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Power Dynamics and Job Interviews

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The true benefits of any learning process are seen when they are applied outside the classroom. What are the key things that the student takes away from the lesson and how will they apply them. This process is most effective when those learnings are applied immediately to a situation that the student is facing. The author is currently attending job interviews following a period of unemployment. By approaching a job interviews as a negotiation, the author can break the process into phases of preparation, differentiation, exploration, and exchange, to examine what happens in each and how it can be improved. Sometimes the acceptance of the job may lead to further negotiations about terms and conditions, such as salary, leave entitlements and start date, however this discussion will look at the actual interview, between submission of the application and the job offer itself. Fells (2012, p. 8) described negotiation as like DNA, with the two parties being the strands and elements that give it support being reciprocity, trust, power, information exchange, ethics and outcome. This discussion will focus on the element of power and how it applies to job interviews. In particular the way that power is perceived by the interviewee, such that it is seen to be mainly with the interviewer. However, the balance of power shifts during the interview, a factor which can used by the interviewee to improve future negotiations.

Power is the capacity to influence others (McShane et al. 2013, p. 318). McShane et al. (2013, p. 318) note that power is not “the act of changing someone’s attitudes or behaviour; it is only the potential to do so”. It is also about the perception of dependence, not necessarily the ability to influence another party itself. Therefore it is possible to have power and not realise it or create a perception of power based on a false premise. Fells (2012, pp. 29-31) discusses power having an effect on negotiations in several ways. These are people withholding information on the basis that ‘information is power’; bargaining power and the ability to secure an agreement on one’s own terms (Chamberlain 1986; cited in Fells 2012, p. 30); the power of a solution; and the power of knowing when not to negotiate. The facet of power in negotiations that will be discussed here the different sources of power that each party has and the effect that has on the negotiation process. The different sources of power can be summarised as follows (McShane et al. 2013, pp. 320-321):

Legitimate: an agreement that people in certain roles can request certain behaviours of others; Reward: a person’s ability to control the allocation of rewards valued by others and to remove the negative sanctions; Coercive: the ability to apply punishment; Expert: an individual’s capacity to influence others by possessing knowledge or skills that they value; and

Power Dynamics and Job Interviews Referent: the capacity to influence others on the basis of an identification with and respect for the powerholder.

Power is present in any human interaction and the different sources of power apply in different situations. For example, in some negotiations, both parties may have expert power. However, as Fells (2012, pp. 29-30) notes, during a negotiation two knowledgeable people on opposing sides should be able to influence the other as to their point of view. During job interviews the interviewer has legitimate power. If the interviewee wishes to continue with the process, both sides are aware that the interviewer is the one that decides. The interviewer also has reward power – they can offer the reward of the position, which has a significant influence on the dynamics of the negotiation. The power that each party have has is not always equal, nor does is stay constant, and in an interview the power commonly shifts between interviewer and interviewee (Nunkoosing 2005, p. 699). In a job interview the interviewer starts with the power, but if it is progressing towards an outcome, the power shifts to the interviewee. The initial offer rests with the interviewer, so again they have the power at that point, but once the offer is made, the interviewee has the power as to whether they choose to accept and the negotiations can move into the next phase.

