More Career Nonsense

Every so often, I come across shameful hiring information included in newsletters. I always thought journalists were supposed to research their facts; however, in a recent career newsletter, there were three articles that immediately got my attention. If any readers come across articles like these, may I suggest you flame the author for reporting pure nonsense to both recruiter and applicant.

Secret Documents

One article suggested the “secret career document” approach. According to the author, this is a powerful technique created by one of California’s top marketing professionals. This professional allegedly guarantees applicants will immediately be in the top of the “must-hire” list for any position they seek. According to the author, handing this document to the interviewer literally encourages him or her to hire on the spot! What a concept! Where can I get one?

I don’t know about you, but I immediately have questions when I read this kind of stuff. For example, is the author clueless or shameless? Do journalists believe jobs are so simple that anyone can qualify? Or, are they recommending an elaborate program involving kidnapping and extortion?

I am not sure what to make of this claim. It seem like the writer believes interviewers are so inept they can be easily tricked by reading secret prose. He also seems to believe that anyone can have any job he or she desires just by writing a great letter. (The real truth is that he is probably taking a break from his regular job as a barrister finding beneficiaries for a $10 million Nigerian slush fund.)

Yes, smooth letters and job summaries can be helpful when seeking a job, but let’s get real. This stuff is silly. It puts interviewers in a bad light, makes every applicant think intro letters outweigh skills, and ranks right up there with promoting radioactive mouthwash as a cure for gum disease.

Freelance authors: Be careful with what you report. Recruiters and interviewers: Be careful with what you write because someone might just believe it.

Rehearsal Programs

Rehearsing the interview was another forgettable suggestion. These were recommended when encountering interviewers armed with insightful questions like, “What would your friends say your greatest weakness is?” or “What kind of tree are you most like?” or “What is the sound of one hand waving ‘get lost’?”

One consultant suggested foolish questions were often company policy. (Sure. And so is feeding everyone free coffee and locking the restroom doors.) If senior executives have enough free time to make silly questions “company policy,” then you can be assured they are wasting good money hiring poor employees. Zen-like questions might be good for achieving inner peace or staffing a Buddhist monastery, but they tell you more about the interviewer than the applicant. In fact, a wise Zen master might even say these interviewers have achieved a state of no-mind. I could buy that.

Don’t get caught in the leading-question trap or think you can discover hidden knowledge by asking questions that have unverifiable answers or are intended to provide deep insights into an applicants’ character. Smart applicants will outsmart you every time.

Beyond asking a few general questions to start the conversation flowing, make the majority of your questions job-related, specific, and hard to fake. If an interviewer cannot figure out what these questions are, then it is a sure sign he or she will default to the Sigmund Freud approach (but without the education, experience, or skill).

So, if “favorite tree,” “describe yourself,” and other unverifiable questions are at the top of your interview list, sign up for a course in behavioral interviewing. It will probably only cover about one third of what you need to know (the other two thirds are job analysis and standardized scoring). But, at least you will make a better impression on applicants than pretending to be a dead, 19th century psychoanalyst.

Bad Test Practices

Some people would like you to believe that motivation or personality tests are all you need to predict success. But, aside from unskilled jobs, doesn’t every job require some form of hard skills? Job performance is a two-sided coin: it takes both job skills and job motivation. Unmotivated, highly-skilled people are considered underachievers. People with different personalities perform the same. And people with the same personalities perform differently. Highly motivated but unskilled people are “train-wrecks.”

Does motivation accurately predict everything you need to know about job skills? Only if the sole product you have to sell is a personality test.

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Academics make a serious distinction between traits, styles, characteristics, motivations, and so forth. From a hiring perspective, though, all we generally want to know is a person’s “AIMS.” That is, does the applicant have the “Attitudes, Interests, and Motivations” associated with job performance?

