Dance monkey, dance: On the limitations of job interviews

Dance monkey, dance: On the limitations of job interviewsJob interviews are stressful and time-consuming for both the applicant and the recruiter. The most often used mechanism for selecting new staff is often a highly ritualised affair, with little room for meaningful human interaction. The job interview is an artificial environment that has no comparison in the social world, except maybe police cross-examination.

Formal job interviews are a limited tool to get to know the person seeking a new job. The main problem with this approach is that the balance of power is presumed to be on the recruiter’s side. This unbalanced relationship forces the applicant to be like a dancing monkey, performing the tricks that he or she believes will please the recruiters. The applicant is often left to second-guessing the ‘right’ answer to the questions. And although we are often told that there are no right or wrong answers, this is of course not correct. Some answers get you the job and the ones that don’t. The recruitment process is a case of double deception, both the recruiter and the applicant are not willing to have a genuine conversation because they are limited by the script of the traditional job interview.

Genuine Conversations

Formal job interviews are popular because they provide an illusion of rationality as it is assumed that thorough questioning will lead to the truth.

The purpose of the recruitment process is to try to predict the future behaviour of the applicant. A formalised job interview is a counter-productive human interaction with limited predictive quality when it comes to getting to know a person. The artificial nature of the job interview does, however, prevent this process from being rational.

Effective job interviews should be based on the presumption of equality between the recruiter and the applicant to espouse genuine conversations between the parties. It is the task of the recruiter to make the candidate feel comfortable and treat them as an equal conversation partner. Only this way will you be able to get to know the person on the other side of the table.

All the World’s a Stage — Deception in Management

All the World's a Stage — Deception in ManagementDeception is more common in everyday life in general and management specifically than we care to admit. Shakespeare already understood this more than four centuries ago:

All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts (William Shakespeare, As you like it).

Professional social network site LinkedIn has conducted a survey to analyse buzzwords in user profiles. It seems that almost everybody on LinkedIn is creative and effective. These are, however, meaningless statements as creativity and effectiveness are not fixed states  of mind but variables on a sliding scale.

The use of meaningless buzzwords is pandemic across the globe, although there are regional differences. Professionals from countries with a high level of individualism1 prefer to be creative, i.e. have individual and original ideas. While in Spain, a country with a high tendency towards uncertainty avoidance, prefer to be perceived as ‘managerial’. Most Italians are problem solvers, which is not surprising given the perpetual state of seeming disorder.

Deception in Management

Deception and perception management form an integral part of being human. All the Deception in Management is as common as deception in the world outside the office. Our self is not an innate property of the person, it is carefully constructed. Sociologist Erving Goffman uses a theatrical metaphor, inspired by Shakespeare’s lines opening this post. We use scripts, buy props and create backdrops for the roles we lay in society.

Professional life is, however, a special case as the selves we create in the workplace are mostly very different from that which we are in personal life. Goffman once wrote that deception is common among executives2

… blinding themselves and others to the fact that they hold their jobs partly because they look like executives, not because they can work like executives.


  1. Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 

  2. Erving Goffman (1959), The presentation of self in everyday life, Anchor Books. 

The Golden Rule of Recruitment: You get the employees you deserve

The Golden Rule of Recruitment: You get the employees you deserveRecruitment of new people or can be a stressful experience. Many organisations maintain extensive procedures to try to find the right person for the right job or even hire specialised consultants to do the job for them.

They ask strange questions that no reasonable person would ever dare to entertain: “What are your three trademarks?”, “What are your biggest mistakes?” or “What is the meaning of life” and “What is the airspeed velocity of a laden swallow?”. Some even resort to pseudo-scientific personality testing to throw some insights into these strangers across the table.

The problem recruiters have is that it is a lot easier not to hire someone than to fire them later, which leads to complicated processes to reduce this risk. Job interviews are thus a bizarre environment that often bears no resemblance to a real professional situation. The fear of taking a risk with a person and a lack of self-confidence in their people skills motivates recruiters to resort to pseudo-scientific tools and hiding behind bizarre interviewing techniques.

