By Dr. Howard Gauthier
I was asked an interesting question the other day. A young man was interviewing for an assistant athletic directors position and he was given a couple of different days he could choose for his on-campus interview. He asked me if there was an advantage in the order of when a candidate should interview. My response was quick and clear – yes, it can matter when you interview.
Of course, your qualifications, experience, communication skills and preparation are vitally important for determining who is offered the job. But so is having an advantage because of the lasting impression you make, the information you have, and your follow-up strategies. The following are some thoughts on this subject.
Lasting Impression – Quite a bit of research in social psychology has been conducted as to who will get the job based on the order of their interview. Some research suggests that the first person has the advantage because they get to make the first impression (primary effect), while other studies have shown that the last person to interview has the advantage because they get to leave the last impression (recency effect). Based on this information, if all interviewees were thought of as equal in regard to how they interviewed, you will want to select either the first or last slot for your interview. However, if a superior candidate is interviewing in a middle slot, they will probably still get the job offer.
Information – In theory, all candidates have the same information, so why should order of when you interview make a difference from an information perspective? Because the people who interview last might be able to gather additional information that was brought up in previous interview sessions. Let’s say that the second person to interview was asked a question that somewhat stumped them. A problem surfaced that is facing the department and the committee asked the candidate how they would handle it. This might have caught the candidate off guard but they did their best to answer a difficult question. If this is a high profiled job, a local news reporter might write an article about the candidate and mention the candidate’s thoughts on how they would handle the problem. You now have an advantage because you have time to prepare for how you will answer the question. It doesn’t have to be a news reporter. It could be someone on the “inside” sharing the information with you prior to your meeting with the search committee. Regardless, information is powerful, and if you can uncover information and properly prepare, you have an advantage that the earlier candidates did not have.
Follow-up – Following up after the interview is so important. This is what separates candidates when they appear fairly equal in their interview. It might be a simple thank you note to each search committee member, or more likely a real strategy in how you will influence the decision of the members of the search committee. But one of the key understandings to getting the job is to not panic because the hiring decision isn’t being made as quickly as you want. But this can be a good thing. People tend to get anxious when the search process takes time. In fact, some people get so anxious that they drop out of the running. They end up withdrawing their name from consideration, and your chances of getting hired have just improved. Since many searches are spread over a week or two, the final interviewee has an advantage over those who have already interviewed and are waiting on pins and needles for a decision.
So does it really matter which order you interview? Not if you’re clearly the best candidate. But if all the candidates are relatively equal, your odds are better if you interview last. You have the advantage of leaving the last impression, obtaining more information, and not suffering from anxiety related to the time it’s taking to hire a candidate. Best of luck with your job search!
Howard Gauthier is an Associate Professor of Athletic Administration at Idaho State University. He is a former collegiate athletic director and collegiate basketball coach. He is also an author of 9 books. Check out his book, Getting Hired In College Sports – 2nd Edition at www.sportscareersinstitute.com or his new book Execute for Success at www.execute4success.com.
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Director of Athletics
Sonoma State University