Applicant motivation is one of the harder areas to evaluate. It is easy to fake; unemployed applicants are generally motivated to get hired and tend to say nice things about themselves. So, as a general rule, questions about motivation tend to lead answers. Smart folks know how to fake well. In essence, you can never be certain whether applicants who answer motivational questions are being truthful, don’t have a clue about job requirements, or just faked you out. That’s a problem.

In my experience, motivation is accurately measured using hard-to-fake written tests that directly relate to job characteristics. “Directly related” means test items are not generic. The DISC, for example, is a four-quadrant generic test. This is OK for understanding that people are different, but it’s insufficient for predicting job success. Why? Jobs are complex. Dr. John Holland, for example, identified six separate job motivations: investigative, artistic, realistic, enterprising, social, and conventional. Holland observed that certain job characteristics appealed to different types of people (job skills notwithstanding). Additional research by other investigators eventually showed conscientiousness, extraversion, and not being neurotic affected job performance. In summary, a thorough evaluation of job fit and job attitudes requires measuring roughly nine dimensions…not four.

“Hard to fake” is another matter. It means the test delivers consistent results and test scores directly related to job performance. The DISC (and its clones), for example, is an “ipsative” test. Applicants are asked to select which adjective is most like them and least like them. At the end of the test, the “mosts” and “leasts” are summed and the totals manipulated to get a D, I, S, and C score. Nice and neat, right? Sorry.

Are all the adjectives equally weighted? That is, if Jamie selected 6 of the 24 dominant adjectives and Johnny selected a different set of six dominant adjectives, are their scores the same? Nope.

But that’s not all. Johnny and Jamie probably compared their six “D” adjectives to entirely different sets of “I” adjectives, “S” adjectives, and “C” adjectives. So, even the comparisons were different. Are Johnny and Jamie still equal?

Finally, after a little adding and subtracting, the test goes out on a limb and predicts that one profile represents a public face, one a private face, and one a back-up face, all from comparing four sets of 24 words. Please! If personality was that simple, psychologists would have stopped arguing about it years ago. Someone’s preference for 100 words predicts just that: a preference for 100 different words.

In summary, while Johnny and Jamie appear to have similar scores, they described themselves using totally different standards, used an insufficient number of factors, made individualistic comparisons, assumed equal weights, may or may not have matched job standards, and were backed by an extensive narrative based on limited data. Four factors do not cover everything you need to know. Comparative (e.g., ipsative) scoring doesn’t allow you to compare a person to a job. The DISC is probably OK for training, but it does not meet professional standards for hiring. Does this seem like a trustworthy hiring approach to you?


If you think finding applicants is hard work, then try testing their skills in a field characterized by an abundance of bad science, poor advice, and misinformation. It’s enough to make an applicant believe in secret documents and rehearse his or her interview answers before taking the interviewer’s DISC profile.


3 Comments on “More Career Nonsense

  1. I realize this comment is 3 years past the original post, but the “Secret Document” you referred to is simply an action plan for your first 90 days on the job. Apparently, it is intended for the SECOND interview, and requires taking notes during the first interview, or extensively researching the company before the interview. The guy you are referring to charges $79 for that. I’d say that has “rip-off” written all over it.

    1. If it’s the same guy (see link below), he’s been selling a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow — an idea he monetized from a job seeker who gave him the idea for free! By now, he’s charging more than $79. Having research and surveyed job seekers, I was beginning to think there was some secret sauce and indulged in the pitch for close to five minutes. At no point in the pitch does he tell you what the secret is. It is strictly sales — and an up-sell at that. He’s selling ancillary career coaching services, which is a waste. By the time people get to him, it’s because they’ve tried all the basic advice. He ought to lead them to a landing page with a PayPal link to buy the template and be done with it. I stopped listening b/c I realized the secret wasn’t a one size fits all. Google lead me here.

      And you’re right Frank, it’s a compelling tool, because no one plans their first 90 days of work. However, the challenge for most, in 2017, is getting a first interview vs. a screening call. Gatekeepers now have gatekeepers!

      Secret Career Document’ and my ” WOW… You’re Hired!”

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