1. #1 by Tristram Hooley (@pigironjoe) on 1 September 2011 - 20:36

    This is interesting. I agree with the sentiment but I’m not sure about some of the methods here. The ability to analyse what someone is looking for and to perform within that frame is clearly a very important skill. You could also describe it as the ability to undertand the genre that you are writing/performing in. I’m less sure that you can measure this as a personality attribute. My own experience of devising and measuring against criteria (e.g. managing and marking) has led me to get better at understanding criteria. It seems to me that these are learned skills which it is possible to focus on and develop.

    • #2 by David Winter on 1 September 2011 - 22:17

      Hi Tristram

      You’re absolutely right. The authors define ATIC as an ability and they seem to imply that it can be coached. However, as with most abilities, some people are likely to have more raw talent than others to begin with – or at least their upbringing trained them better to pick up these performance cues.

  2. #3 by London Counselling on 18 September 2011 - 20:49

    Many times while interviewing I have felt like I was in a mind-reading experiment, trying to figure out what was actually wanted, or what the interviewer was actually looking for. For myself, fortunately or unfortunately, I grew up in an unpredictable household and developed a pretty good radar for figuring out what others wanted or expected of me. Would that qualify as ATIC?

    • #4 by David Winter on 5 October 2011 - 17:48

      I guess it might. I’m not sure if anyone has done any studies on what kind of environmental conditions lead to greater ATIC.

      Maybe this is a challenge to recruiters to think about how transparent their recruitment exercises and interview questions are.

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