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This article is based on a type of interviewing techniques: cognitive interview. The article discusses the different uses of this type of question based interview which are interviews for job selection, conducting surveys or police interrogations.In this interview, questions are designed by the interviewer as such that they acquire past experiences, behavior, problems to situations put forward to the candidates. The interviewer judges the confidence and memory of the candidate. The techniques of cognitive interviewing discussed are “think-aloud”, “verbal-probing” and “personal context”. The advantages and disadvantages a job interviewer may have in selecting candidates suitable for the post are critically analyzed. Thus, this article gives a detailed account of conducting cognitive interviews and its importance as a valuable and pivotal importance in interviewing types.
Cognitive interviewing technique was developed in 1980s. It is used in different fields like the HR personnel use it to derive motivation at work and to analyze thoughts of the employees; it is commonly used by police officers to gather information from witnesses; the surveyors use it when designing questionnaires. It is considered to give accurate analyzes for surveyors when the have to collect data from a large group and to get to a specific information.
Cognitive interviews have replaced traditional interviews by industrial psychologists. The purpose of these types of interview in hiring employees for a job is very critical as it predicts the future performance from past performance in the same nature of work. It is helpful in the selection for in interviewer. They will come to know not only about past experience but can also interpret behavior and adjustment among co-workers by designing a list of structured questions to be asked from the employee.
Paulc Beatty and Gordonb Willis conducted a research on ‘The practice of cognitive interviewing.’ (Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 71, No. 2, Summer 2007, pp. 287–311). They have focused on the range of cognitive interviewing practices and techniques currently used. They considered three aspects in particular: the main paradigms of cognitive interviewing, the decisions to be made at the end of this interview and the way the results should be evaluated. Besides this article, Willlis (2005) published a book containing a review of the methodology and guide in carrying out interviews.
Interviewing techniques and styles
A cognitive interview is designed as such to derive the thinking, learning and memory function of the candidates. This type of interview is best used in jobs where high degree of intellect and keen interactive skills are required. In the interview, a series of scenarios are put forward which contain practical issues and concerns. The interviewer then judges that how the candidate gathers and manipulates the scenario, their thinking process and any alternatives they can think of. The question can be based on a daily life situation too. The interviewer should use phrases like: tell me about a time when , think of a situation when you had to/ you did.., give me an example of, etc. The hiring manager should consider the necessary skills required for the job, the expectations they have from candidates, the most difficult part of the job, the problems faced from previous employees at the position I job and the qualities of a successful and unsuccessful candidate. The HR manager should judge from the answers of the candidate about their motivation and leadership qualities, decision making and problem solving skills, the ability of candidate to handle situation or work independently, communication skills, skills requiring critical thinking and teamwork capabilities.
When the HR manager is listing questions to be asked in the cognitive interview, he/she should try using “STAR” approach. By this approach, the interviewer makes sure that the answer includes: Situation or Task, Actions and Result. For example the interview question can be: “In which teamwork have you participated in the past?” The interviewer expects that the answer should include the particular teamwork experience (situation), candidate’s rote in it (actions) and the outcome of the teamwork (result). The interviewer can ask about difficult situations the candidate was in last 12 months, a time when candidate had to make a quick decision, discuss a time when the candidate had too many tasks to fulfill and how he/she prioritized their work, customer service skills or the way they can deal with a conflict.
A cognitive interview is based basically on three types of techniques which are referred as ‘think-aloud interviewing’, ‘verbal-probing techniques’ and Personal context. These three types are described in detail below:
The think-aloud interview aims to test the subjects’ psychological status. It is a method described by Ericsson and Simon (1980). The recent practices aim to put forward specific questions and situations in front of their subjects and asking them to answer what they are exactly thinking aloud (Willis, et al., 1999). In a way it aims to judge a person’s thinking process: how fast and in what dimensions a person is capable to come up with answers instantly. The interviewer prepares a set of questions beforehand and at the time of interview, reads one by one. They either record the answer in an audio or video tape or write notes on the processes the subject use in answering the question. If the employee tends to pause for a little while, the interviewer interjects by asking “tell me what you are thinking” to judge the psychological pressure and thought process of subject.
