Psychological Principles All Hiring Managers Need To Know

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This blog is the second in a series of three that explains how to spot and get deeper insights into candidates who use common defense mechanisms.  Projection was addressed in the first blog, this blog will explore Denial and Rationalization.

Many is not a qualification to effectively interview candidates and hire the right talent but it helps to understand some key psychological principles.   I’ve proven that sharp managers (like YOU?) can achieve professional-level (85%+) hiring success without having an advanced psych degree.  I’ve shared GE’s prodigious improvement from 25% high performers hired to 90% using Topgrading, and Argo is another great example.

Topgrading’s business model helps large and small companies conduct Topgrading interviews and reference checks themselves – the interviews that produce 85%+ high performers.  Part of our training teaches key concepts in psychology to deeply understand candidates for selection.

Here is one of the psych concepts that have helped us understand candidates,

Psychology Concept: Denial/Rationalization:  I’ve combined the two because they are so closely related.  We’re all quite familiar with both because we see them in the course of most days.  Denial is when someone sticks their head in the sand … because psychologically they cannot bear to face the truth:

  • I can drive – I’m not drunk
  • I didn’t lose the customer – they will buy again
  • I did too send it; if you didn’t get it maybe your PC is the problem

Rationalization is pulling one’s head out of the sand and then making up “logical” (but incorrect) excuses for failure.  It’s easier to blame others or outsides influences rather myself.  However, two hours ago I was taking a soaring (glider) lesson, and trying to find thermals to get more altitude.  My instructor said, Brad, you keep losing the thermals and if you want to get better blame yourself first.  Maybe it’s not your fault, but if your first hunch is that YOU turned into the thermal too fast or too slow, or you sped up too much or not enough you won’t learn to do better.  So don’t tell me the thermal was too narrow or petering out, or the glider is just not responsive enough.  True! So become suspicious when you ask for failures and mistakes in each job and the responses show candidates don’t take responsibility for failures and mistakes.  If they don’t take responsibility for their mistakes your interviewee might be hard to manage, unresponsive to developmental suggestions, or lacking in resourcefulness.

To clarify the question:  After asking for successes and accomplishments in each job, the next question is, We all make mistakes – what were mistakes, failures, or things you might have done better in that job? I’ve heard responses 65,000 times (6,500 interviews, X 10 jobs) and so I’m really, really sure that high performers admit mistakes to themselves and learn from those mistakes.

 A powerful follow-up question:  If you do NOT hear admission of mistakes early in the interview, maybe your candidate is playing the game – “admitting” no serious mistakes, thinking that will impress you.  I want to give them a chance, so I have a powerful follow up question.

Remaining candidates are honest and high performers … yet maybe 20% still try to hide any weaker points.  So Topgraders might follow-up with Pat, I’m not hearing real mistakes or things you could have done better, but all of us make mistakes in every job, and hopefully by recognizing them we learn to avoid them in the future.  You know that a final step in hiring is for you to arrange calls with bosses you’ve had in the past decade.  We talking about a job you were in from 2012 – 2015, reporting to Chris Smith.  Keeping in mind that if we move forward you will arrange a call with Chris.  So, I’d like to ask again, in that job reporting to Chris what were some things that in retrospect you could have done better?”

 That little, but powerful speech will produce real mistakes … unless Pat is suffering massively from Denial/Rationalization.  More good news is that with candidates told they have to arrange reference check calls the ones who drop out are the low performers who have not learned much from their mistakes.

Have you come across this type of behavior when interviewing candidates?  Leave a comment and share your experience.

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