October 4, 2022

Is Interview a reliable method for selection? Here is what Indian supreme court say on it.

Interview is a very popular and only recognised medium for selection in private job. And, in government sector, Interview is preceded by a written exam. Not only for government job, but to get admission in government funded institution, written examination is compulsory and at some places, in addition of written examination, interview is also conducted to assess the personality of an admission seeker.

But, to conduct ‘selection procedure’ in democratic and constitutional way, it is necessary that more marks should be allocated to written examination than interview, because, there are always doubts in minds of people about biasness in ‘interviews’. Also, it is not necessary that interview may give an accurate result of a person’s personality.

There is always conflict of thoughts on the issue of ‘interview as selection method’ and many scholars accused it as a device to cast out suitable candidate on preferable candidate.

“God takes a whole life time to judge a man’s worthwhile, interviewers have to do it in a quarter of an hour”- M. P. Sharma

We may quote the following passage from the book on “Public Administration in Theory and Practice” by M. P. Sharma which voices a fair and balanced criticism of the oral interview method:

“The oral test of the interview has been much criticised on the ground of its subjectivity and uncertainty. Different interviews have their own notions of good personality. For some, it consists more in attractive physical appearance and dress rather than anything else, and with them the breezy and shiny type of candidate scores highly while the rough uncut diamonds may go unappreciated. The atmosphere of the interview is artificial and prevents some candidates from appearing at their best. Its duration is short, the few questions of the hit-or-miss type, which are put, may fail to reveal the real worth of the candidate.

It has been said that God takes a whole life time to judge a man’s worthwhile, interviewers have to do it in a quarter of an hour. Even at it’s best, the common sort of interview reveals but the superficial aspects of the candidate’s personality like appearance, speaking power, and general address. Deeper traits of leadership, tact, forcefulness, etc. go largely undetected.

The interview is often in the nature of desultory conversation. Marking differs greatly from examiner to examiner. An analysis of the interview results show that the marks awarded to candidates who competed more than once for the same service vary surprisingly. All this shows that there is a great element of chance in the interview test. This becomes a serious matter when the marks assigned to oral test constitute a high proportion of the total marks in the competition.”

“It is a delicate instrument and, in inexpert hands, a dangerous one”- Glenn Stahl

Glenn Stahl points out in his book on “Public Personnel Administration” that there are three disadvantages from which the oral test method suffers, namely,

“(1) the difficulty of developing valid and reliable oral tests;

(2) the difficulty of securing a reviewable record on an oral test; and

(3) public suspicion of the oral test as a channel for the exertion of political influence”

and we may add, other corrupt, nepotistic or extraneous considerations.

The author then proceeds to add in a highly perceptive and critical passage:

“The oral examination has failed in the past in direct proportion to the extent of its misuse. It is a delicate instrument and, in inexpert hands, a dangerous one. The first condition of its successful use is the full recognition of its limitations. One of the most prolific sources of error in the oral has been the failure on the part of examiners to understand the nature of evidence and to discriminate between that which was relevant, material and reliable and that which was not.

It also must be remembered that the best oral interview provides opportunity for analysis of only a very small part of a person’s total behaviour. Generalizations from a single interview regarding an individual’s total personality pattern have been proved repeatedly to be wrong.”

Still if there is not method available, interview is only way…

But, despite all this criticism, the oral interview method continues to be very much in vogue as a supplementary test for assessing the suitability of candidates wherever test of personal traits is considered essential.

Its relevance as a test for determining suitability based on personal characteristics has been recognised in a number of decisions of supreme Court.

In the first case on the point which came before the Court, namely, R. Chitra Lekha and Others v. State of Mysore[1] and Others, Court pointed out:

“In the field of education there are divergent views as regards the mode of testing the capacity and calibre of students in the matter of admissions to colleges. Orthodox educationists stand by the marks obtained by a student in the annual examination. The modern trend of opinion insists upon other additional tests, such as interview, performance in extra- curricular activities, personality test, psychiatric tests etc. Obviously we are not in a position to judge which method is preferable or which test is the correct one……………………………………………. …..

The scheme of selection, however, perfect it may be on paper, may be abused in practice. That it is capable of abuse is not a ground for quashing it. So long as the order lays down relevant objective criteria and entrusts the business of selection to qualified persons, this Court cannot obviously have any say in the matter.”

and on this view refused to hold the oral interview test as irrelevant or arbitrary. It was also pointed out by the Court in A. Peeriakaruppan v. State of Tamil Nadu & Ors[2] :

“In most cases, the first impression need not necessarily be the past impression, but under the existing conditions, we are unable to accede to the contentions of the petitioners that the system of interview as in vogue in this country is so defective as to make it useless.”

