Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Why the Wrong Person Always Gets the Job

I have many good, smart, capable friends right now who are looking for work, and finding nothing. Other friends who, like myself, are self-employed, are having trouble lining up new clients and customers and we're finding our businesses faltering. And now I know who to blame: Stupid People.

Over the long weekend I read an article that introduced me to the "Dunning-Kruger Effect," a cognitive bias in which an ignorant person makes poor decisions and reaches erroneous conclusions, but their own incompetence prevents them from realizing how wrong they are. Basically, "ignorance begets confidence."

The opposite is also true: Those who are truly skilled or knowledgeable in any given area, knowing enough to know that they can't know everything, will tend to be more modest about their abilities compared to the bombast of the dullard.

The article I was reading was talking about the Dunning-Kruger Effect in relation to politics, and certain pundits who prey on the ignorance of their followers for political gain. But in thinking about the article, I realized it applies to all sorts of situations, including employment.

Who stands out during job interviews? Who does the recruiter remember? Is it the guy who calmly and honestly says, "I believe I can do it, and if there's anything else I need to learn, I'll do my best to learn it." Or is it the guy who proudly boasts, "I'm the best! I could have written the book on how to do this job!"

Nine times out of ten, it's the second guy, the self-deluded moron, who gets hired, and through the same process gets promoted over the years, over all the truly competent co-workers. And now, they're the ones at the top, screwing up the entire economy.

So, if you're looking for work right now, and you're lucky enough to get a job interview, and the interviewer asks you, "Why have you been out of work for so long?" Look that son-of-a-bitch right in the eye and with all the confidence you can muster say, "Because of stupid bastards like you!"

You may not get the job, but at least you'll know why.

(NOTE: Some might ask, isn't this really just another way of describing the Peter Principle? Not quite... The Peter Principle explains how, should a competent person be lucky enough to get a job, he or she will be promoted to their level of incompetence.  The Dunning-Kruger Effect explains why the competent person probably won't even be hired in the first place.)


  1. Of course, there's the question of determining if the person with whom you are interviewing is a true leader, or the type that looks to surround themselves with those whom they perceive as no threat (i.e. other stupid people)

    We live in such fascinating times.... :\

  2. I can actually think of examples of this happening. In some aspects it is why i am no longer working.
    It's not that i didn't sell myself. It's more a case of i didn't promise things i couldn't deliver and i didn't claim to be far better than i actually am. I'm also not a brown nose. So, maybe i was one of those threats that Rich mentioned?

  3. I think it all depends on who does the hiring. There are a lot of HR and recruiting professionals these days who seem untouchable by the economy. They still use antiquated ways to find people and can't agree amongst themselves about simple things like the length of a resume, when (or if) you should talk about salary and benefits in the interview, etc. They seem more hung up on hiring those who can talk their way smoothly through the interview questions. Sadly, HR and recruiters NEVER have a grasp on the actual job task -- that's the do-er bees job! Our HR department has already hired a marketing graphics person who had zero computer skills and didn't know basic photoshop. Yikes!

    A company will only be as strong as the people doing the hiring.

    Great post.

  4. Times are tough. A couple years ago I was interviewing for a staff position. The all-of-22-year-old hr person got all Dr. Phil on me, asking me rather acidilly, “what is your biggest failure?” I bit my tongue and DIDN’T say, “You mean, other than driving all the way out to this toilet and than being kept waiting 45 minutes for this interview, for a job I was over-qualified for 20 years ago?”

    In essence, the assumption that you are willing to work is perceived as a weakness. God forbid an employer learn something from a new hire.

  5. i tried that at my last job interview and didn't even get a call back. thanks for the laugh. i was beginning to suspect something like this.


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