The headhunters who call in the thought police

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The Independent Online
You are a heartbeat away from that dream job as a top executive of a multi-million pound company. You have impressed the chairman and done exceptionally well in the psychometric tests, and are called for a second interview.

Then the panel starts asking about the depression diagnosed by your doctor recently. Or the breakdown of your marriage. Soon after, your Dear John letter arrives in the post.

It sounds like a nightmare, but it could happen if Susan King were involved in the selection process.

Ms King is a clairvoyant who helps headhunters, management consultancies and individual businesses to select staff or simply ensure the chemistry within a team is right.

Ms King claims to be able to see into the future, detect inner emotions from photographs and conjure up mental pictures of strangers from a name.

Typically she is introduced as someone from the 'personnel department'. Few companies, she said, have 'the guts' to admit to a pyschic in the team.

She may 'have a normal chat' with candidates, or look at their photographs. From there she will study their 'innermost' attributes and submit a written analysis of each.

The idea of having an interview assessed in this way would leave many gasping with horror. But despite the unorthodox nature of it all, Ms King has blue-chip clients.

One, a senior partner at a leading management consultancy, praised her skills highly. He asked not to be named, because 'most people look upon it as some sort of white magic'. And some of his colleagues are unaware that he consults her.

But, he insisted, there was nothing sinister about it. All Ms King did was enable him to 'fine-tune the questions' asked and probe areas of personality that had not been adequately covered during the first interview or psychometric test.

That said, her input has on occasion been decisive. A year ago the firm advertised a senior position. After several applicants had been interviewed, the shortlist was down to two, but the board could not decide between them. So Ms King was called in.

'She picked up on two big negatives - without going into details - on both candidates,' explained the consulant. 'We didn't take her word for it so we called them in for a further interviews.'

As she had predicted, 'they both had particular personal difficulties' that seriously blotted their chances. 'They were very much preoccupied despite the way in which they came across in the interview,' he said.

Ms King was then given photographs of three other candidates who had been eliminated after one interview and psychometric tests.

She immediately homed in on one and told the panel 'what his strengths were and what made the guy tick'. He was invited back for a second interview and subsequently appointed. 'That was over a year ago and he has been very successful. We had rejected him,' said the consultant.

Although he admitted 'her powers are not always tuned in', the consultant was confident enough to recommend Ms King as an addition to the normal testing process.

The Institute of Personnel Management was less convinced and threw cold water on the whole concept.

'Until somebody produces evidence that it works, I for one would not recommend it - nor would the institute,' said Angela Baton, policy adviser for employee resourcing.

She said in her experience it was companies which could not afford the tried and proven psychometric tests that opted for such exotic techniques as graphology and fortune telling.