I spent 13 years working as an agency recruitment consultant but my customer-facing jobs started a lot sooner – at the age of 12, collecting monthly charity raffle contributions for the local hospital. Paper rounds and retail jobs through school were followed by contact centres and bar work at uni, where I first learned about recruitment. It just seemed to fit with my previous experiences as well as my mindset so I figured that’s what I’d do when I graduated.
Actually, that’s a lie. It’s what I decided to do once I’d graduated and decided I hated the idea of being an employee number within a grad scheme but knew it was about time to lock in a career.
I remember my first round of recruitment interviews – I just couldn’t understand why recruiters didn’t understand that when I said “this is what I want to do” i really meant it. I explained I’d done my research. I knew that if I worked harder, longer and smarter than my competitors I would find the best candidates, I’d place them and I’d be rewarded for doing my job
But I just couldn’t get past those infernal recruitment industry group balloon debates/assessment days of the early 2000s that principally involved a white male in his early 20s talking more loudly than the rest despite not really having any substance to his bellowing. I couldn’t understand why Timmy from Surrey’s slightly shouty, verging on passive-aggressive bullying tone always got him progressed to the next stage while the more insightful, reflective comments from others around the table went unnoticed?
I persevered nonetheless and I eventually joined a recruitment process that involved one-on-one interviews followed by a group presentation from the MD. No fake debates, no pitting people against each other – just truth and honesty from the company owner.
I called my recruiter as I walked out the door to tell him I really wanted to work there. And I did, for 8 years.
Now I wonder how much more quickly I could have found a job if those balloon debating sessions had instead been replaced by a tool that helped the recruiters understand my propensity to succeed within recruitment, leveraging my personality and behaviours, my competitive nature, my desire and drive to succeed and then the recruiters combined that with my demonstrable passion for technology…
I’m pretty confident I articulated them during my interviews and backed up my answers with my life experience (at the ripe age of 22!). Alongside my early start in the world of work, I was in the first team for all sports for my entirety of senior school (I even gave Fives ago but it really wasn’t for me). I started played the piano at 4, violin at 7 and self-taught the saxophone as a teenager. I’m a classical pianist (seeing as you didn’t really ask, Shostakovich’s 2nd piano concerto with the school orchestra was my proudest musical moment) and finally I graduated with a 2:1 from a Redbrick University.
An outstanding childhood? No, I don’t think so. But I know I was well above the average for a candidate applying for a graduate recruitment career. I know there was enough about my school and working history to show my commitment to learning, dedication to working hard individually and collectively and displaying a consistent understanding of work = reward. And until those recruitment interviews I had a 100% interview to job-offer ratio. And so I wonder, how many of those companies said “no” to me because they weren’t aware of their biases?
And look, I get it. There were no AI crystal balls back then. Recruiters had to make judgement calls on candidates without the benefit of technology tools to guide them towards the right talent. But I wonder how many of those money-hungry agencies would have paid more attention to candidates like me if a recruitment tool had helped them look beyond their biases and told them I was an applicant worthy of closer attention?
My guess is pretty much all of them.
A few weeks ago, I confessed my imposter syndrome on social media. That I was, and still am, the least likely candidate to run an Ai tech company. I am a former CHRO, I am female, I am neither an engineer nor a data scientist. I also have no sales experience, and yet I find myself spending 80% of my time in sales (although we don’t call it that of course).
When I was Head of HR at BCG back in the noughties, the firm was going through a growth period. Due to the way teams were sold into engagements, having senior people who could execute on complex change programs in areas that were quite new to the firm (digital, etc), meant looking externally for ‘lateral’ hires.
These were people who could be trusted to uphold and amplify the firm’s strong values and bring much-needed expertise by virtue of their seniority and transferable skills. It was hard.
‘Organ rejection’ is a term I learned in my next gig, as CHRO at the then-largest digital company in Australia, the REA Group. Organ rejection is what happens when a lateral hire fails miserably – for both parties.
So, here I am 2.5 years into my current role. The one I feel professionally ill-qualified for when I realize I’m a lateral hire. But despite my self-doubt, there hasn’t been any ‘organ rejection’.
When I reflect on my life and the things that mean I might (there’s that imposter syndrome again) make a great CEO, I realize that so much of what I bring to this job is what I experienced outside of education. Born out of a need to be resilient from a young age, and a bit of serendipity.
In 1980, when I was 10, my family immigrated from Zimbabwe to Perth, Australia. We arrived, a family of six, with little else than each other. Anyone who’s done it knows the uncertainty of immigration. Most of us do it to risk a better life knowing very little beyond what is a glossy brochure-like version of the new land we are sailing to. It wasn’t as easy as we had been sold, but we survived and adapted to our new home country.
At 18, I moved to Melbourne from Perth to study my undergrad. Not because I wanted to make a bold move again, but because I wanted to get as far away as possible from my stepmother. My mother had tragically died at a very young age a few years after we immigrated and my dad remarried within 10 months.
I took law as my undergrad because a friend a year ahead of me was doing it and she seemed to like it. I then took a wild punt on doing an MBA and managed to get a full scholarship. Which meant I could take my time to figure out what exactly I would do with an MBA.
Fast forward three kids, and a divorce in the middle. I decided I needed to be in a creative environment. So I took an executive role in the arts knowing nothing about the two areas I was responsible for nor the sector.