The Job Interview
Much has been written about conducting job interviews, and how to conduct them, both from the interviewee’s and the interviewer’s perspectives (e.g. Cole 2013; Allen 2004; Rogers 2011; Tjan 2012; Gallo 2014; Macan 2009). A search of the term “job interview” on LinkedIn, a professional networking website, resulted in 554,806 articles, mostly offering advice on how to conduct the most effective interview for both sides. Academic research on the topic has looked at cross-cultural differences (e.g. Deprez-Sims & Morris 2010; Manroop et al. 2013; Rakic et al. 2011), anxiety management (Feiler & Powell 2012; McCarthy & Goffin 2004) and the structure of interviews, among other topics (Chen et al. 2008; Judge et al. 2000). A study about power in interviews found that recalling a personal experience of power prior to the interview can significantly increase the success of the interview (Lammers et al. 2013, p. 778). In summary, the research has focused on the how of interviews and ways to conduct them, but it has not focused on the why of interviews, for example the dynamics and balance of power between the parties and how those dynamics develop. The job interview process can be viewed as a negotiation because the two parties, the interviewer and the interviewee, have differences. The interviewer has a position that needs to be filled and a view of the type of person that they want to do it, including skills, expertise and personality. The interviewee has skills and experience to do the job (assuming they have made it past the initial screening process), but may not exactly match the interviewer’s ideal candidate, or have all of the skills required. During the process each side has to establish whether they will be a suitable “fit” for the other and be able to work successfully together. The differences need to be resolved. Do both parties have enough in common to explore options for an agreement? Both parties may have alternatives: other applicants and other job opportunities, therefore, is this the best alternative for both? In order to reach an agreement, each party needs to Bolton 10376249 2

Power Dynamics and Job Interviews determine that the other is suitable. The parties explore some options during the interview, such as establishing the work conditions (e.g. terms of engagement, organisational culture). After the interview, an offer is made by the interviewer and an agreement is reached. Job interviews are usually cooperative negotiations, as opposed to competitive ones. This is because the nature of the discussion is usually integrative, rather than distributive, and if an offer is made and the negotiation is completed, it is ultimately a win-win situation (Fells 2012, p. 68). As with any negotiation, job interviews are rarely exclusively cooperative or competitive, but it is counterproductive for them to be argumentative and a win-lose situation occurs when no agreement is reached. Following is a discussion of the phases of a job interview within the framework of a negotiation – that is, preparation, differentiation, exploration and exchange (Fells 2012; Olekalns et al. 2003; Rackham & Carlisle 1978). There are several models used to describe the process, for example the Nullarbor Model of negotiation (Fells 2012; 2000). The one that will be used here is that of a cycling group, described in a previous paper by the author (Bolton 2015). For simplicity, the process will only be discussed from the interviewee’s point of view, and the discussion will be focus on the aspect of power – who has it, what the interviewee’s perceptions are and how the balance of power changes during each phase of the interview process. Note that also for simplicity, the interviewer is referred to as a single person, although can consist of a panel of people. Poor preparation in a cycling group will result in a rider being unsure where they are going, how they will handle the ride, and possibly a bike that will not work (Bolton 2015). Similarly, in a job interview, poor preparation will result in the interviewee not clearly answering questions, not giving specific examples and not being able to ask the right questions about the position and the company in order to establish the interviewer’s interests. That is, they do not know where they are going in the interview or how they will handle the any questions. Analogous to the bike not working, the interview does not work – the interviewee is unable to answer the questions so they are not offered the job. At this phase the balance of power between the two parties is even, assuming that information is freely available (e.g. about the company and about the interviewee) and neither party is deliberately deceiving the other. As a result of the initial written application, information about the interviewee and the company and position have already been made available to the other side and it has been agreed that there is the potential for further discussion. They have also had the opportunity to do further research to get an idea of what to expect. Preparation for a job interview typically consists of two components. First the interviewee considers what it is about them that will convince the interviewer to hire them. How can they persuade the interviewer that they will be a great recruit (Dubois 2013)? It is during this component that the interviewee perceives the interviewer as having the power. It is up to the interviewee to convince the interviewer that they have something to offer and the relationship is worth continuing. The second component centres on the interviewee getting more information about the role and the company. Is this a job that they are capable of doing and a company that they want to work for? Do they agree to the terms and conditions on offer? Despite the request for information shifting from the

