Employment Pastimes: Tall tales, business games and hiring

Every day in every town in the country, Human Resource Officers are training. They are training people to successfully tell tall tales. It is, after all, one of the most sought after skills in business, along with evading the truth.

You might ask, “How are we doing this?” Others might silently exclaim, “Of all the nerve! Why would we want to train people to distort the truth and get away with lying? I would NEVER do that!” Really? Well then, read my take on a short-story classic (with apologies to Stephen Leacock).

Here is a little thing that I have worked out, which is superior to business games in that it combines their intense excitement with the practice of those skills needed for advancement in any industry or business.

It is easily comprehended, and can be played by anywhere from two to ten players, old or young. It requires no other apparatus other than an office of the ordinary type, seats for all players, and a few thousand pens, paper clips and pieces of paper.

It is called: The Urban Employee Selection Process: A Year-Round Game for Old and Young.

The chief part of the game is taken by two players who station themselves, one at each end of a desk, and who adopt some distinctive costumes to indicate that they are “it.” If only two people play, then each take a seat across a desk from each other. Player B (the person in the less powerful position) sits opposite Player A (the person in the more powerful position). When more than two people play, Player A faces the door and leads a team. The person in the less powerful position (sitting back to the door in a lower chair on the visitor side of the desk) does not lead a team. Other players occupy a place on the same side of the desk or in as near proximity as possible to their team leader (Player A).

The object of Player A is to trick Player B into telling the truth about himself without exaggeration. If Player B is able to answer all of Player A’s questions with exaggeration, then Player A must pay philopena (or forfeit) No. 1, the offer of employment. However, should Player A trick Player B into telling the truth without exaggeration, then Player B must pay Player A philopena No. 2, being thrown out of the office by the neck. Any player who escapes paying the philopena scores one except in the situation where Player B, asked by Player A what he needs to improve, when answering not only does not exaggerate his good points but fails to turn a negative into a positive. In that case, Player A scores two points.

I’ll take a bet that this game has been played in almost every business in the country, every time people are interviewed for a job.

I’ve experienced the game myself, although I was a very reluctant player and ended up losing the match. Except for the one time I decided to play and ended up getting a job that couldn’t have been less like me than if I had gone actively seeking the job least suited to my knowledge, skills and abilities.

How did I play the game? I did what my friends (including ones that had worked in HR) told me to do. They told me to:

  • Turn negatives into positives.
  • Rethink. Instead of stubborn, say persistent; paying attention to detail is better than perfectionistic; innovative instead of totally off the wall.
  • NEVER tell them something that really is a problem if they ask what you need to improve. Instead, tell them a positive masquerading as a negative, such as working too hard.
  • If they ask you to give an example of how you handled a situation and you can’t think of what you did, make up an example based on what you think you would do (of course colour your answer based on what they are looking for).
  • Think of every possible question they could ask and then think up an answer that puts you in a positive light.
  • Every time I protested that this isn’t really fair – after all I wanted those individuals interviewing me to be honest – I was told that I was too honest. And that if I was honest, I wouldn’t get a job.

I felt like shaking my friends as well as the Human Resource officers interviewing me and shouting, “Hello? Is there such a thing as integrity anymore? What about honour? Or is everyone totally with guile? What about all this talk about values! Why even bother integrity testing! Why are you testing for one thing but hiring the other?”

You may reply, “But we are testing how quickly the people think on their feet!”

Wouldn’t a better (and more valid) way be to give those people being interviewed a problem and see how quickly they solve it? Or have them answer a question with a two-minute spiel similar to the Toastmasters’ Table Topics Section?

You might then say, “We don’t do hire liars and encourage deceit! Our tests are all employment related. I really don’t believe that most companies do those awful things.”

If that is the case, why then do books extolling the virtues of playing the Urban Employee Selection Process game sell so well? Why do so many of them read like one best-selling book at amazon.com: “Getting hired depends almost entirely on the ‘actor factor.’ Train yourself to your lines, perfect your delivery, and dress for the part, and you’ll get a job offer.”

Or like another one that states: “Readers learn just what interviewers are looking for and how to project the traits that can get them the job they want. They also get the answers to the 50 most frequent interview questions.”

Or yet another: “Filled with boxed ‘sentences to remember’?” Publishers wouldn’t be saying this (and readers wouldn’t be giving the books five star reviews) if the plan didn’t work!

All this brings to memory being at university and taking multiple-choice exams. Often, students who memorized and didn’t understand the information as well as others did got higher marks. I couldn’t understood why the deep thinkers who wrote in the margin of the multiple-choice test: “It depends – in this circumstance the answer would be A and in this other circumstance the answer would be B” ended up being penalized for thinking. The universities were supposed to reward knowledge and thinking; however, all the students knew that the top marks were given to people who memorized and parroted back what they knew the professors wanted to hear.

What is the connection between multiple-choice exams and employee selection?

That perhaps HR officers are so focused on choosing A, B or C that they aren’t looking at the question. The question is getting the person who can contribute the most to the company. And a multiple-choice exam (or selection procedure) doesn’t test the depth of knowledge as thoroughly as does an essay question or a practical project. Teachers choose them because they are fast and easy to mark and everyone uses them. They really don’t require the marker to think or spend a great deal of time preparing (just pick the questions from the pack that comes with the teacher’s text and use the marking guide).

But in my mind the critical link between the multiple-choice exam and hiring is this: just like the interview game, it’s easy to steal the answers to the multiple-choice exam and get 100% when you really know zip!

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