I accepted an opportunity to be Deputy Chair on a board because someone believed in me. Not because I had a grand plan to build a portfolio career. I’ve never planned my life really, but I have often taken a punt. After all, I found my home by knocking on the front door because I just loved the look of it from the outside and thought ‘what the heck?”
I landed in this job because a close friend recommended me. I found the whole idea of figuring out how you find the best lateral talent so fascinating – without realizing until right now, I was a good example of just that.
I’d say that very little of my formal qualifications and work experience has really equipped me for the rough and tumble of being the CEO of a startup. The sheer unknown of building a new product in an emerging market, and the stress of checking the bank balance daily to make sure we can make this month’s payroll.
Most of what got me here came from the lessons I learned away from the workplace. From immigrating, losing a parent when I was young, leaving a city that I knew well on my own, learning to follow my whims, take chances, and constantly look for meaning.
None of that makes it onto my CV.
My mission is to make those things matter the most when it comes to finding the right people for the right job. I’m also making peace with my imposter syndrome by accepting that it’s the different perspective that I bring to the table that makes my contribution so unique.
I’d go so far as to say we should all hire “industry imposters” if we can. And I’m here to help you find them.
Barbara Hyman, 03/08/2020
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This research paper is part of our accepted submission to SIOP, and will be presented at the 2023 SIOP Conference in Boston.
Faking is a common issue with traditional self-report assessments in personnel selection (Levashina et al., 2014). The major concern with faking is that it may affect construct and criterion-related validity (Tett & Simonet, 2021). Concerningly, some research reports the prevalence of self-report faking to be as high as 30-50% depending on the assumed faking severity (Griffith et al., 2007).
In this paper, we examine a parallel adversarial input type in modern text/chat-based interviews: plagiarism. Plagiarism poses a threat similar to faking in self-reports impacting construct and criterion-related validity. Furthermore, both plagiarism and faking impact fairness. The rank order of applicants may be altered by both practices, thereby changing the hiring decisions (Levashina et al., 2014).
While not studied exclusively in the selection space, plagiarism has been a major concern for the education sector and extensively studied in the literature (Park, 2003). One aspect that has received considerable attention is gender differences in plagiarism. Results remain inconclusive, with some evidence that men are more likely to plagiarize than women (Jereb, et al, 2018; Negre et al., 2015).
We also explore differences in plagiarism rates across different job families and device types (i.e., mobile vs. desktop).
Data from over 200,000 candidates (56% female) who applied to various organizations across the world. Candidates participated in an online chat-based structured interview, answering 5-7 open-ended questions on the Sapia Chat Interview™ platform. Over 1 million individual textual answers were checked against answers from past candidates (over 6.4 million answers) for plagiarism. Plagiarism detection calculates the Jaccard similarity coefficient between the new submission and all existing answers, and answers resulting in a Jaccard coefficient (Wang et al., 2013) over 0.75 were marked as plagiarized and flagged for hiring manager review.
Results show that 3.28% of candidates plagiarized at least one answer, which is significantly lower than the up-to 30-50% of candidates estimated to be faking self-report measures (Griffith et al., 2007).
Consistent with previous findings on self-report faking, males plagiarized significantly more than females. Plagiarism rates also differed significantly across role families, with the highest level of plagiarism observed among candidates who applied to ‘Call center sales’ roles and the lowest plagiarism rates observed for ‘Graduate’ roles. Additionally, we found candidates answering on a mobile phone plagiarized significantly higher than those using a desktop computer.
This work represents an important first step in investigating plagiarism detection in online, open-text chat interviews. While the prevalence is much lower than faking in self-reports, there are still fairness implications, especially given men are more likely to plagiarism than women. This is why it is so important to flag candidates who plagiarize so the hiring manager is made aware and can manually review their responses.
Griffith, R. L., Chmielowski, T., & Yoshita, Y. (2007). Do applicants fake? An examination of the frequency of applicant faking behavior. Personnel Review, 36(3), 341–355.
Jereb, E., Urh, M., Jerebic, J., & Šprajc, P. (2018). Gender differences and the awareness of plagiarism in higher education. Social Psychology of Education : An International Journal, 21(2), 409–426.
Levashina, J., Weekley, J. A., Roulin, N., & Hauck, E. (2014). Using Blatant Extreme Responding for Detecting Faking in High-stakes Selection: Construct validity, relationship with general mental ability, and subgroup differences. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 22(4), 371–383.
Negre, J. S., Forgas, R. C., & Trobat, M. F. O. (2015). Academic Plagiarism among Secondary and High School Students: Differences in Gender and Procrastination. Comunicar. Media Education Research Journal, 23(1).
Park, C. (2003). In Other (People’s) Words: Plagiarism by university students–literature and lessons. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 28(5), 471–488.
Tett, R., & Simonet, D. (2021). Applicant Faking on Personality Tests: Good or Bad and Why Should We Care? Personnel Assessment and Decisions, 7(1).
Wang, S., Qi, H., Kong, L., & Nu, C. (2013). Combination of VSM and Jaccard coefficient for external plagiarism detection. 2013 International Conference on Machine Learning and Cybernetics, 04, 1880–1885.
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Well-intentioned organisations have been trying to shift the needle on the bias that impacts diversity and inclusion for many years, without significant results.