For example in the job interview at a renowned pharmaceutical company, the interviewer asked the employee: “what do you think we can reject you on?” The employee took a long pause and then replied in a shaky tone: “well, I think I have lack of experience and my past record is not strong for this job.”
This question brought forward that the employee was himself not satisfied with his past experience at work. The employee was not confident enough for this job. This set a negative impact on his job approval prospect.
The interviewer has to first train the employee at the beginning of the core interview about what exactly a “think-aloud” interview is. They can be told a very basic situation and asked to just speak aloud what they are thinking. After this step, the interviewer can proceed gradually to important core questions.
Verbal-probing technique is an alternative to think-aloud technique and in more commonly used now. In this type of interview, the interviewer asks a question and let the employee/subject answer. He keenly listens to the answer and then asks another question which can be either more detailed information to be gathered related to the question or the next question is tailored according to the answer given by the employee. In this technique, the interviewer basically “probes” further on the basis of response. It is further divided into some categories: comprehension/interpretation probe, paraphrasing, confidence judgment, recall probe, specific probe and general probe.
In this interviewing technique, the interviewer prompts the candidate to recall a specific situation or experience at work. They can ask to recall their memory in a forward or reverse sequence of events. This triggers the memories of candidates and tells about the activities they have participated in and their motivations. It can show how much ambitious a candidate is in their goals. For example, the interviewer can ask: “did you ever fail to complete given task in time in your previous job?” Further questions can be put forward after the candidate has narrated his/her experience like: “In the future how will you avoid such situation?”
Uses of Cognitive Interviews
Cognitive interviews can be used in many fields. It is designed to gather past knowledge form a person. It can be used by police officials to ask the witness about the crime or from the victim of a crime. It is widely used in conducting surveys in almost all fields, may it be health related or law and politics. Cognitive interviews play a pivotal role in hiring employees for work. They are used in recruitment in enrollment for forces.
There are many advantages of this type of interview i.e. cognitive interview. It brings forward past behavior of the candidate and helps in predicting future performance in the job. The questions asked tell about the behavior and psychology of the candidate. Asking scenarios related to daily situations a person is indulged in helps predict whether the candidate has optimistic or pessimistic approach. It makes the candidate recall the situations and their experiences and describe them in detail. The interviewers should see how much minor details the candidate can recall. Cognitive questions make it difficult for the candidates to make up fake stories when a real situation is asked for. They are very convenient for an inexperienced interviewer as this type of interview does not require organizational experience to evaluate.
The disadvantages linked with conducting a cognitive interview are being recently considered. It is found out that the in job interviews, the candidates can produce a false answer when asked to describe a particular experience. They can narrate the experience of their co-workers very conveniently. This leads to misjudgment by the interviewer. The interviewer may not be able to put up revealing questions during “verbal-probing” session. When this technique of interview is used in investigations by a police officer, the person can generate fake scenario. In surveys, too false results are gained.
It is thus concluded that cognitive interviews are not only helpful in acquiring information about past experiences at work but it also helps HR manager to know about the behavior, communication skills and sharpness of thought and memory of the candidates.The team skills are known. General questions are asked to know about the expectant salary or achievements. The interview always includes closing questions. The interviewer asks about why they should accept them for job to judge the motivation in acquiring job, what are the qualities which the candidate has which others cannot provide and since when the candidate has been applying for this job position. It truly serves as an important tool in interview secessions and identifying competencies of candidates.
Beatty, P., & Willis, G. (2007). RESEARCH SYNTHESIS: THE PRACTICE OF COGNITIVE INTERVIEWING. Public Opinion Quarterly, 71, 287-331.
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Esposito, J., & Hess, J. (May, 1992). The use of interviewer debriefings to identify problematic questions on alternative questionnaires. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, St. Petersberg, FL.
Jabine, T.B., Straf, M.L., Tanur, J.M., &Tourangeau, R. (eds.). (1984). Cognitiveaspects of survey methodology: Building a bridge between disciplines. Washington, DC: NationalAcademy Press.
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