Insights from the Psychology of Hiring

FROM EMPOWERED PARTNERSHIPS: An older article but still extremely relevant and accurate…

A few insights for job seekers from the other side of the hiring desk

By David DiSalvo, Neuronarrative

Posted Feb 16, 2011

This article has been re-shared from it’s original source,


I want to combine two worlds in this post to produce something that I hope will be useful.  Outside of writing for science and technology pubs, I’ve also been a marketing and communications manager at a few organizations over the last couple decades, roles that have included recruiting, interviewing and hiring staff.

I’d venture to guess that I’ve evaluated a couple thousand resumes and interviewed several hundred people in the last 18 or so years. I’ve recruited new grads on college campuses, mid-career professionals, and 30+ year industry veterans.  This range of experience has given me a few valuable insights into the hiring process, and since I’m also a psych wonk, I’ve naturally filtered my experience through the lens of psychology research.  With the economy slowly healing, and jobs gradually opening, it seems like a good time to write about the psychology of hiring.

From start to finish, hiring is a confidence game.

When you’re seeking employment with an organization, try to place yourself on the other side of the desk and think about what your greatest concerns would be when evaluating candidates. One of the first that will likely come to mind is risk of making a bad hire. Every hiring manager I know feels the anxiety of risk when evaluating job candidates, because if they make a bad hiring decision it will reflect directly on them.  Not to mention, if the hiring manager is also the staff manager (in other words, you’ll be working for that person) they will have to face a daily reminder that they put the wrong person in the job and will probably have to let them go sooner than later.

We know that risk aversion is an in-built human tendency (and a strong one for most of us), and we know that compounding factors-like those a hiring manager must face-amplify risk aversion, in some cases to the point of decision paralysis. 

As a job candidate, your first job is to lessen the hiring manager’s risk aversion by providing reasons, both spoken and unspoken, why hiring you really isn’t such a risky proposition.

When you achieve that goal, you’ll then and only then be able to move into the phase of helping make the hiring manager’s argument for bringing you on board.

If I’m the hiring manager, the best way you can mitigate my risk aversion is by showing me how comfortably confident you are:  that you have the skills, experience, interpersonal acumen and other traits required to handle a difficult position in my organization. Said another way, best available evidence so far indicates that you’re targeting the right job. To not provide you an opportunity to compete for this position would be pure, shortsighted stupidity on my part.

I’ll be evaluating you at this level in your cover letter and resume, in how you conduct yourself on a phone interview, and how you handle yourself during the in-person interview (if you are selected for one).  This may sound picky, but I’ll even evaluate your voicemail greeting (I’ve found that people often overlook voicemail, but if you are seriously trying to get a job I’m expecting that you’re going to present yourself well across the board. Your voicemail greeting is a proxy for you and it contains information, from the tone of your voice to what you chose to record on your behalf).

Remember, hiring managers are humans with quite legitimate reasons to fear risk. We’re going to look in every nook to find something that might endanger us. If you give me a reason to doubt that you’re at least potentially a low-risk hire, don’t expect me to ignore it. At this stage we’re co-evaluating and no one owes any favors.

A Word of Caution: please don’t confuse confidence with cockiness. 

A seasoned hiring manager can tell the difference in a nanosecond. If you come across as cocky, my assumption is that you are hiding deficiencies behind a confidence facade, and I won’t choose to interview you beyond a phone screen. In my experience, cocky job candidates are the biggest risk of all – even bigger than inexperienced ones, because they are almost always wrong for the job they’re seeking. Confident candidates, on the other hand, know their level, and they’re strategic about which positions they target. They understand that it’s better to make a strong showing for a job they can do well than talk themselves into a job they really can’t do, and will likely be fired from after too much strife on everyone’s part.


Reblogged by Empowered Partnerships LLC

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