The truth-default state suggests that people presume others to be honest because they either don’t think of deception as a possibility during communicating or because there is insufficient evidence to prove that they are being deceived. This is something that human beings have relied on for centuries and it explains many of our interactions. However, despite being programmed to assume the honestly of others, more and more society teaches us to be wary of strangers. In his new book Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell delves into the various consequences of not understanding one another and of unfounded doubt based only on the strangeness of the other person. Every day, recruiters meet countless strangers, be they jobseekers or company directors, all with their own agenda. Ofttimes they’re expected to scrutinize and question the veracity of the people in front of them. Here, we want to look at why it’s important to believe in the truth by default when recruiting.
How the truth-default state works and why it’s important
Do you remember the last time you met someone at a party? You probably asked the usual questions, like “where are you from?”, “what do you do for a living?”, “who do you know at the party?”. And I’ll bet you took the answers provided at their face value and didn’t crosscheck them online (unless you had some romantic interest in the person, or you wanted to expand your business network). That’s because we are designed to believe people tell us the truth so that we can communicate freely and create relationships with others. If we were to doubt one another on a regular basis, we wouldn’t feel safe asking for help or advice, requesting a service, entering into a partnership or pursuing business projects. Society is quite literally built on trust and shared norms.
And yet, people can and do lie. I had a friend who would make up detailed bogus professions and give everyone a different name at social events. It was funny for anyone who knew the truth, but it was also unsettling. Seeing anyone and everyone falling for the fake name, the fake profession, the fake advice and information really highlighted how easy it is to take advantage of the truth-default state. Clearly, when there is nothing to gain, people don’t expect lies and they don’t question what they’re hearing.
However, job applicants do potentially have a reason to stretch the truth: they want to impress recruiters and pass the recruitment process. So, unlike the unsuspecting party guests, recruiters turn often turn of their truth-default state and go into high alert for anything that sounds unbelievable.
The untrusting phases of recruitment
In fact, recruiters don’t just lookout for lies, they follow a series of steps to unnerve candidates, weed out false or exaggerated information and scrutinize their supposed skills. The approach is everything but trusting and for that reason, it goes against natural human interactions.
Questioning and Interrogation
First up, after the CVs are filtered and sorted, the recruiter invites a lucky few to come in for an interview. Just a formal consultation to evaluate qualifications, a meet-and-greet face to face to get to know one another, right? Well, not quite. Despite the seemingly ordinary exchange, an interview is anything up straightforward. You go in and talk to someone you’ve never met before about your previous career, your education and your desire to start a new job, only to have them question your answers and pry into your life choices. Sometimes they even ask you trick questions like, “if you were on a desert island and could only take one thing with you, what would it be?” and you wonder how this will help them determine your ability to write code. Furthermore, the recruiter doesn’t tell you about their career, hobbies or education. The only person on trial is you. Instead of trust, you’re met with scepticism concerning some of the most defining information about yourself. No wonder there are so many articles out there on how to prepare for an interview, directed at desperate jobseekers. And the articles don’t advise, “just be yourself and show then you have the skills for the job”; it’s all about “first impressions”, “eye contact” and dressing appropriately. Obviously, this can lead to some disappointment if your model employee turns out to be the shy type, with awkward mannerisms and poor taste in clothing.
With AI and personality tests in the 21st century, it’s no wonder recruiters all over the world are turning to these tools to cull candidates and speed up their recruitment. Nowadays, some companies can hire employees without them ever meeting a real person. Is that a bad thing? Only time will tell. If you’ll be working solely with robots, some might argue that it reflects the conditions of your future work environment, so maybe the problem lies elsewhere. Either way, dealing with AI requires learning how to be understood by it. Say you fill out a series of questions for the first part of your recruitment process, which will then be sent through to a real person or rejected depending on your responses. If you don’t use the right keywords or you make spelling mistakes, the machine would misunderstand you, whereas a human being can deduce the meaning of your text.
In a way, AI forces us to be both more accurate and more rehearsed. We need to think like the robot to beat the robot in a sense. But if we’re slowly becoming machines in the workplace, why even hire human beings? Instead of showing our personality and our uniqueness, we find ourselves fitting into one of two boxes: accepted and rejected. Only then can we move onto the next part of the process.
Speaking of personality, there’s a test for that too! Through sometimes confusing questions, your score can supposedly tell recruiters about your strengths and weaknesses. Usually, these tests are limited to about 5 to 15 different outcomes, so it would be similar to reading a horoscope and assuming that can teach you about someone. Call me old fashioned, but I find there’s nothing better for getting to know someone that truthful conversations.
Another kind of test a recruiter can use is one that assesses your skills. These are the worst! It feels like you’re already doing work, only it isn’t paid, and the outcome is uncertain. Probably the worst part of these kind of tests is that, just like the beginning of the recruitment, they often use AI to correct the answers, so the same problems apply.
Even when recruiters have found a real interesting profile, there still isn’t room for the truth-default state. It has become standard procedure to do a background check. This means that even when there is a friendly exchange between recruiter and candidate, recruiters assume that the candidate is potentially lying or hiding something, so they look online or call references to be absolutely sure there is truth and nothing but the truth. This means that candidates sometimes hide their personal social media pages under false names, or they don’t post content they would normally. The fact that someone could be rejected from a job based on their personal life almost crosses a line into the invasion of privacy. That aside, there being no assumption of truth keeps all employees on their toes and unnatural in their professional setting.
How recruiting can be more trusting
Obviously, if the process is so long and the recruiters so cautious (dare I say, suspicious), it’s because the job market is very competitive and yes, people lie. In a way, by checking CVs and backgrounds, recruiters are trying to give everyone a chance and they are weeding out the less perseverant in the candidate short market. That said, there are better ways to go about hiring the best and most resilient and here are just a few:
- Be transparent. If candidates need to reveal their professional past, then recruiters should open up too. Trust breeds trust. Show your candidates that you are already peers and maybe future colleagues.
- Respect privacy. Even if you have to do a background check as a recruiter, try to get your information from the candidates and stick to the professional life. Ask for referrals and check LinkedIn, but don’t snoop around Facebook and Instagram (or try asking candidates if they mind).
- Offer training or first-hand experience in the company. If you’re worried candidates don’t have the right skills or won’t like the work, offer candidates the opportunity to come in for a day or a week to learn about the company. This is kind of like work experience adolescence do at school to learn about the real world and the goal is the same: help them find their true calling.
- Keep candidates informed. During the process and even afterwards, let candidates know what you did or didn’t like about their application. If your advice can help them get another job, then you’re doing your job as a recruiter.
So there you have it: all the reasons to promote the truth-default state in recruitment! If you want any more information or you want to share your thoughts, leave us a comment below.
Author: Ali Neill
As the job board tester and blog editor for the Jobboard Finder, Ali works on job boards from all around the world and keeps a close eye on the recruitment trends thanks to a number of sources, including the website’s social media pages.
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