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31 July, 2018 Posted by John G. Self Posted in Career Management, Interviewing Skills
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Why Do ‘Smarter than Average People’ Struggle In Interviews? 

Posted July 31st, 2018 | Author: John G. Self

Editor’s Note:  John is taking the month of August off from writing a blog and hosting a podcast.  Instead, we will feature the “Best of SelfPerspective” on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  The video blog on Saturday mornings will continue on its regular schedule.   John will return with new blog postings and podcasts on September 1.


We videotape a portion of each of our face-to-face interviews with candidates we are evaluating for submission to a client.  The clients love the feature because they say it helps them make the best decisions regarding which candidates to invite for site visits and interviews.  For us, it provides the opportunity for additional study of the candidate’s performance, to glean insight as to why some candidates do well in the face-to-face interviews while others do not.

Apparently, it has little to do with the applicant’s confidence regarding their intelligence, or how they stacked up against the other applicants. A recently completed study by social psychologist Patrick Heck, PhD, and research psychologist Christopher Chabris, both at Geisinger Health System, found that most people think they are smarter than the average person — 71 percent of the men said they were smarter than average while only 59 percent  of women professed confidence that they were smarter than average person.  That number increased to 73 percent for people with graduate degrees.

Over the past 24 months we have interviewed some very smart people with degrees from top schools.  Many work for successful organizations and have impressive levels of accomplishment, but that record and their confidence in their intellectual ability does not translate into above average performance in interviews.  In fact, based on our watching this situation for more than 22 years,  the best qualified applicants are offered the job only between 30 to 35 percent of the time.  Which begs the question:  Why do so many people who feel they are smarter than they average “Joe” underperform in executive interviews?

Here is what we have observed:

  • Lack of understanding – Executive applicants do not understand the dynamics of the job search process, from knowing their value, to their inability to connect their relevant accomplishments with the employer’s needs
  • Ineffective communication – Effective communication skills are more important today than ever before.  Many candidates slide in ranking in a search because they are unable to make a compelling case for their value in a confident, engaging manner
  • Poor preparedness.  A national study among recruiters reported lack of preparation is a consistent problem across all industrial sectors. Candidates come ready to answer questions without having a plan to sell their value — they are reactive, not proactive with their messaging

In short, an executive’s superb education, job history, and record of accomplishment, their professional credentials or the size of their professional network, are for naught if their performance in an interview is just average.  

Executives may feel they are smarter than the average person but that thinking will not help them advance their career.

See you again in September.  

© 2018 John Gregory Self

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