Ajay Hasia vs Khalid Mujib Sehravardi & Ors.- A landmark case on the issue

The case of Ajay Hasia is very important on this matter. In Ajay Hasia Etc vs Khalid Mujib Sehravardi & Ors. Etc[3], the petitioners questioned the validity of interview based selection in an selection procedure for admission.

The contention of the petitioners was that viva voce examination does not afford a proper criterion for assessment of the suitability of the candidates for admission and it is a highly subjective and impressionistic test where the result is likely to be influenced by many uncertain and imponderable factors such as predilections and prejudices of the interviewers, his attitudes and approaches, his pre-conceived notions and idiosyncrasies and it is also capable of abuse because it leaves scope for discrimination, manipulation and nepotism which can remain undetected under the cover of an interview and moreover it is not possible to assess the capacity and calibre of a candidate in the course of an interview lasting only for a few minutes and, therefore, selections made on the basis of oral interview must be regarded as arbitrary and hence violative of Art. 14.

On this contention, the court agreed that this criticism cannot be said to be wholly unfounded and it reflects a point of view which has certainly some validity.

But, the court denied to agree that the oral interview test is so defective that selecting candidates for admission on the basis of oral interview in addition to written test must be regarded as arbitrary.

The court said that the oral interview test is undoubtedly not a very satisfactory test for assessing and evaluating the capacity and calibre of candidates, but in the absence of any better test for measuring personal characteristics and traits, the oral interview test must, at the present stage, be regarded as not irrational or irrelevant though it is subjective and based on first impression, its result is influenced by many uncertain factors and it is capable of abuse.

Interview should not be only test for admission in colleges

The court pointed out that in the matter of admission to college or even in the matter of public employment, the oral interview test as presently held should not be relied upon as an exclusive test, but it may be resorted to only as an additional or supplementary test and, moreover, great care must be taken to see that persons who are appointed to conduct the oral interview test are men of high integrity, calibre and qualification.

In the present case, the marks allocated for the oral interview were 50 as against 100 allocated for the written test, so that the marks allocated for the oral interview came to 33 1/3% of the total number of marks taken into account for the purpose of making the selection. This, contended the petitioners, was beyond all reasonable proportion and rendered the selection of the candidates arbitrary and violative of the equality clause of the Constitution.

The court while partly agreeing with the contention said that, now there can be no doubt that, having regard to the drawbacks and deficiencies in the oral interview test and the conditions prevailing in the country, particularly when there is deterioration in moral values and corruption and nepotism are very much on the increase, allocation of a high percentage of marks for the oral interview as compared to the marks allocated for the written test, cannot be accepted by the Court as free from the vice of arbitrariness.

The court further said that, there can be no doubt that allocating 33 1/3 of the total marks for oral interview is plainly arbitrary and unreasonable. It is significant to note that even for selection of candidates for the Indian Administrative Service, the Indian Foreign Service and the Indian Police Service, where the personality of the candidate and his personal characteristics and traits are extremely relevant for the purpose of selection, the marks allocated for oral interview are 250 as against 1800 marks for the written examination, constituting only 12.2% of the total marks taken into consideration for the purpose of making the selection. We must, therefore, regard the allocation of as high a percentage as 33 1/3 of the total marks for the oral interview as infecting.”

Interview marks should not be more than 13% of total marks and interview must be tape-recorded

The court decided in ‘Ajay Hasia”,

“We may point out that, in our opinion, if the marks allocated for the oral interview do not exceed 15% of the total marks and the candidates are properly interviewed and relevant questions are asked with a view to assessing their suitability with reference to the factors required to be taken into consideration, the oral interview test would satisfy the criterion of reasonableness and non-arbitrariness.

We think that it would also be desirable if the interview of the candidates is tape-recorded, for in that event there will be contemporaneous evidence to show what were the questions asked to the candidates by the interviewing committee and what were the answers given and that will eliminate a lot of unnecessary controversy besides acting as a check on the possible arbitrariness of the interviewing committee.”

Reference

Ajay Hasia Etc vs Khalid Mujib Sehravardi & Ors. Etc ,1981 AIR 487, 1981 SCR (2) 79


[1] 1964 AIR 1823

[2] 1971 AIR 2303

[3] 1981 AIR 487