Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Spring, 1999

Dynamics of the Job Interview:  When Hope and Reality Collide

Analysis by
Lucy Klaber, Yvette Otterman,
Claudia Peschiera, & Don Shea

dilbert.jpg (66642 bytes)

Dilbert, by Scott Adams

        With graduation approaching, many seniors are faced with the inevitable job search that many people dread. The interviewing process typically makes or breaks the possibility of acquiring a position. Before the interview even begins, the individual must have some idea of their expectations and what it is that they hope to accomplish. Often people entering the workforce tend to have inflated opinions of their future role in the workforce, and how their contributions are going to make a difference.

        In the interview, the interviewee is faced with many uncertainties. For example, he or she may be worried about how they present themselves and if they are conveying their thoughts in a clear and concise manner, which can be considered self-monitoring behavior. To facilitate discussion with the class, we posed the same uncertain situations to them to see how they might react. We began by determining how many seniors in the class had already begun the interview process, and we proceeded to ask them what they expected to accomplish in their careers. We asked them if they thought those expectations were likely to be fulfilled, and if they would settle for a career that was outside of their major, or their course of study. This group of questions corresponded with the expectancies of their work roles in their desired careers. Some of the seniors that comprised the class knew exactly what they were going to do after graduation, while others were more open to a range of many possibilities. We asked the whole class to rate (on a scale from one to ten) to what extent they felt their future careers would meet their expectations. Most students in the class gave responses ranging anywhere from five to seven, exemplifying the fact that they did not see themselves being extremely fulfilled in regards to their current expectations of what their career will offer.

        With all this in mind, we then decided to show our cartoon for the first time to the class. Many of the students agreed as hypothesized that this Dilbert cartoon illustrated many of the anxieties associated with the interviewing process. One student commented on the fact that Justin appeared very professional, maybe more so than Dilbert. Aside from his physical appearance, the class also felt that Justin, in the first four frames, appears to have a very high self-esteem in the fact that he feels he has the capabilities "to find a cure for asthma." According to Harter (1993) a part of self-esteem comes from direct experiences of competence and efficacy, which convinces people that they have valuable abilities and are able to functions effectively in the world. So because of his high self-esteem, Justin feels that he can adequately accommodate to the demands of the position at Dilbert's office. Self-efficacy is another principle that reaffirms Justin's perceived capabilities because self-efficacy also pertains to the idea that one is competent and effective according to the roles that they are in. The class also mentioned the fact that most interviews involve self-presentation. Self-presentation is the idea that one wants to present a good impression for a desired behavior or attitude. According to Baumeister (1982, 1986b) there are two basic types of self-presentation. In one people seek to portray themselves in whatever fashion the audience will like best. In the other, however, they are guided by their own values, using self-presentation to claim and validate the identity they desire. In this interview, Justin also embodies the concept of possible selves, the images of what we dream or dread of becoming in the future. He obviously has high hopes of accomplishments for himself because of his grandiose ideas he throws out in the interview. In these first four frames it was also clear to members of our class that Justin had an exaggerated sense of what he felt he could accomplish. His locus of control in these frames is internal, assuming that he determines the outcome because of his abilities.

        In the last four frames though, the class felt that his locus of control had become external because he accepted the let down of his grandiose expectations and realized that those ideas where beyond his capabilities. When Justin realizes that he will be unable to perform these important and idealistic tasks, he becomes a victim to the concept of learned helplessness. After several repeated disappointments regarding the position, Justin realizes that his dream of making a difference is beyond the capacities that this job is offering. Part of the humor in this cartoon is the fact that Dilbert sees his job as sitting in "fabric-covered boxes" all day long. Most professionals when posed with the question of what they do, would discuss the practices and programs of the business that which they are currently involved. Dilbert, however, puts a very boring spin on his daily activities at the office.

        Unfortunately for Justin, we clearly see by the seventh frame that his idealism has been destroyed, so much so that he seems to be forced to conform to reality and accept the available position. Not only has his idealism been destroyed but also his self-esteem and the self-efficacy that he had prior to entering the interview. Had his self-esteem remained intact, he would have remained true to his idealism and the accomplishments that he had desired to achieve in a working environment. Justin was quick to accept working in a "fabric-covered box" because it is a widely accepted social norm. These social norms are rules for accepted and expected behavior. According to Snyder (1987) people that are high self-monitors tend to be social chameleons-adjusting their behavior in response to external situations. Because of the type of environment that an interview has, Justin was constantly self-monitoring his behavior and ended up accepting the job out of pure forfeit of his original idealism. This seventh frame is pivotal because not only do we see his idealism dying, but we also see how robot-like Justin is becoming. With this new robot-like look, Justin lost his idealistic principles and conformed to the realism that many of us must accept. Few of us are really able to make a difference, even though we might come into the workforce with young, impressionable minds that we think are going to change the world. This struggle between our idealistic dreams and the realism we must face makes these last two frames humorous. Entering the workforce might also mean entering the "real world" at the same time and the cruel realities that await us in both realms. We might learn very quickly that our expectations might not live up to the pedestal position where we place them.


    Harter, S. (1993). In Abraham Tesser (Ed.), Advanced Social Psychology. P78. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Baumeister, Roy F. (1982, 1986b). In Abraham Tesser (Ed.), Advanced Social Psychology. P74. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Snyder. (1987). In David G. Myers (5th Ed.). Social Psychology. P68. New York: McGraw-Hill

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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Thursday, April 18, 2002 at 15:17:10 . This document has been accessed 1 times since 1 Jan 1999. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman