When interviewing candidates you need to understand “projection.”

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 You don’t have to have to have a Ph.D. in psychology to effectively interview candidates for hire, but it helps to understand some key psychological principles.

But first — an elaboration on the point about the Ph.D. in Psychology. There is an industry of psychologists who interview candidates for hire for companies who don’t trust their own abilities to “read people.”  I’m one of those psychologists.  Clients (CEOs) have hired me, figuring that because I have that Ph.D. I must have deep insights into the inner workings of the mind; a front-page Wall Street Journal article about me said just that.  Also, having conducted 6,500+ in-depth interviews of C-suite candidates, companies figure that, as a popular insurance company ad says, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”

But I’ve proven that sharp managers (like YOU?) can achieve professional level (85%+) hiring success without having an advanced psych degree.  Back in the 1990’s General Electric CEO, Jack Welch hired me as a consultant to build the hiring machine that would increase percentage of A Players hired.  I did, using the same chronological, in-depth, (10 questions about every job) interview guide that I used professionally. Zillions of GE hiring managers and HR professionals were trained and Topgrading was embraced to hire managers.  GE’s success shot up from 25% to 50%.  Jack asked me how to improve the results, I said use two interviewers (Tandem Topgrading Interview) and GE’s success shot up higher to 90%.  Needless to say, 99% of the managers trained in Topgrading at GE did not have a graduate degree in psych.  But I’m quite certain psych concepts are important to know.  Here is one …

When candidates emotionally criticize a weaker point in many others have this hunch:  That THEY have that weaker point.  

Shakespeare:  “Me thinks the lady doth protest too much.”  The psych term is projection and here’s what it looks like:

  • “Joe is always jumping to conclusions.”  “Pat is shallow in her analyses.”  “Plan X was a flop because (boss) is a hip shooter.”  

Of course, any one of these comments could be true and in fact all might be true, but here’s the point: when your interview gets emotional in not just criticizing one person but 3 or more, it’s a red flag.  Comments like these should induce you to go on a fishing expedition – ask questions like, “What were your most important 2 or 3 decisions in that job and how did you go about making them?” or “What would your boss list as your strengths and weaker points in that job?”  And, “What was a circumstance in that job in which you might have performed more extensive analysis?” 

Many times, when this has occurred it becomes clear that the candidate is guilty of the weaker point, and has usually been criticized or maybe even fired because of it.  They “project” their weaker point(s) onto others.

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