In theory, the recruiter is supposed to do objective assessments of job applicants. However, since we were three years old, we have been assessing others many times a day, and the assessments have been totally out of personal interest, everything but objective. The way we assess others has been programmed deep into our brains. We usually don’t understand what we do and why we do as we do. Can we reprogram our brains to do objective assessments of others? In this article I will address some problems in the role of the recruiter.
Modifying the Image of Others to Suit Ourselves
Maybe you remember the argument “My father is better than your father” from when you were three years old and played in a sandbox.
Most of us constantly compare ourselves to others. We want to feel that we are as good as the person we meet, or better. If someone is perceived as better in some way than we are, we want to do something about it. This might be called equity theory in the psychology book, or it is something similar. You can recognize this in nearly every transaction with others.
One thing we can do is to think of some way the other person is inferior to us. If we don’t find any, we can simply make one up – A woman sees a woman much more beautiful than she is and imagines her as a whore. The effect of this in the recruitment situation would be that the interviewer thinks of the applicant as a whore, and that she will not be given the job.
Another thing we can do is to find up some compensating sacrifice. A woman sees a woman much more beautiful than she is and imagines that she had to work hard to get this beautiful. She could be this beautiful herself if she wanted, she just prefer to do other things then spending her time on her looks. The effect of this could be that the interviewer thinks of the applicant as spending a lot of time on her looks and maybe as less motivated to work hard.
Another thing we could do is to choose to not recognize this good feature. This is called selective perception in the psychology book. Someone says she had better grades than we had and we just chose to forget it. She can tell her life story and we just remember the things that we wanted to hear. The effect of this is that after the job interview the interviewer might not at all have recognized important qualifications the applicant told about. This would diminish the applicants chances to get the job.
We compete with people we meet for scarce resources. The means of competition, the weapons, is not usually muscle or real weapons, it is things like how much we know, how clever we are, how beautiful we are, how much power we have and how socially competent we are, things we assess during the job interview.
The scientific base of this is ethology. I read research made by Konrad Lorentz. He wrote a lot of books, mainly about birds. I read some and scanned the rest for comments about humans. I used the information to understand human interaction, but at the time I did not find relevant science about humans. There is a field called Human Ethology which will probably describe this. So, this is not science, it is mostly my own interpretation of everyday experience described in terms from ethology.
When someone uses their weapons, we get excited. If excitement gets high, two things can happen, if the other person is a possible mating partner we can get horny, if not, we get angry.
What can happen during the job interview is that the more good things the applicant tells about herself, the angrier the interviewer gets. Since the interviewer has the power this might end with serious derogation of the applicant, which will then not get the job.
This can easily get out of hand. The applicant tells something good about herself, the interviewer derogates the applicant, which then with excited voice tells things in which she really excels, on which follows even more serious derogation.
Note that this behavior is basically instinct. We are all born with this behavior. We can not change it however much we want, but if we understand what happens we might be able to control the situation and control ourselves. We might be able to not let the feelings affect our assessment.
The difference between the interview situation and other meetings is that the procedure forces the applicant to say good things about herself and that the interviewer has the formal power to always win by not giving the applicant the job.
During the interview the applicant is forced to tell good things about herself, but if she does, she is attacked and will not get the job. Someone who is not talented enough to make the interviewer feel threatened will probably get the job.
In theory, the cause of the difficulty of people over 40 to get a job could be that they are not seen as suitable mating partners and that all interviewers then get angry during the interview.
We have an instinct to help and protect children. This might cause us not to get angry at people who are perceived as young, and increase their chances to get the job.
For an interviewer skilled in derogating applicants these situations can be very rewarding. The more powerful applicants she derogates, the more powerful and important she feels.
On the other hand giving a job to someone who will get higher wages and higher status than the interviewer would be extremely unpleasant. I think the innate instinct is to hinder anyone to pass you on the social ladder.
The result of this might be that the recruiter hinders the talents and recommends the non-talents, that young people are preferred and people over 40 are avoided.
Just World Fallacy
The just world fallacy is a belief that the world treats everyone fairly. If something bad happens to a person he must be bad or have done something wrong. The believer thinks that since he himself is good and skilled, he is protected. Nothing bad can ever happen to him.
The science behind this is research by Melvin J. Lerner.
Since the believer ties his personal safety to this belief, it is virtually impossible to get him to change it.
An example of the just world fallacy is the belief that an unemployed person either is not able to do a job or don’t want to do a job. In either case he could not be employed.
The result would be that the recruiter does not even try to make an objective assessment of unemployed applicants. Their applications are immediately sorted out.
The just world fallacy can cause the applicants to be totally reevaluated. When someone gets unemployed, in the recruiters view his knowledge, skills and abilities suddenly have no value. When the same person a year later charges lots of money as a consultant, in the recruiters view the knowledge, skills and abilities have a lot of value again.
Projecting Responsibility for Other Peoples Thoughts, Feelings and Actions on the Applicant
This is also Just World Fallacy. The thought here is that if anything bad happened the applicant, he must have done something wrong. When the recruiter gets information about bad things that happened to the applicant in his life he creates a bag of imagined faults on the personality of the applicant which is necessary in the recruiters world model as explanation of these bad things that happened.
If someone raped you, fired you, bullied you or run you over by a car it must have been all your fault, and the bag of personality faults which you carry with you explains why these things happen to you. This is what the recruiter thinks. He thinks that if your personality was good, nothing bad could ever happen to you.
The result of this is that a person with serious imagined personality faults is not hired.
The Jante Psychological Game
The Jante psychological game is an extreme strategy to magnify yourself and belittle others. The person in the Jante role, Jante, avoids giving others any recognition whatsoever. They are not even worth a look.
I don’t know of any scientific description of this. There is a book of Aksel Sandemose, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, which describes at least something similar. There are books like Games People Play by Eric Berne about psychological games. This is my own interpretation based on everyday personal experience.
When Jante evaluates an applicant he would carefully find arguments of why each one of the qualifications of the applicant is not worth anything at all. It would be nearly impossible to make him change his mind on even one of the qualifications.
Jante could tell you about each of your qualifications, why they are all completely without value or relevance, but he could also be quiet, just lacking in all kinds of emotion and recognition related to your qualifications.
The result if the recruiter plays this role is that the applicant in the other role, which I call Clever, will not get the job, since all his qualifications are found to be without value. There might be applicants against whom the recruiter in the Jante role does not play this game. Maybe younger, less educated, less experienced and/or less intelligent persons who are not able to threaten the recruiter in any way whatsoever. Someone of them might be selected for the job.
Other Cognitive Biases and Fallacies
Heavy books in social cognition are filled with biases we have and faults we do when we assess others. Many of these cognitive faults are done also by recruiters. Maybe some people are able to see other people as they are without doing these cognitive faults. Others who wants to do objective assessments have to read these heavy books, learn and learn to really understand the contents. Then we have learn to use the understanding in our lives when we assess others.