Musings – Part 16

Musings – Part 16

Hiring.  Most employers either believe or hope their recruiters can accurately predict a candidate’s future job performance from an interview. While that conversation may help them figure out whether they like the person (which has some value), it can’t definitively tell them how effective she will be as an employee. We have a inbred but false sense of confidence in our ability to predict outcomes, particularly when it comes to finding that diamond in the rough. Hence, we too often bet on the wrong person and reject the right one. Recruiters who can resist that hubris are more likely to find the right candidate for the job.

Walt Disney was not hired as a cartoonist by The Kansas City Star because, in their judgement, he “lacked imagination.” Record companies said no thanks to the Beatles, Madonna, U2, Kanye and Ed Sheeran. A hotel, a police department and a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise all denied Jack Ma a job. And 30 NFL teams decided not to draft Tom Brady (he was the 199th pick). We have over a century of evidence on why job interviews fail and copious expert advice on how to fix them. Yet, bad hiring continues to be the norm.

Though we’re all inherently biased, we rarely acknowledge or address that fatal flaw when it comes to hiring. Across all industries, research tells us that, even when candidates’ résumés are identical, those with white-sounding names like Elizabeth or Robert get 50% more interviews than those with names like Lakisha and Jamal. There’s ample research that says birthmarks and being pregnant or overweight put job hunters at a disadvantage. And taller men who shave their heads and have lower-pitched voices are deemed to have greater leadership potential.

So, how can you increase the odds of finding the right one? Stop asking the wrong questions. A favourite one seems to be “what’s your greatest weakness?” Even Michael Scott (The Office) aced that query: “I work too hard. I care too much.” Most recruiter questions reveal more about who’s asking than who’s responding – particularly those who seem to enjoy stumping people. Same-old questions are easy to game, especially for experienced applicants. Situational questions that mimic the tasks a job actually involves are far more revealing. A standard set of behavioral questions that identify the key skills and values sought may sound robotic but can triple the accuracy in predicting eventual performance and also significantly reduce interviewer bias.

As presently structured, most job interviews favour those who are good talkers. For various reasons, credentials are overrated and identifying the drive to improve is underrated. Studies suggest over 90% of university grads stretch the truth to improve their odds of getting the job. It doesn’t matter how much experience people have if they lack the ability to think creatively and the capacity to work collaboratively and keep on learning. The goal should be to hire people with the potential to make the organization better. Want more? Check out this new course.

Confidence.  This is a self-taught quality of mind, not a skill learned by intellectualizing the counsel of others. The path isn’t to seek reassurance of our worth; it’s to live at peace with our ineptitude. A graceful acceptance of our frailties and imperfections over time reduces the sting of failure and the worry of humiliation. Confidence is understanding we are fragile, flawed, uncertain, anxious and rather strange. I know many struggle with this notion (I meet them in my courses). But everything worthwhile in life follows a struggle of some kind. Which is why we feel victorious. Giving up too early or too easily ends the learning and stunts our growth.

Some assume confidence equates to being extroverted, assertive or aggressive with others. It does not. These behaviours often mask insecurity, impatience and intolerance. Likewise, overly passive behaviour can encourage the resistance of others. When we allow self-doubt to derail our intentions or anticipate that our views will be adamantly opposed, we convey our fears to those we seek to influence. In so doing, we unintentionally stimulate their reservations and generate push back where it may not already exist.

Those who are plagued by self-doubt, often speak in tense, defensive tones which make them sound untrustworthy. Their speech contains verbal tics, like um, uh and “you know.” They talk more than is needed thus, as we say, “go in circles.” Their non-verbal gestures project weakness, nervousness and fright – little eye contact, too many hand gesticulations, head lowered and arms crossed. Their language is replete with submissive words, like “kinda,” or “I was wondering if maybe you have time,” or “if that would be okay with you?

Confidence is realizing almost everything worth doing or important will likely be met with some degree of rejection. Confidence is facing this opposition in a calm, relaxed, fearless way. It’s speaking with intentional pace and deeper pitch, using appropriate pauses and occasional silence when challenged and stating the case with conviction. It’s mastering controlled, non-threatening body language gestures like chin up, straight posture, relaxed hands and a pleasant smile.

Only time, repeated failure and resolute perseverance can make confidence one’s second-nature outlook and response to disagreements. Confidence is much like a muscle – the more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes. Those who possess it inspire the admiration of others. Those who don’t invite undue criticism, hostility and resistance. And, when you lack it, others have little or no confidence in you. They feel and then feed your self-doubt. The antidote is to ditch your wishbone and grow a backbone.

Social Media.  Three forces bind communities: high trust, strong institutions and shared stories. Social media has undermined all three. Posts that trigger negative commentary are the ones most likely to “go viral.” They ride to fame or ignominy based on the repeated clicks of thousands of in-group strangers. The retweet button has made social media a nasty place of dishonesty and mob dynamics by weaponizing frivolous contentions and false beliefs.

Recent studies confirm the extent to which social media is corrosive to our trust in governments and institutions in general. (Today, Reuters reported that trust in the news media in the U.S. is the lowest of any country surveyed at 26%.) It amplifies polarization, foments populism and spreads misinformation. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other platforms have knowingly dissolved what we believe is true by deputizing a minority to preach their views in harsh and ludicrous ways without accountability. This has real-world consequences. Innocent people are harmed and teenagers shamed into suicide. Social media doesn’t beget justice, honour diversity or promote inclusion. Rather, it gives rise to a society that ignores context, mercy and truth.

Those who use its virality as a vehicle for their outrage and vitriol empower more provocateurs and trolls while silencing the thoughts of good citizens. Social media gives voice to extreme views while reducing that of the moderate but exhausted majority. In America for example, those furthest to the right (known as devoted conservatives) comprise 6 % of the population. They score highest on beliefs related to a narrative that deems the country to be eternally under threat from enemies outside and subversives within. For them, life is a battle between patriots and traitors. Unfortunately, we increasingly see signs of this wrongheaded thinking in some Canadians as well.

The group furthest to the left (“progressive activists”) are the most prolific on social media. Together, these disparate groups comprise less than 15% of the population. They are unrepresentative of the broader society and also the whitest and the richest. These elites are bent on keeping us confused and angry with one another. In other words, they knowingly seek to tear us apart with the righteousness of their beliefs and a ubiquitous bully pulpit from which to profess them.

The most pervasive obstacle to good judgement and common sense is confirmation bias – a human tendency to search for information that confirms our preferred dogmas. The most reliable antidote to the falsehoods aimed at us by a wild-west social media is to invite interaction with those who see things differently than we do. Done with purpose, that should makes us think rather than drink in the nonsense we are flooded with every second of every day.