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Differences Between an Interview & an Observation

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Employers frequently rely on job interviews and observations as tools for recruiting, selecting and managing employees. Although these tools share the similarity of providing information and insight into an employee’s ability and personality, employers use them for different reasons and sometimes at different stages of an employment cycle. Both interviews and observations have advantages and disadvantages when used alone; together, they can provide multidimensional views of an employee’s capabilities.


Interviews can be highly structured to facilitate the efficient processing of many applicants. Sets of questions gather basic information that is used to screen out inexperienced or unqualified applicants, or those lacking effective communication skills. Although some companies may opt for more loosely structured, dialogue-based interviews, standardized interviews using question sets continue to be a rapid way to compare numerous candidates. Interviews can be led by one or more individuals representing the hiring organization.


Observations are inherently less structured than interviews because employers play a more neutral role. Observations may be completed by a manager or team of company leaders. Candidates take the center stage in showcasing their skills and abilities; for example, teaching a demonstration lesson or making a digital presentation. This unstructured process can provide deeper information, since employers directly watch candidates in action. Time constraints sometimes make this a less desirable option.

Different Thought Processes

Employers use interviews not only to learn factual information about prospective hires, but to gain insight into their thinking processes. Tough questions or unexpected questions can throw candidates from their scripts, allowing employers to see how potential hires articulate themselves during an uncertain or uncomfortable moment, according to the Willamette University article, "Application Process: Interviews." Observations can similarly include moments of unexpected action; for example, an employer might plant an uncooperative or disruptive audience member during a presentation demonstration and then observe how the candidate handles the situation. Although a candidate may talk a smooth game about calmness under duress during the interview, she may behave more erratically in real-life situations.


Interviews and observations can be used after hiring to gauge performance or gather information about company culture. For example, employers use exit interviews to learn more about employee perspectives about their experience with the company. Employers also conduct interviews as part of internal investigations related to theft or employee conflict. Observations are more likely to be used to gather information about an employee’s performance with the company. Managers or employers may observe workers in department meetings, or how they interact with clients. Data and observations can then be incorporated into employee evaluations, or provide insight into which employees should receive promotions or additional responsibilities, according to Nolo, a legal advice website.

Employee Perspective

Although both interviews and observations are effective tools for employers when evaluating current or potential employees, workers may feel differently about them. Most individuals are accustomed to job interviews as a standard part of the hiring process. However, some workers may feel resentful about being observed if they feel it implies a lack of trust about ability or work ethic, according to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc.


Morgan Rush is a California journalist specializing in news, business writing, fitness and travel. He's written for numerous publications at the national, state and local level, including newspapers, magazines and websites. Rush holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, San Diego.

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