13. Snakes in Suits: how can we stop them?

“Hiring and Selection: The First Line of Defence

The best way to protect your company from psychopathic behavior is to avoid recruiting them. This a not as passive as it may appear! The information below can help employers avoid not just psychopaths but anyone who scores on the checklist and has a hidden agenda for applying for a job.

“Psychopaths, notorious liars, often will cross the line between good marketing and outright lying. In our work with psychopaths, we have seen résumé that contain jobs the applicant never held, companies that never existed, promotions that never happened, professional memberships that do not exist, awards and commendations never received, letters of recommendation written by applicants themselves, even fake education, degrees, and professional credentials… To uncover possible psychopathic deceit, it is essential to verify every piece of information contained in the résumé before starting the interview process. Typically, however, verification of résumé data starts after the interview phase. This puts the hiring manager at a disadvantage during the interview because she has only the resume data to go on, and the psychopath is so good at justifying what she has written.

At the very least, education should be checked before the initial interview by contacting the registrar’s office at the university cited. Sometimes applicants misrepresent their actual degree by substituting something that sounds more impressive (for example, engineering is a more difficult field of study than engineering technology.) Also, because advanced degrees often require the writing of theses or dissertations… cautious companies may find it worthwhile to get a copy of these documents and let their technical staff read and assess them. Google Scholar is a good resource for this purpose. Professional credentials and licenses, especially those granted by the government to protect the public, such as …medicine, psychology, engineering, and others, can be checked through the appropriate authorities.”

“Face-to-face screen interview
…Surprisingly, many managers make two critical mistakes when approaching the employment interview, and both play directly into the hands of a psychopathic candidate. Some do not prepare the right questions for the interview; some do not prepare at all! Good candidates have a clear and legitimate agenda: they want the job, they want to advance their career, and they want to work for a particular company… The interview is the chance to impress the company with their ability and motivation to do the job. They will have rehearsed their presentation and answers to potential questions, and they will have read books on interviewing techniques and have ready answers for the most common questions, including the challenging ones, such as ‘Tell me your greatest weakness?’ ‘How would you handle it if…’ and ‘if you could do something differently in your career, what would it be?’

Psychopathic candidates also have a hidden agenda: they want to play ‘head games’ with the interviewer, and their goal is to get money and power because they feel entitled to it, not in exchange for real work. The employment interview is the ideal setting for the psychopathic candidate to shine. Therefore, it is well worth the time and effort for the hiring manager to prepare the questions carefully designed to elicit the specific information needed to make the right choice and force the candidate to go beyond pat or rehearsed responses.

The second mistake some managers make is not attending a training program on interviewing techniques, believing they do not need it because their social skills and experience will suffice. Some interviewers use a free-flowing, unstructured approach to the interview and rely on … personal impressions, a style that goes against most of what we know about good interviewing techniques and, unfortunately, leaves the average interviewer open to manipulation and sophisticated impression management by a psychopathic applicant.

Many training programs on interviewing techniques are available, and best practices suggest a format similar to this:
The Opening. Handshakes, offer of beverage… common icebreakers help break the tension of a face-to-face meeting and pave the way to the real work.
Initial Exploration. General questions about the candidate’s background, experience, expertise, education, and interest in the job, typically following the résumé format.
Detailed Questioning. Probing for specific aspects of the applicant’s background that seem to be relevant to the open position.
3 levels of responses for which a trained interviewer listens: overt answers to questions; the impression the candidate makes on the interviewer; and the underlying competencies, motivations, and values the answers reflect.
First, overt answers address questions and/or concerns about issues like:
• What did the candidate really do in this job?
• What role did he or she play in the organization- was it supportive or leading?
• How much influence did the candidate exert on the outcomes of projects?
• How did the candidate handle problems that came up?
• Did the candidate grow in his or her career and take on more responsibilities over time?
Second, as the candidate speaks, the interviewer develops impressions that can include:
• How does this candidate come across? Did the first impression change over the course of the interview?
• What is his or her body language saying?
• How serious (and realistic) is the candidate about his or her career and this job?
• Is he or she likable, bright, and engaging?
• Did the candidate seem prepared for this interview with knowledge about the job and the company?
• Is the candidate being forthright with information; does he or she come across as honest?
Third, gleaning underlying competencies, motivations, and values
• Can this person communicate well in a somewhat stressful face-to-face conversation?
• Does the candidate show interest in and stay focused on the question asked, or ramble along?
• Did the candidate demonstrate leadership, integrity, effective communications, teamwork, and persuasion skills?