The Golden Rule of Recruitment: You get the employees you deserve.

Particularly in a customer service related position a person’s ability to smile and understand customers is more important than the results of a personality test or the answer to weird questioning. Asking irrelevant questions only motivates the applicant to bend the truth. Recruitment methods should as much as possible be normal human interaction as ultimately every company gets the employees they deserve.

No matter how ritualised the interview process, the Golden Rule of Recruitment remains: You get the employees you deserve.

Customer complaints are a gift: Collect as many as you can

Customer complaints are a gift: Collect as many as you canOne Monday morning Jeff came to work, preparing for a new week on the phone and helping customers. His day way rudely interrupted when his manager summoned him and scolded Jeff about a customer complaint that had come to his attention. Jeff went back to his workstation, angry and disenchanted: “bloody customers!”

The ultimate aim of any organisation is to create gains for shareholders by providing value to customers. To be able to achieve this purpose it is imperative that a business understands customers. It is impossible always to keep every single customer satisfied, and complaints are an inevitable outcome of trying to help people.

The customer is always right about their own perception of the value they receive

On the bright side, complaints are a source of information that is not always fully appreciated by managers. The customer is always right about their perception of the value they receive and a complaint provides a great insight into how customers perceive what you do. In many organisations, the number of complaints is seen as a negative indicator. When a customer lodges a formal expression of dissatisfaction, managers run around in blind panic and try to found out who is to blame for this negative experience.

McDonald’s seemed to have grasped this concept of complaints and created this beautiful pieces of advertising. They are not the only fast food company performing a mea culpa on television.

Also pizza purveyor Dominoes recently admitted having changed its recipe after customer feedback. Patrick Doyle, president of Dominoes, summarised their journey succinctly: “You can either use negative comments to get you down, or you can use them to excite and energise you”.

The moral of this story is to embrace customer complaints. A lucid manager leaves emotions out of the equation and rationally analyses every complaint and seeks ways to improve the organisation without finger pointing and enabling your staff to help their customers.

The Cult of Personality

 

Forer Workstyle InventoryThe holy grail of human resource management is to find the perfect staff member. Countless of books are devoted to the recruitment process and predicting performance based on interviews, résumés, reference checks and psychometric testing. At Lucid Manager we have written several articles about the machinations of recruitment.

Psychometric testing, mostly in the form of a self administered personality test are a very popular way help recruiters find the right person for the job. Most popular is the Meyers-Brigs Type Indicator (MBTI) and millions of hard working professionals have been branded with labels such as ENTP, INTJ or possibly FCUK.

Unfortunately these tests are nothing more than expensive security blankets for recruiters and managers that don’t have the courage to rely on personal judgement and need pseudo science to defend their decisions. Personality does exist as a phenomenon, but there is no easy technique to determine this and predict future behaviour or work performance.

However, we decided to join the madness and develop our own personality test based on grounded theory research conducted over the past four years. Difference is that this test is fully open source. You can read all about the inner workings of the FWI on the background page.

So, hop on our virtual divan and answer 22 easy questions to find our what your Forer Workstyle Inventory is.

Positions Vacant: Deviant Behaviour is a Key Selection Criterion

Positions Vacant - Deviant Behaviour EssentialWould you like to work on the front lines of contemporary management?

The Lucid Manager is hiring, and we are looking for people that don’t fit the culture of their current workplace and have difficulty being aligned with corporate goals. At the Lucid Manager, we believe that the only thing you have to be brought into line with is yourself.

We acknowledge that deviant behaviour and taking calculated risks is the foundation of innovation. We, therefore, look for independent critical thinkers who can add value.

If this were a real recruitment add, it would have been a very odd one indeed. Most companies are looking for so called alignment and matching cultural values. At The Lucid Manager, we believe that this will lead to a severe lack of innovation.

