Why It Pays to Go Last in Job Interviews, Competitions and Other Events

By Brian Vaszily, Creator of The 9 Intense Experiences &
Founder of IntenseExperiences.com

Here’s an interesting and useful piece of research I ran across recently: it pays to go last.

Social psychologists call this the “Social Position Effect Phenomenon,” but there is no reason we have to complicate it as such.

We’ll call it the “It Pays to Go Last Effect.”

And here’s what you need to know:

Wandi Bruine de Bruin, Ph.D., a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, did an extensive study of almost 50 years of various competitive events and found that those who appeared later in the event tend to come out on top considerably more than those who appear earlier.

The different types of competitions included TV talent shows to skating contests. In other studies it has been demonstrated that candidates who were the last in job interviews tended to be viewed more favorably than any other candidates, too.

Beyond interviewing for a job or taking those appliance-juggling skills to America’s Got Talent, how can this help you?

If you are in the business of selling anything – products, services, your insights, you-name-it – and you know you are competing with others out there, try to position yourself last. You can even encourage your potential customers to check out the others first and then come back to you. (As long as you know what you offer is exceptional, of course.)

If you are trying to make an impression on someone who is in demand in a crowded situation, try to be the last or amongst the last to speak to him or her.

You will likely realize many other applications of the It Pays to Go Last Effect in your own life.

Explanations for the effect are varied.

In part, it may be because the judge’s (the interviewer’s, etc.) own confidence builds up as things move along.

The candidates own competitiveness -- seeing what came before and striving to beat that -- may have something to do with it in some cases, but the effect is seen even when they have no idea of who the competition is or how they performed.

In part, it may be because the judges are comparing what successive candidates have that the candidates before did not (instead of fully recalling what the initial candidates had that the later candidates do not.)

Furthermore, attentions spans are short.

Just as students in school often best remember the last piece of information they studied before tests, the last candidate, last tryout, last demonstration, last speech, and last conversation remain in the mind of the “audience” and “judges” more than any that came before it.

That is all assuming, of course, that you do reasonably well in the interview, talent show tryout, speech, conversation etc. If you bomb in the interview, or drop those appliances in your juggling act, and you go last, that will surely be remembered more sharply than the others before you too.

But if you know you’ve got what it takes in whatever you are trying to impress others with, remember … it pays to go last.