One common mistake interviewers make is to concentrate only on the overt answers and their own impressions and not to consider underlying and transferable competencies, motivations, and work values. It takes a lot of work to construct probing questions that will elicit this information and a lot of interviewing experience to be able to interpret responses correctly. Good listening and note-taking skills are critical, as is a keen ear for inconsistent, exaggerated responses offered up by psychopathic candidates.

Providing Information about the job and the company
…A common mistake made by interviewers….is to spend so much time in describing the job and their department that the interview flies by without asking important probing questions. Candidates are naturally reluctant to interrupt, and a psychopathic candidate will use this time to feed the interviewer’s ego.

Follow-up on concerns
If the candidate reveals only bits of information, glosses over details, or makes comments that just do not sit right with the interviewer, then this is the time to circle back and probe more deeply. For example, when a candidate states, ‘My team won the company award for bringing the project in under budget and ahead of schedule,’ the interviewer may wonder:
• Was the candidate the leader of the team….?
• Did the candidate use this team experience to demonstrate leadership, despite not having the actual title?
• Did the company recognize the candidate’s performance by assigning a subsequent project with increased responsibility?
…Inconsistencies and discrepancies may be the result of hasty answering or the result of purposeful distortion, exaggeration, or outright invention—the interviewer drills down in order to get a good read on actual skills and true motivations. A typical question asked during this phase of the interview might be, ‘I’d like to go back to your description of the project team you were on. What was the specific role you were assigned?’ (The candidate answers) ‘What was the relationship like with…’ and so forth. This line of questioning is sometimes difficult for less experienced interviewers to execute, yet pointed questions may be the only way for the candidate to maintain his or her candidacy. Again, analyze answers on many levels, thus providing more information about competencies, motivations, and values.

The Close
Candidates will want to know what the next steps are in the hiring process, and the interviewer should have an answer that is appropriate to the situation. And the company must honour commitments regarding follow-up.” I would argue that if there are outstanding queries about the front runner, then answers should be sought from that candidate’s relevant employer before a final decision is made. After all, no candidate wants to miss out on a job because the winning candidate’s lies weren’t checked.

“…Suggestions for hiring managers to improve the effectiveness of their interviewing process, based on our experience working with corporate psychopaths (and the companies who have unwittingly hired them):

Retain Control of the Interview!
Psychopaths perform exceedingly well during an interview, primarily by avoiding answering direct questions, instead introducing topics into the conversation that they believe are interesting to the interviewer in the hopes of building rapport. This is an easy trap to fall into; before you know it, the candidate is interviewing you and has derailed your plan…The first step on our corporate psychopath’s agenda is to convince the hiring manager/team to make a job offer even if the candidate lacks the necessary knowledge, skills, or experience. Psychopaths quickly ascertain whether the interviewer will respond better to a soft sell or a hard sell, and they experience little social anxiety and discomfort during conversations that most would find daunting. This allows them to weave convincing tales of professional experience, integrity, and competence and to use an array of technical terms and jargon with such confidence and panache that even some experts are fooled…

When challenged on any detail during an interview, the psychopath will simply shift gears, subtly change the topic, and generally weave an altered tale so believable that even an interviewer who knows the individual is lying might have doubts. The psychopath’s goal is to convince the hiring staff that he has the ideal background, experience, and motivation to fill the job and the personal attributes to fit right in on day one. The psychopathic fiction, ‘I am the ideal employee,’ can be seductive.