The major corporate collapses and scandals of the recent years have caused a tightening of corporate governance, and many organisations have moved away from open models of leadership that value self-initiative to more regimented models of management.

Even though the western world is waging war to spread democracy around the globe, the one aspect that dominates most people’s lives, their workplaces, are ideally meritocracies but are mostly more like dictatorships. Most organisations are managed through clear hierarchical lines, and people are not very likely to go against the grain.

Research shows that employees do not only remain silent because of a fear of retribution but also because it is perceived as a waste of their time. This silence creates psychological tension and cognitive dissonance and eventually less commitment with organisational goals.1

Organisational deviance is, however, a major source of innovation. Without the freedom to make mistakes, there can be no learning. The current wave of tightened corporate governance leads to the silencing of dissenting voices and pruning of innovative actions. The ultimate consequence of this is the impoverishment of management practices.


  1. Detert, James R., Burris, E. R., & Harrison, D. A. (n.d.). Debunking four myths about employee silence. Harvard Business Review, 88(6), 26. 

The Virtues of Nepotism: Collectivism to build strong organisations

Nepotism is considered one of the great sins of Western culture. As society has been levelled by removing class distinctions and shaped to create a level playing field for everybody, regardless of race, religion, gender. Family relationships are not supposed to play a role in any one’s chances of success. The Wikipedia definition of nepotism is:

Favouritism granted to relatives or friends, without regard to their merit.

The Virtues of Nepotism: Collectivism to build strong organisationsWhen Ian and I undertook some research in Vietnam, we came across interesting recruitment practices. From our interviews with local managers, it became clear that using family networks is an accepted recruit source for staff.

From our data, we formed the hypothesis that recruitment in countries with a collective nature, such as Vietnam, is primarily conducted through social networks. This collectivism contrasts with the developed world, with a high level of individualism, where, especially in the government sector, a level playing field is created by publicly advertising positions.

in Hanoi, family networks are used as a primary recruitment source

Although Vietnamese practices smell like the dreaded nepotism, some people made clear to us that the family networks are used as a primary recruitment source, but within that pool of people, the selection is nevertheless based on merit. A training manager of a large company told us that they have many teams in which several generations of one family work together and that this creates a great culture and sense of common purpose within the organisation.

This sense of shared purpose is considered a holy grail by most organisations in the developed, individualistic, world. Many activities are aimed at ‘aligning’ people to the common objectives of the organisation. But given that most businesses are a grab bag of people, working together more by change than by common purpose, this has proven to be an illusive goal.

Research in Australia has shown that people recruited through anonymous sources such as newspaper advertisements missed almost twice as many days as those recruited through other sources, such as employee referrals.1 This research underwrites the importance of using social networks as a source of recruitment.

Human beings are inherently social creatures, and we like to spend our time with people we like. Within that, we have a definite bias for people that we are related to. One of the primary reasons many people don’t enjoy work is not because of the work itself but because of the people they are forced to socialise with. Open recruitment processes aimed at creating a level playing field are problematic, and many organisations use abstract tools, such as personality tests, and reference checks, which have been discussed recently.

Next time when hiring people, look around your immediate and extended social circle and see if there is anybody you would like to work with that can potentially do the job. The moral of the story is: nepotism is not inherently evil, as long as the final selection is based on merit.


  1. Breaugh, James A. (1981) Rela­tion­ship between recruit­ing sources and employee per­form­ance, absent­ee­ism, and work atti­tudes. Academy of Man­age­ment Journal 24(1): 142–147. 

Predicting Behaviour in Recruitment: A Magician’s View

Predicting Behaviour in Recruitment: A Magician's ViewA used golden rule of recruitment is that past behaviour is an indication of future conduct. Businesses rely on reference checks or even Google searches to find out as much as they can about their potential new staff. But, is past behaviour a good proxy for predicting future behaviour?