Power Dynamics and Job Interviews interviewer to the interviewee during this process, the interviewee still perceives the interviewer as having the balance of power. This is because it does not matter what the position or company are like, whether or not there is an offer still lies with the interviewer, regardless of the interviewee’s position. During the differentiation phase of a group ride, each rider is assessing how their teammates are riding this week and establishing what each member wants out of the ride, for example is someone doing a big ride the next day and wants to have an easier or shorter ride (Bolton 2015)? This is the most revealing stage of a job interview. It is to establish whether the interviewee is suitable for the role and whether the company and positon are suitable for the interviewee. Depending on each party’s outlook, it is during this phase that the power oscillates between the interviewer and the interviewee, as each seeks information from the other. Information exchange at this stage is usually open and forthcoming, with each party keen to establish their interests in an attempt to establish whether the other party aligns with those interests. The exploration phase of a group ride occurs when everyone has an idea of how the others are feeling and what they want to achieve from the ride. The final route is determined, and speed is established, varying depending on how each rider is feeling (Bolton 2015). In the job interview process, during this phase, options and conditions are discussed. On a basic level, this can include working hours, days required (particularly if it is a casual job), room for flexibility and any entitlements. However it can also go beyond the job description and requirements. Does the interviewee have other skills and expertise that can be used in ways that the interviewer had not previously thought of? In a group ride the exploration phase often involves pain as individual riders struggle with the conditions. If the pace is increased riders have to work to catch up then after a bit of rest they are feeling good and are able to push on once more. There are periods of feeling good and not so good. Similarly there will be times in the interview when it is going well and perhaps other times when it is not going so well. Thus the interviewee may go through periods of pain, yet feel all right when it is over. At this point the balance of power is delicately balanced. What each party’s best alternative to a negotiated agreement (BATNA) is (i.e. how many other opportunities each party has), and how much each needs or wants the other, will influence the balance of power. For example, if the interviewee is unable to get work and is desperate for any job, their perception of how much power they have will be lower than if they had a few potential opportunities. If the interviewer has few strong candidates for the position, then they may feel that they have less power as they have less choice. Yet the interviewer typically withholds this information, again leading to a perception by the interviewee that the interviewer holds the power. The exchange phase of a ride comes towards the end, when the pace is settled, there are no more additional challenges such as hills and sprints and the cyclists are about to roll into the coffee shop, ready for a well-earned break (Bolton 2015). Agreement is reached, the ride is finished, and some are happier with results than others. A job interview differs from other types of negotiations in that the exchange of offers does not occur in the interview itself, and the initial offer can only ever come from the interviewer. Once this offer is made, then the process continues. As with the previous phases, the power initially is with the interviewer – they have to make the offer of a job before the interviewee is able to consider the options.

Power Dynamics and Job Interviews Once the offer is made, the balance of power switches to the interviewee, particularly if they have other options. In a group ride, the rider’s BATNA is how they will get home in case they cannot make it due to mechanical failure, a crash or just tired legs. In a job interview, the interviewee’s BATNA is to not take the job.

Lessons Learned
Reflecting on job interviews that the author has participated in recently and the balance of power, there is room for improvement. Although there is no doubt that the interviewer is in a greater position of power, as they are the ones that are deciding the fate of the interviewee’s future career prospects, there is the interviewee’s perception of power to consider. Ways to address the perceived balance of power include recalling a personal experience of power prior to the interview (Lammers et al. 2013). By using this technique, the interviewee’s perception of power may change, and therefore the interviewee will act with more confidence and achieve a better outcome (i.e. get offered the job). Another way to improve is to use the imagery of the cycling group to remind the interviewee to approach the interview process as a negotiation, where the balance of power is not as one-sided as is often perceived. By going through the process of preparation, differentiation, exploration and exchange, the interviewee can remember during each phase what their objectives are and remain focused. Finally, the interviewee can remember, and be aware of, the shifts in balance of power during the negotiation. The power does not rest solely with the interviewer, and through the differentiation process and exploring the interviewer’s interests, the interviewee can use this information to increase their power and work towards an outcome that they want.