Ask For Work Examples
It is customary in the arts…field for job candidates to show up with examples of their work in the form of a portfolio… This allows the hiring manager to judge the candidates’ quality, style, and appropriateness to the open position. In the case of business job candidates, the hiring manager should ask to see examples of actual reports written, presentations made, and projects completed. These, of course, should have any identifying or confidential information blanked out, but the manager can read and judge the great bulk of the work, giving the hiring company a good indication of the type of work output to expect from the candidate.

…If you suspect that the candidate has falsified or plagiarized the portfolio, the only option may be to drill into the details behind the actual report…

Focus on Action and Behavior
Some interviewees speak vaguely about their past without providing sufficient detail about what they really did. Others exaggerate their contributions, giving themselves the appearance of being more important to the outcome than they actually were. A full answer should include a statement about achieving some goal or solving a problem, followed by a review of the actual things that the candidate did…to address the goal or issue, and, finally, the outcome of their efforts, including what impact their efforts had on the results.

Look For Appropriate Feelings
One of the hallmarks of a psychopath is the inability to express a full range of normal emotions. For example, when telling a story that would normally elicit visible emotional reactions in most people, psychopaths may come across as cool and shallow, or as B-grade actors. Psychopaths do not understand what others mean by their ‘feelings,’ yet they will attempt to mimic them on demand. This often leads to superficial expressions or even exaggerations of emotion inappropriate to the event they describe.”

“…look for emotions appropriate to the storyline and to be sensitive to how realistic (as opposed to superficial) these emotional expressions appear. This is one time when… the interviewers ‘emotional antenna’ have a valuable place in the interviewing process.”

A psychopath’s fake emotions tend to disappear more quickly – as soon as the owner thinks they have served their purpose!

“Take Notes
It is easier to recall impressions and feelings about the candidate than facts, so it is best practice to make detailed notes during the interview…Simply telling the candidate that you need a moment to review your notes is a reasonable request, often welcomed by a candidate who may wish to take a break.

Do Not Decide Alone
A well-structured hiring process will include a meeting of interviewers….to discuss the qualifications and relative merits of the candidates. This is best practice as different interviewers see different strengths and weaknesses in any single candidate, which they should compare and discuss. Nevertheless, it is an invaluable requirement in the case of screening out a potential corporate psychopath…psychopaths attempt to build private one-on-one relationships with those who have utility to them. This now would include all interviewers and decision-makers…As astute students of human psychology, psychopaths will easily ascertain the specific psychological needs and wants of each interviewer and then customize their approach to best advantage.” If successful in this, “each interviewer will come away with a positive impression, and, to the degree that decision-making relies on this good feeling, they will all agree that the psychopath is the ideal candidate almost ‘too good to be true.’” Which I would argue is a valid reason to recheck, reinterview if necessary – it’s got to be worth the effort if your company does not want to get caught out and employ someone who not only doesn’t do their job but who damages the company.

“…by increasing the number and varying the types of interviewers (beyond the human resource professional and hiring manager), the chances of finding discrepancies that lie behind the ‘ideal employee’ façade increase. Therefore, expanding the interview schedule with a technical expert, a future peer and/or subordinate, the current job holder (if still on staff), a member of upper management, and even the department staff assistant can provide different perspectives that might uncover important information; we know that psychopaths treat individuals differently depending on the perceived utility and status. Psychopathic responses to ‘lower status’ interviewers may include condescension, flirting, disparaging side comments, and displays of entitlement, among other things.” Most people know those very experienced, not ambitious members of departments who aren’t easily bowled over, can spot Blls*T a mile off – their antenna can be invaluable.

Know Thyself
The objectives of psychopaths are to ingratiate themselves with their targets, establish trust, talk their way through any inconsistencies, build strong relationships with those in power, and then take parasitic advantage of everyone…A team of interviewers sharing information is the best defense.

Only by having a clear understanding of one’s own strengths, weaknesses, biases, and idiosyncrasies can the interviewer hope to maintain the course of the interview and not fall prey to ingratiation. This is not an easy task, as it requires personal insight.”

When it comes to promotion within management, I would say 360 appraisals are critical.

#SnakeInSuits #workplaceculture #HR #Management #workplacebullying #leadership

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