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Is the interviewing process really a "beauty contest"?

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Postby Emil Chuck » Sun Feb 12, 2006 1:56 am

The book I referred to recently "Social Intelligence" mentions that there are numerous sociological studies that state that "fat" people do worse on job interviews, dating advertisements, and other aspects of customer service. Now, I won't believe that it's the only thing but it is without a doubt a factor.

That even said, there is also a danger. At the National Academies meeting, subtle discrimination occurs on the level of "fit" in interviews and general interactions. We may want to hire people on the basis of "diversity," but many times people gravitate towards familiarity nevertheless. To that point, Carlysle's point is absolutely true, and it is that "click" between people's "sameness" and "predictability" that appears to work into the concept of "fit."
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Other things more important

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Feb 12, 2006 10:54 am

One element of Carlysle's post that I think detracts from the message is the comment "You need to have a family member already in a company."

This is untrue. There are so few situations where a family member will be in the company, and yet people get employed every day. Perhaps I could see this in tiny businesses, where the "Mom and Pop" are hiring, they will give preference to their kids . . .

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Postby Carlysle Tancha » Sun Feb 12, 2006 2:25 pm

Dave-- the idea here is that there is a sense of "sameness" with family. Sharing similar tastes in gourmet food preparation could land you a job-- just because you have that "connection" factor. It seems that one should really try to survey the office of the interviewer to pick up on the "style" of the person and act like a chameleon.
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Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Feb 12, 2006 2:32 pm

Carlsyle said, "There is a sense of "sameness" with family. Sharing similar tastes in gourmet food preparation could land you a job-- just because you have that "connection" factor. It seems that one should really try to survey the office of the interviewer to pick up on the "style" of the person and act like a chameleon."

I agree with you up to the chameleon part. (No one wants to hire a chameleon, and in fact that may be quite noticeable to the interviewer). But I'd agree on the rest -- it is a good idea to scan the interviewer's room to see what you may have in common with him or her. Why not? It's all a part of the intricate "dance" that the interview has become,

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Other things more important

Postby Dave Jensen » Sun Feb 12, 2006 3:23 pm

Hi Carlysle, thanks for suggesting Dr. Barbara Ehrenreich's books. I just went to Half.com and ordered a copy of "Bait and Switch."

Reading the industry reviews of the book points out that Ehrenreich's book basically pokes holes in the whole service-aspect of job searching. She points out all those businesses and "consultants" who will gladly take your money while you are in the job-search mode. Correct me if I am wrong, but have we ever advocated on this forum any of these "services"? One piece of advice that is often echoed around this discussion is to run the other direction when someone tries to charge you money for something that has to do with a job search . . . career consulting, resume writers, CV re-mailers, etc. While I am sure they are out there, the credible service providers in the job search business are far outweighed by these sleaze operators and websites.

It looks to me that Barbara's book is more of an expose on these types of businesses, as opposed to something that could really help readers of this forum find a job. Let me know if I'm wrong, and I'll certainly post my comments when I read the book,

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chameleons vs lizards

Postby Kelly » Mon Feb 13, 2006 10:41 am

This has the potential to be a very interesting thread: why do people hire the ones they hire?

Believe me Nick, it is not tangibles. Fit is the all-encompassing notion that people use to rationalize hiring. I do not use the word rationalize in an all together negative way but more often than not, bad fit is the excuse for not hiring someone who is more qualified based on tangibles and instead hiring someone that is less qualified based on tangibles. A bad fit is bad for everyone, no matter how "good" you think the school is.

I can not overstate the importance of doing your homework when one goes to look for an academic position. Basically, people are hired based on fit. About half of this is scientific fit but before you even get to that point, people are deciding if you "fit in." No matter how strong your tangibles, you WILL NOT overcome a perception of lack of fit and trust me, you don't want to play chameleon when you are a hard working lizard.


This notion of fitting in is VERY much like the high school groups: the cheerleader, majorettes and homecoming/prom queens, the jocks, the bandies (music people) and heads (dopers), the geeks. We all knew who belonged to which one. Great analogy Carlyse.

Let's talk about this in the context of academics:

1. you are defined first and foremostly by WHERE you trained. People get some ideas about what you must be based on where you trained. Now, I have trained at 2 state schools (MS and first post-doc), brass knuckles top 10 research intensive, bust your back, medical schools (PhD; best place to be generally except in the current funding climate; if I were to prescripe a fit for myself this would be it) and elite, snootie top schools (post-doc/RAP).

I followed my question. Don't do this if you have a particular type of school that you would like to end up at. If you want to end up at a snootie school (whether they are actually highly ranked or not, this is more about how an institution sees itself than how others see it), then do not train anywhere but other snootie schools. I'm not going to list snootie schools. Some of the very best, top 10, top 20 ranked medical schools are not snootie. Some less ranked schools think very "highly" of themselves (largely without basis).

For example, high quality non snootie probably best around science schools like UMich, UPitt, UNC know EXACTLY who they ARE. They know their purpose, they have a strong institutional identity and that identity is about being top knotch science and instructional schools. They are receptive to change and have the ability to be self critical. They are bone chillingly honest with themselves. These are practical pragmatic institutionals and they hire the very best based on tangibles and their young people are successful (which is not to say they are perfect but these are the type of institutions I would advocate a young hot gun willing to lay it all out there to go for).

