In a number of cases, certain candidates are preferred and are offered the job at the expense of other clearly superior candidates. In such cases, performance in the interview is presented as justification for the decision. However, these decisions are the result of a political exercise.
The interviews that lend themselves to manipulative power games are those that are purported to fill critical posts in the middle and upper echelons of organisations. First, such posts, apart from having a functional importance, are also politically important because they can influence resources, processes and outcomes, which can shift the balance of power in an organisation, an organisational function or a work unit.
Second, as people move up the organisation their work becomes more complex, hence the criteria for merit and performance become more blurred and ambiguous, and the greater the potential for involvement of politics in relevant decisions. Therefore, there is both motive and opportunity for the use of political tactics in selection interviews that aim at filling critical posts in organisations.
There is a widespread belief that erroneous decisions are the result of limitations of the selection method or in the abilities of the interviewers. But, while genuine error might account for a large proportion of inappropriate decisions, interview-based decisions that favour less competent candidates are in some cases the outcome of power games.
To deal with this situation more research is needed, as well as acknowledgement and better understanding of the political interview. This will aid in accounting for cases where clearly inferior applicants have entered vital organisational positions via the formal selection route at the expenses of considerably more qualified candidates
Source: When the inferior candidate is offered the job: the selection interview as a political and power game
Human Relations 58 No 12, December 2005
Review by Roger Trapp