Employment Interviewing Research: Ways We Can Study Underrepresented Group Members' Experiences as Applicants

Article excerpt

In 1999, The Journal of Business Communication published an article of mine called "Tensions and Burdens in Employment Interviewing Processes: Perspectives of Non-Dominant Group Applicants." Its purpose was to explore some assumptions about employment interviewing and to suggest an integrated agenda for discovery, learning, and engagement that diverged from conventional thinking. This agenda intended to illuminate interviewing processes from the standpoints of those who are different from "ideal" applicants. (1) Specifically, the article urged researchers, teachers, and practitioners to pay more attention to (a) the non-obvious assumptions embedded in employment interviewing practices, and (b) the experiences of traditionally underrepresented group members throughout employment interviewing processes.

The first line of argument said that interviewing materials have relied on characteristics of "dominant" group members, "proper" interviewing behavior, and "preferred" outcomes so that ideal applicant profiles, routine practices, and research on decision-making and "fit" appear so normal and natural that other alternatives are not considered. These profiles and practices are based on technical rationalities--expert knowledge about how people should act or respond. Because there appears to be only one right way to look and perform in interviews to insure positive outcomes for both parties, questioning how difficult it might be for "different" applicants to emulate these profiles or to interact with interviewers in a standardized fashion is seen as naive and unproductive. In attempts to establish just procedures and outcomes, identities associated with race/ethnicity, sexual-social orientation, ablebodiness, class, gender, and age are erased-so that applicant "difference" becomes invisible and, presumably, irr elevant to interviewing processes and outcomes. (2) Instead, equality presumably is assured. If the employment interviewing process fails to produce optimal applicant-employer matches, then it is the fault of the individual participants rather than routine employment interviewing practices.

The second point was that there is little thinking or discussion about the ways that diverse applicants' experiences might be different from the "norm." While a good deal has been written about impression management tactics, attire, optimal responses to recruiter questions, and other techniques, nothing has addressed the ways in which members of non-dominant groups negotiate their identities or seek (and interpret) information about whether they would be welcome in a particular organizational setting. Difference is viewed as a shifting interplay of individuals' multiple identities in which some identities may become more or less salient at times depending on the context and interactants. Those individuals who are members of marginalized groups may experience tensions, uneasiness, self-scrutiny, ironies, alienation or inauthenticity, and double binds as identities collide during exchanges with others in the workplace (Allen, 2000; Jamieson, 1995; Keene, in Tucker, 1994; Orbe, 1996, 1998; Spradlin, 1998; Thoma s & Wetlaufer, 1997; Wood & Conrad, 1983). It stands to reason that these experiences also happen in employment interviewing (e.g., Woods, 1994) and result in differential performance burdens carried by members of traditionally underrepresented groups.

In this essay, I extend the arguments presented previously. My goal is to recommend some underutilized methods for researching diverse applicants' employment interviewing understandings and experiences. Specifically, future research should center on: (a) investigations that delve into socio-historical-cultural contexts, (b) approaches that reveal applicants' standpoints, and (c) studies that give voice to diverse applicants. (3)

Investigations That Delve into Socio-Historical-Cultural Contexts

To be able to understand more about applicants' experiences, particularly those of diverse applicants, researchers need to look over time at the evolving nature of employment interview content. …