Mind Matters: Behavioural job interviews

When I was a law student in the US, I interviewed for a law clerk position with a trial-court judge, who I knew was a war veteran.

I saw that he used a cane to move when I met him in his chambers.

As he was moving, he dropped a document on the floor.

I was frozen with indecision: I could pick it up for him or I could wait to see whether he would pick it up himself.

What would you do in my place?

Pick up the document for him and run the risk of being perceived as insulting him for his disability?

Or do nothing and seem unhelpful?

I did nothing.

Slowly he picked up the document.

I completed the interview and did not receive a job offer.

Did the judge use a behavioural test to decide whom to hire?

I asked myself that question recently after reading about the behaviour tests some CEOs use to select new hires.

One CEO in the news takes applicants on a tour and stops at a company kitchen to make tea or coffee for them.

Then the CEO take applicants into his office.

The behaviour test: At the end of the interview, will the applicant take his or her cup back to the kitchen or just leave it in the CEO's office?

Applicants who leave the cup do not receive a job offer.

Another CEO makes sure there is a sweet wrapper near the door to the interview room. Applicants who do not pick up the wrapper do not get a job offer.

As a psychologist, I wonder whether these tests show who will make a good employee.

I doubt there is any evidence that they do.

Recently I had a dream in which I was telling someone how I decided to hire a certain person to work for me as a psychologist.

I said that in a role-play with me acting as a client, the person demonstrated the proper skills. I added that I also considered letters of reference and other information.

Awake, I gave my dream-self credit for basing my decision on multiple types of information.

All this thinking about job interviews leads me back to my experience with the judge.

If I had it to do over again, I would say to the judge: Would you like me to pick up that document?

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Behavioural, Cognitive and Social Sciences, University of New England.