Knowledge of the past is the foundation of all science and human knowledge. We try to predict the future by drawing from our experience of the past. Philosophers call this inductive process reasoning – drawing a general conclusion from a range of observations. But when you think deeply about this, we can never know for certain that our past observations can be used to predict the future. Scottish philosopher David Hume did precisely this more than two centuries years ago when he found that it is not logical to think that past behaviour is an indication of future behaviour.

For millennia people in Europe thought that all swans are white. This little kernel of absolute knowledge was rudely destroyed when in 1697 Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh was the first European to see a black swan in what is now Western Australia.

Predicting behaviour: A magician’s view

The silent part of the American magician’s duo Penn & Teller broke his usual silence and vow of secrecy when he explained a classic magic trick to a gathering of consciousness scholars. Teller showed that magicians could use the propensity of the human mind to seek patterns by skilfully changing the method during the routine. Teller beautifully illustrates what Hume philosophically argued: in human behaviour, the past is in no way a reliable approach to predicting the future.

Predicting behaviour in recruitment

it is not logical to think that past behaviour is an indication of future behaviour

We have to be careful when judging a person through second-hand information gained from referees, Facebook searches and other forms of overt espionage. People are not billiard balls that operate by laws of physics. People have free will and can change their behaviour depending on the circumstances they find themselves in. Most importantly, we can learn from our mistakes and grow as people by learning from them. Not hiring somebody who has made an error in the past could mean that you miss out on hiring an individual with a high level of maturity and ability to adapt. Therefore, when judging a person, keep in mind the words of Roman poet Horace: “Non sum quals eram“—I am not who I once was.

The Lies We Tell—Double Deception in Recruitment

The Lies We Tell—Double Deception in RecruitmentMatt was nervous. Most people are under the circumstances. Matt sat in front of the recruitment specialist, hoping that he’d end up with the job that was on offer. It was a step up from what he had done in the past—in pay, responsibility and influence.

Daniel, the Recruitment Manager, pushed a folded piece of paper and a pencil across the table to Matt and then did something appalling. He lied.

“Please answer the questions for this personality test there are no right or wrong answers”, Daniel reassured Matt.

There are no right or wrongs answers.

Mind you, Daniel had no intention of lying nor did he even realise that he had, at the time. “There are no right or wrongs answers”, is a lie that many managers and human resources professionals use from time to time. The personality tests that are conducted in workplaces throughout the world in job interviews have no answer that is intrinsically correct—as you might find in a high school mathematics exam. However, the presence of a series of questions that is included as part of the selection process for an employment role makes a lie of Daniel’s reassurance.

If a recruitment test of any kind is used in the context of an employee selection process, there is an intention to use it to justify the selection of a particular candidate and to exclude others. It has already been decided by the interviewer, recruitment expert or organisation that a particular personality is required for the role (or, conversely, that particular personality profiles are to be avoided). This means that for the organisation, particular responses on the personality test are, in fact, right or wrong.

Looking at personality tests from the candidate experiencing the job interview process, there are also right and wrong answers. In our example, Matt desperately wants the job but does not necessarily know what personality profile Daniel is looking for, nor does Matt know what responses he needs to give to present the ‘right’ personality profile for the job. Additionally, he knows that he should be honest during a job interview. When nervous, the tension created by the need, to be frank, and also the desire to meet the needs of the interviewer is unlikely to help Matt through the selection process nor help Daniel find the right candidate.

Set aside for now whether there is any validity in using Myers-Briggs, Keirsey, DISC or any other personality test or temperament sorter in a job interview, the simple message is that there are lies in the workplace that we use to smooth the path or placate people, but they are still lies.

A lucid manager will make every effort to assist Matt through the interview process and would also be aware that, truth be told, there is a right or wrong answer to every question in a job interview—the answer that demonstrates suitability for the job.

For more information and critique of personality profiles, confirmation bias and the Forer effect check out Peter’s essay, Know Thyself. Also check out Peter’s article on recruitment, arguing that every business gets the employees they deserve.