Why you should be the last candidate in any interview

By Farhan Shah

What do goodnight kisses at the end of a date and being the last candidate in job interviews have in common?

Much more than you think, according to Ed O’Brien, a psychologist from the University of Michigan says.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that when it comes to last experiences, be it your final dinner in a restaurant or that final goodbye, the act is somehow more poignant and emotional than usual. However, Ed O’Brien and his colleague, Phoebe C. Ellsworth, have discovered that it might not even actually have to be the last, but just the idea that it is the last.

In the study, 52 people were recruited in what they thought was a Hershey’s Kisses taste test. Participants had to rate how delicious they thought the different flavoured chocolates tasted according to a predetermined scale. The only variable that was changed was the instructions the experimenter gave.

When the experimenter said, “Here is your last chocolate”, a significant amount of subjects (64%) chose the last chocolate as the most delicious, no matter what flavour it was.

For the subjects that received the instructions, “Here is your next chocolate” when it was the last chocolate, only 22% chose the last chocolate as the most delicious.

But, how do the findings of this study apply to the corporate world?

“The issue of job candidates is interesting. Our results suggest that, with all else being equal, if you have a relatively similar group of candidates with similar qualifications, then the person who is interviewed last may be seen as the best, and therefore will more likely be offered the job,” O’Brien speculates.

According to him, this could be due to a number of factors.

1: The interviewer could simply be tired after a long day of interviewing and will be in a better mood when he or she knows there is only 1 candidate left.

2: The interviewer expects good things to be saved at the end because much of everyday life is structured in this way. For example, dessert at the end of a meal, a powerful message at the end of a speech, etc.

3: The interviewer is motivated to make the last candidate worthwhile because he or she has spent the entire day interviewing and wants to believe that the last one is really special.

In Singapore’s competitive corporate environment where distinguishing one cookie cutter candidate from another can be a hard task, this phenomenon might be prevalent, especially when everyone comes in with a crisp white shirt and paper qualifications from the same factory.

However, don’t fret if you’re the middle interviewee in a pool of candidates jostling for the same position. O’Brien suggests that if you want to counteract this phenomenon, you need to differentiate yourself, which can be achieved in 2 ways.

Emphasise your unique abilities

If you’re able to bring a sought-after ability to the table or boast of a skill that will prove useful in the job, then this will make you stand out from the rest. It could be anything from your linguistic ability to your prowess in social media.

“Try to find out the profiles of the other candidates so that you can emphasise something about yourself that is unique, special or different from the rest during your turn,” O’Brien says.

Employers love workers who have multi-faceted skills that can help the company grow and prosper. At the same time, you’re also helping the organisation save money because they don’t need to hire someone else to do the job; anything that helps the company’s bottom line will ultimately make you look good.

Groom yourself well

Although this goes without saying, you’d be surprised at how many people actually turn up for an interview in ill-fitting or sloppy clothes. By wearing suitably-fitted clothes and appearing for the interview clean-shaven with nicely coiffed hair, it will make a world of difference. You will stand out and create a good impression.

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“If you want to counteract the ‘last-is-best’ bias, you may need to distinguish yourself from the others and do whatever you can to emphasise your better qualities. The more you are seen as similar to the others, the more you put yourself at risk to receive unfair treatment if you aren’t interviewed last,” O’Brien concludes.

Tell us whether this ‘last-is-best’ phenomenon had happened to you. Share in the comments box below!

The JobsCentral Group, a CareerBuilder company, is the owner of JobsCentral.com.sg, one of Singapore's largest job and learning portals. Get a free career personality test and more career- and education-related articles at JobsCentral and JobsCentral Community.

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