The hallmark of a snootie school is the inability to be self critical and to bust the chops of anyone that is. Do not think you can go to a snootie school and improve it: they have a striking inability for change and are unable to realistically assess or udnerstand their shrotcomings. Do not think you can go to a snootie school and have an opinion that diverges from the overall theme of "we are so swell."

2. if you are a young hot gun willing to lay it all out there, you will not be "liked" or appreciated at a snootie school. You will be alienated and disliked. They want people that indicate how wonderful they are, that re-inforce their own perception of themselves whether it is accurate or not. Think of these places as a ladies' tea. Been at one of them and I will NEVER go back. Everyone walking around smiling, telling each other everything is wonderful when they have at best one person in the whole institution with a national reputation. They tend to talk a bunch about how they are moving forward but if you look at the numbers, you see little to no movement. And if you point this out.......

They hate feedback about what is wrong and how to change. Want to know if you are at one of these places? Here's the "buzz" phrase: we highly value good relationships. These relationships are generally superficial and come at the expense of actually moving the institution forward. Nested in maintaining good relationships at these places is not being critical and just going along with things.

2. you do not want to try to make yourself fit at one of these places because of the name. If you trained at a brass knuckles hard core school, you will spend your days feeling like the wolf amongst the sheep. You will be frustrated beyond belief at the mediocrity they pass off/push as success.

So learn about the institution. There are some really odd places out there.
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chameleons vs lizards

Postby Emil Chuck » Mon Feb 13, 2006 11:45 am

Why am I reading "Social Intelligence", and asking others to read along with me? Well, it is to get a better picture for myself on what constitutes "fit." Many of the points brought up here I am finding are mentioned to an extent in this book (which I admit I haven't read through because I'm reading chapters multiple times to be sure I get the point).

But going back out into the issue of changing "cliques" from academia to industry. The reason why we emphasize networking is because you as an applicant have to demonstrate that you do understand that clique and its environment.

In my current spare time, I watch the MTV show "Made" (I'm rather embarrassed to say). Most of the kids profiled on that show are high-schoolers to college undergraduates who decide to break out of their shells and be made into completely different people. (Goth chick that wants to be prom queen. Prom queen/cheerleader who wants to snowboard. Football jock who wants to learn ballet. Nerd who wants to be a hip-hop dancer or rapper. You get the idea.) Their coaches spend about 6 weeks helping them transition to be at least competent if not fairly outstanding people in the new area of choice. There are many scenes of angst and anguish on the part of the individual, but in the end (normally), the kids do quite a good job and take a significant step in their personal development.

So that said, I am going to differ with the description of kelly's snootie school (since I have gone to self-described snobbish schools). I'm sure that is the perception, but I would be very surprised if anyone administering those schools would think they are not able to handle criticism. Implementing change at those schools may be different than a more responsive institution, but it's not impossible as long as you know who's in charge.

I also warn that there are snobbish departments and labs even in those dynamic institutions that are not themselves snobbish. There are also some outstanding world-class departments housed in not-so-snobbish institutions.

When you really see snobbishness, it's the OTHER professional schools. Saying you have an MBA from Harvard means something compared to having an MBA at Michigan. When industry firms hire MBA's, they can anticipate how much it's going to cost them to get someone from one school over the other, but they also know the value of that institution's name upon the degree. Maybe when it comes to industry jobs, the name of the institution means more in that same vein whereas for academic jobs it's not as important as the academic "pedigree."
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chameleons vs lizards

Postby Kelly » Mon Feb 13, 2006 12:41 pm

EC writes "I would be very surprised if anyone administering those schools would think they are not able to handle criticism."

And this is at the very heart of the problem; the adminsitrations at this type of institution frequently focus on silencing dissent as opposed to understanding the issues that lead to it and using it as a platform for change and growth.


"Implementing change at those schools may be different than a more responsive institution, but it's not impossible as long as you know who's in charge. "

the largest problem at these sorts of schools is when they solicit input they solicit it from their "old timers" under the rationale that they people have been faithfully serving the school for years (while it maintains the same position in important rankings). A funny thing happens whereby everyone finds it is easier for them to just give the answers everyone wants to hear as opposed to realistic assessment; give places like this realistic assessment and you become "a problem."

Apply Emperor's New Robe principles while everyone walks around "naked."

They just want the smilers and the "oh yes, Dr. Dean, we are moving forward" which, implicit in this answer is that the Dean is doing a good job.

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Beauty contest redux (then back to substance)

Postby Greta » Mon Feb 13, 2006 2:16 pm

Hmm... this thread has moved on to more substantial things than the original
personal appearance theme. But more (discouraging) food for thought for
the 40ish postdoc crowd:

http://www.slate.com/id/2136042/

Glengarry Botox: Will cosmetic surgery save your job? (William Saletan)
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chameleons vs lizards

Postby Emil Chuck » Mon Feb 13, 2006 3:09 pm

Kelly: Oh, I've worked with those types of organizations where if you don't tow the party line, you're fired. I just want to say it's not just at the elite schools where you can find this philosophy. (In org behavior, this is a Theory X environment where everyone's role is defined, and no one crosses anyone else's fences.)

One such environment that I notice are those programs that "can't" rise up the rankings because "they're too small" or "they don't have the attractive qualities that Big Elite School has." As a result, everyone in that environment is told, "Oh we can't do that, because we don't have the money or the interest to do that... we're Not the Elite School." It's a sense of defeatism that stymies any progress at all... those are the environments that really are bad for one's career... even if they perhaps are the Best Non-Elite School out there.
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