[The Job Interview] The Trouble with Men

I’m a guy, my son’s a guy, and I inherently like guys (and women too): so take this post not as a bash at males, but rather one of those 80% rules (e.g. applies 80% of the time, misses and is off the remainder 20% of the time) that hopefully informs what you do with the information.

Here’s the trouble: men are overconfident.

It hurts them in the wallet as Jeff Sommer (a guy) from the New York Times reported in Sunday, March 14th’s edition, “How Men’s Overconfidence Hurts Them as Investors.” And it can cause them to overstate their capabilities when they interview. I’ll focus on the latter, and how to correct it below: let Warren Buffet help those males amongst us who need further investment help.

Any parent with boys and girls – or any reader of the book Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax, knows that boys and girls have their differences. While Sax – who is by the way the founder and executive director of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education and somewhat of a shill for single sex schools – has a strong bias and point of view, any playground observer can rattle off differences that apply to 80% of the boys they observe and 80% of the girls they see. (And I did volunteer playground duty today: those gender differences are still there.)

Overconfidence is one of the big differences. Boys (80% rules again) generally believe they can do more than they really can: one expression of this difference lies in the likely reason why the rate for broken bones (and drownings, by the way) for boys is higher than for girls. Girls generally are more risk averse than boys.

And as Sommer notes in his article in the NY Times, “Gender differences appear to extend to other financial behaviors. For example, women who are C.E.O.’s and company directors tend to pay a lower premium in corporate takeovers, saving their shareholders a bundle.”

On the job – or more specifically the job interview – males are likely to overstate their abilities, females more likely to understate their abilities. Fans of the case study interview method, where you ask hypothetical problems and see how people would solve them, should toss that methodology out and start on something better: males again will overstate – and perhaps take riskier positions – and women will understate.

Males, to stereotype, will say “I can do that” and women will say “let me think about it.” It’s hard to tell which would be the better candidate if you are asking hypotheticals that don’t tell you much.

There are a host of good ways to interview and assess candidates contained in a  post titled [Dept. of Bad Advice] How You Can Interview Well and Disregard Dan and Chip Heath’s How-to-Interview Recommendations though asking case study and other hypothetical questions is not one of them.

Why? Because, as the saying goes, ask a hypothetical question will get you a hypothetical answer.

And it just may not get you the best candidate for the job.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.