Jason Dana in the New York Times:
A friend of mine once had a curious experience with a job interview. Excited about the possible position, she arrived five minutes early and was immediately ushered into the interview by the receptionist. Following an amicable discussion with a panel of interviewers, she was offered the job.
Afterward, one of the interviewers remarked how impressed she was that my friend could be so composed after showing up 25 minutes late to the interview. As it turned out, my friend had been told the wrong start time by half an hour; she had remained composed because she did not know she was late.
My friend is not the type of person who would have remained cool had she known she was late, but the interviewers reached the opposite conclusion. Of course, they also could have concluded that her calm reflected a flippant attitude, which is also not a trait of hers. Either way, they would have been wrong to assume that her behavior in the interview was indicative of her future performance at the job.
This is a widespread problem. Employers like to use free-form, unstructured interviews in an attempt to “get to know” a job candidate. Such interviews are also increasingly popular with admissions officers at universities looking to move away from test scores and other standardized measures of student quality. But as in my friend’s case, interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees, often revealing more about themselves than the candidates.