The process of finding a job, from the application, interview and offer of a position is one of negotiation. It varies from other negotiations in that the perception of power is usually one-sided in favour of the interviewer. However, if the interviewee remembers to approach it as a negotiation, and remember the appropriate tools and techniques to use during the process, they may achieve a better outcome than one where no job offer is made. As with a group cycling ride, with each negotiation, the negotiator improves, they explore different options, they learn what does and does not work and they work out what to do differently next time (Bolton 2015). There are painful moments along the way, but eventually an exchange of offers is made.

Allen, JG 2004, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book, 4th edn, Wiley, New York Hoboken. Bolton, S 2015, Negotiation Behaviour Individual Self-Reflection Assignment - Summary and Key Insights, University of Western Australia. Chamberlain, NW 1986, Collective Bargaining, 3rd edn, McGraw-Hill, New York. Chen, Y-C, Tsai, W-C & Hu, C 2008, 'The influences of interviewer-related and situational factors on interviewer reactions to high structured job interviews', International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 19, no. 6, pp. 1056-1071. Cole, K 2013, Management Theory and Practice, Pearson Australia, Frenchs Forest, NSW. Deprez-Sims, AS & Morris, SB 2010, 'Accents in the workplace: Their effects during a job interview', International Journal of Psychology, vol. 45, no. 6, pp. 417-426. Dubois, D 2013, Power Boosters: How to Land That Job When You Think You Can't. INSEAD, Fountainebleau. Available from: . [26 January 2015]. Feiler, AR & Powell, DM 2012, 'Interview anxiety across the sexes: Support for the sex-linked anxiety coping theory', Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 54, no. 1, pp. 12-17. Fells, R 2000, 'Of models and journeys : keeping negotiation and mediation on track', Australasian Dispute Resolution Journal, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 209-219. Fells, R 2012, Effective Negotiation: From research to results, 2nd edn, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Vic. Gallo, A 2014, Setting the Record Straight on Job Interviews, Harvard Business Review. Available from: . [26 January 2015]. Judge, TA, Higgins, CA & Cable, DM 2000, 'The employment interview: a review of recent research and recommendations for future research', Human Resource Management Review, vol. 10, no. 4, p. 383. Lammers, J, Dubois, D, Rucker, DD & Galinsky, AD 2013, 'Power gets the job: Priming power improves interview outcomes', Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 776-779. Macan, T 2009, 'The employment interview: A review of current studies and directions for future research', Human Resource Management Review, vol. 19, no. 3, pp. 203-218. Manroop, L, Boekhorst, J & Harrison, J 2013, 'The influence of cross-cultural differences on job interview selection decisions', The International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 24, no. 18, p. 3512. McCarthy, J & Goffin, R 2004, 'Measuring Job Interview Anxiety: Beyond weak knees and sweaty palms', Personnel Psychology, vol. 57, no. 3, pp. 607-637. McShane, S, Olekalns, M & Travaglione, T 2013, Organisational Behaviour: emerging knowledge, global insights, McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd, North Ryde, NSW. Nunkoosing, K 2005, 'The Problems With Interviews', Qualitative Health Research, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 698-706. Olekalns, M, Brett, JM & Weingart, LR 2003, 'Phases, transitions and interruptions: Modeling processes in multi party negotiations', The Intemational Journal of Conflict Management, vol. 14, no. 3/4, pp. 191-211. Rackham, N & Carlisle, J 1978, 'The Effective Negotiator Part 2: Planning for negotiations', Journal of European Industrial Training, vol. 2, no. 7, pp. 2-5. Rakic, T, Steffens, MC & Mummendey, A 2011, 'When it matters how you pronounce it: the influence of regional accents on job interview outcome', British Journal of Psychology, vol. 102, no. 4, p. 868. Rogers, J 2011, Job Interview Success Be Your Own Coach, McGraw-Hill International UK Ltd, Maidenhead.

Power Dynamics and Job Interviews Tjan, AK 2012, The Most Important Job Interview Question, Harvard Business Review. Available from: . [26 January 2015].

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