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Matthew Petroleum Notes


You may have noticed that we’ve changed the title. To see why, we need to surrender to a quick look at a couple of highfalutin concepts. Don’t worry it won’t take long. 

A famous article in The Harvard Business Review, a publication which knows a thing or two, concluded that the best way to find out if a job candidate is up to the job available was for the employer to give them a project to do, and watch closely how they get on. Serious job offers need a bit of serious effort to find the right candidate, it concluded. This sounds sensible, if the employer can be bothered.


The telephone interview

At the other end of the serious effort scale lies the telephone interview, commonly used by recruitment agencies to whittle down hundreds of CVs to a manageable shortlist. It’s a fair method for testing candidates’ technical knowledge but, if you believe the stuff written by recruitment-types, many of them use it as a type of personality test. They can tell, so they say, the level of a candidate’s enthusiasm and commitment to a job by asking them some sneaky little questions and see if they drop themselves in it.

If a candidate takes the bait (maybe they’ve never heard of ‘Interview Question’ web searches) then the telephone interviewer congratulates themselves and dumps them off the shortlist. This heads the recruitment process directly for the jaws of Apophenia, which is where the problems start.

The man in the moon

Apophenia is the ability of people to perceive meaningful patterns out of random information and is the curse of telephone interviewees. The telephone interviewer draws connections between what the interviewee says or doesn’t say and infers what their personality, level of commitment and motivation must be like. They don’t do this by active choice but are helped along by their possessing a high level of false sensitivity (perhaps why they ended up working in recruitment instead of being a welder). This works by providing the interviewer with a warm comfortable feeling when they reach an apophenic conclusion about a candidate, so it makes them feel good.

Children show a very high level of this false sensitivity, it’s part of their make-up, which is why they instantly see our friend The man in the moon.

If you want to put a more formal meaning on this apophenia thing then it’s what’s known in statistics as a type I error, or a false positive. The interviewer has concluded that the interviewee is positively something they are not. In this way, employers may never even get to see the best candidate for the job or end up with one that is mediocre or will quickly leave. Once they have left, off goes the employer to repeat the process that has just failed them. You only have to look at the lousy staff retention rates for some companies to wonder how they can possibly get things so obviously wrong.

Telephone interview

Telephone interviews: Enthusiasm and motivation

Let’s say you are a job candidate about to undergo a telephone interview. You now know about the dangers of your apophenic interviewers just waiting for the opportunity to fit you into some little box from which there is no exit, so you want to avoid it.

You will have heard about the importance of interviewees showing enthusiasm during a telephone interview. Employers like enthusiasm from their employees; although once you’ve been working in some jobs for a while you might conclude that they weren’t exactly 100% successful. Truth is, most employers really aren’t that good at choosing the best employees, particularly if they leave it in the hand of agencies until the final interview stage, but that’s another story.

The enthusiasm hoax

Hoax: A falsehood deliberately fabricated to masquerade as the truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment

You’ll notice, perhaps, that the style of CVs has changed in the past few years. It’s no longer sufficient to list all your previous jobs and qualifications. Now, you’re expected to include statements about your self-motivation and child-like wonder at the world of your prospective employers. Everyone puts these in. They can’t all be true so no-one really believes them, which is why they qualify for the term hoax.

Both parties to a telephone interview need to play this one very carefully. We’ve listed to hundreds of prospective candidates express bubbling enthusiasm on the telephone. Some were genuine but many who bubbled were just following guidance to sound enthusiastic, so that’s what they did. A few, we think, just liked to hear themselves speak. The bad point about artificial enthusiasm is that it works fine when things are going well but falls totally flat when faced with the slightest adversity. We soon learned, at a price, not to confuse apparent enthusiasm with motivation.

The way in (or out)

As a telephone interviewer one of the time-honored ways to deal with artificially-generated enthusiasm is to meet it with very specific, tight technical questions about activities and projects on the applicant’s CV. That way you can dig into the candidate’s motivation history and not fall victim to the enthusiasm hoax. It’ll work most of the time, as it is next to impossible for a candidate to disguise motivation as enthusiasm if you ask them enough technical questions.

As an interviewee, the guidance is simpler. If you are not genuinely interested and enthusiastic about an advertised job then don’t apply for it. Even if you bluff your way through all the interviews you’ll get a job that you don’t like and your enthusiasm will fall flat after your first month in the job. Before long all you’ll be exhibiting is the type of dead-eyed corporate compliance that you can see in many meeting rooms, companies, and even their branded websites.

Remember the little rule; Enthusiasm in good but is easily faked. Motivation is different and is what employers really want. To fake motivation you have to be very good, because your past history shows evidence of how much of it you have.

This article is the work of our website contributor The Interviewer

Interested in the wider aspects of how technical interviews work in the inspection/integrity industry? Read our article Asset Integrity Interviews:Some facts

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