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How to game the system when scheduling your interviews

Posted by Khaled Kteily on in Interviews
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A recent study by researchers from Harvard Business School and The Wharton School - published in Psychological Science - analyzed 9,000 interviews over ten years of MBA admissions. The researchers found that the assessment of the interviewees before you had a direct impact on your own assessment. Specifically:

"Even after controlling for lots of other factors (like the candidate’s GMAT score, essay quality, and characteristics of the individual interviewer), there was... a negative correlation between the previous scores given to candidates that day and the score given to the current interviewee."

In other words, if previous candidates have received higher scores, you are more likely to receive a lower score. And vice versa. Click through to read more about this phenomenon, as well as an analysis of the best times to schedule your consulting interviews.

For those of you interested in the psychology behind the phenomenon, this is known as "narrow bracketing", where a decision maker who faces multiple decisions evaluates subsets in isolation of other subsets while avoiding deviation in any given subset from the expected distribution.

In layman's terms, if a consulting firm gives out ten interviews, and the first five candidates are stellar, you're much more likely to be ranked lower (and this is also a function of the contrast effect). On the other hand, five poor candidates means that you are likely to be ranked higher. In fact, the researchers were surprised by the overall strength of their findings, claiming they "were able to document this error with experts who have been doing the job for years, day in and day out.”

My recommendation is as follows: Take the 2nd interview in the morning. Here's why:

1. An interviewer may show up late, distracted, or just plain tired to their first interview. I had partners at a major firm show up late and without my CV or cover letter to my final-round interview. Not an ideal way to start the day.

2. If an interviewer hasn't given the case before, they won't yet have a benchmark to compare you to. This can hurt you if you've done well but they don't know how you've done relative to others. Having one person take the case before you can create an initial point of reference.

3. Too close to lunch and they'll be hungry; right after lunch and they'll be sleepy. Too late after lunch and they'll be bored. Seriously, this matters more than you think. A study of over 1,000 rulings by Israeli judges found that "prisoners saw a 65% success rate if their cases were heard early in the workday or immediately after a judge had eaten, but the number of requests granted dropped to nearly zero just before a break period and at the end of the day"

4. Lastly, don't let your outcomes be contingent on other people's performance! As the study above suggests, your scores are more likely to be inversely correlated to the scores of the people before you. Most firms have a general rule of thumb when it comes to how many people they can or want to take to final round. Don't risk being interviewee #6 when they were hoping to only take 5 candidates and the first 5 were superstars. That just raises the bar for you.

And one more final piece of social psychology: let's see how deliberately provocative titles such as "how to game the system" impacts our hits for the article!


  • Anon May 23, 2013

    Thanks! Love your advice!

  • Igor Kozlov Jul 20, 2013

    Khaled, thank you for a great piece of advice! Could you, please, share your experience on typical situations that happen during the interview, that could have been avoided or mastered if one had prepared to face them? Basically, how to game the system during some typical interview situations? (Like, I didn't expect a smart phone to be essential in a situation when you already got an interview.)

  • Khaled Kteily Jul 22, 2013

    Igor, one piece of advice I would give is to show a high level of comfort during your interview. Interviewers generally expects students to be nervous, shaky, etc.

    One of the best ways to do this is to use the environment to your advantage; one of the "Wow" factors I list in the 6 steps to success. In several interviews, I'd get up to the board to draw a diagram, move my chair to show an interviewer something I had on paper, or even something as simple as closing the door. It shows that you're comfortable and in control of your environment, which is important when you're working with your clients.

    Another is to know where you're interviewing. Some firms are more likely than others to use 'stress' cases or throw curveballs your way. I discuss these in the 'Firm-Specific Advice' document, available to all registered members.

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