A new Wharton study reveals that MBA candidates do not only compete with the thousands of candidates who applied to the same program in the same round, but mainly against the other candidates who interviewed on the same day. Interviewers tend to evaluate candidates in reference to the other candidates they interviewed that same day, and not necessarily in comparison with candidates they interviewed over a longer period of time. It seems that candidates who interview towards the end of the day have a lower chance of being accepted!

This is especially true for a strong candidate who interviews after a sequence of strong candidates. The interviewer will usually refrain from granting a number of good scores in a row, and therefore is likely to evaluate the next candidate lower. Of course, a strong candidate after a sequence of weaker candidates will actually be at an advantage. In addition, if the interviewer knows that in general he should recommend about 50% of those he interviews, he is likely to employ this percentage with his group on a single day, and not over a few days. If he has reached his “quota” of 50% before the end of an interview day, he is likely to reject the subsequent candidates. The study checked the psychological influences that can cause a diversion in interviewers’ judgment, and claimed that people expect that a coincidental sample of people will bear randomized results and should not include a sequence. A sequence of strong candidates, therefore,  is not reasonable in their eyes and the final interviewee will suffer from the interviewer’s inclination to break the sequence.

Of course this information is not helpful for interviewees since they do not have the ability to schedule the time of their interview nor who else interviews that day. On the other hand, the study recommends that interviewers input their evaluations of candidates into a system that allows them to view the overall group of candidates for comparison.

The psychological diversion revealed by the study can also explain strange cases of candidates who were accepted to more selective programs but were rejected by less selective programs.