New Findings Shows Effect of Timing and Sequencing on the Hiring Process

Which time of day is best for interviews? Which is worst? When should you do candidate evaluations?

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Sep 27, 2023

In the fast-paced world of talent acquisition, the quest for the perfect candidate often feels like a race against time. Beyond the rush, the precise timing of various hiring-process stages can significantly sway the outcome.

Timing Is Everything

Timing is a vital factor that can make or break your talent acquisition strategy. For instance, imagine that your data analysis uncovers a compelling revelation: Candidates who interview in the morning have a higher likelihood of receiving job offers. Equipped with this knowledge, you can strategically adjust your scheduling practices to leverage this advantageous window of opportunity.

One pivotal aspect of timing in hiring is its role in combating decision fatigue. Throughout the day, our decision-making abilities naturally wane, leading to suboptimal judgments and exacerbated biases.

Consider the contrast bias, which distorts evaluations, causing us to rate a candidate more favorably after encountering a less impressive one. This bias becomes more pronounced when evaluating multiple candidates or conducting interviews during less optimal time slots.

The first-impression bias also comes into play, disproportionately affecting our perceptions when assessing numerous candidates in rapid succession.

The Power of Sequencing

Sequencing, or the order in which interviews occur, wields significant power in either amplifying or mitigating bias. In a comprehensive study, interviews for junior- and senior-level positions were meticulously analyzed, correlating outcomes with interview timing. The findings were remarkable: An eye-opening revelation emerged around 11 a.m., where decision-making quality declined, and candidate ratings suffered due to hunger and decision fatigue.

Candidates interviewed 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. or 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., consistently received more favorable evaluations by 20% than those interviewed between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.  Moreover, racial and gender biases intensified post-lunch, specifically between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

(These patterns remained consistent across a decade of data encompassing over 5,000 candidates.)

Once the impact of timing and sequencing became evident, organizations that tapped into this date were able to craft a strategic approach to address these challenges proactively. By extending interviews over several days and ensuring that all of them occurred between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., companies began to observe fairer assessments.

Nudging Toward Objective Assessments

Enhancing the hiring process further, specific strategies were employed. Each interviewer independently rated candidates immediately after interviews, isolating themselves from external opinions. This approach guaranteed that interviewers remembered the applicant’s performance and remained uninfluenced by external factors.

At the final decision stage, applicant responses across questions were computed, yielding a single competency rating across different reviewers for a single candidate. Interviewers also evaluated each applicant against specific criteria before making summary judgments about hiring. This approach aligned interviewer ratings more closely with their final judgments compared to the reverse sequence.

Evaluators were encouraged to decide whom to include, not exclude, from a list of potential job offers. This approach prompted evaluators to assess each candidate individually, evaluating them after reviewing all available options.

All of which is to say that by providing tools that eliminate subjective or biased strategies, organizations could facilitate more objective decision-making, ensuring the selection of the most suitable candidates.

Ultimately, to master the art of timing in hiring, data assumes paramount importance. Employers can begin by analyzing historical hiring data to identify timing patterns during various stages of the process. They can then seek bottlenecks and specific days or times when candidates tend to excel in interviews. This data-driven approach consequently allows systematic fine-tuning of the hiring process.

In other words, by understanding and harnessing the science of timing in hiring, organizations can level the playing field, ensure fairer assessments, and build stronger and more diverse workforces.

Paola Cecchi-Dimeglio is a lawyer and data scientist, and chair of the Executive Leadership Research Initiative for Women and Minority Attorneys at Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School. She is the author of Diversity Dividend: The Transformational Power of Small Changes to Debias Your Company, Attract Diverse Talent, Manage Everyone Better — and Make More Money (MIT Press). 

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