British Psychological Society occupational conference: Admission of failure 'leads to job success'

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The Independent Online
JOB-SEEKERS should admit responsibility for their past failures if they want to be successful in interviews, according to psychologists.

Those who accept no personal shortcomings are likely to be seen as 'arrogant' and marked down by interviewers. Such people are regarded as less able to fit into the 'less than perfect' business environment.

In a paper delivered to the conference, Jo Silvester, of the University of Leeds, also argued that men were more likely to use 'self-serving' explanations when accounting for success and failure. Women took more responsibility for failure and less for success. 'One might argue that women are inherently more honest.'

Dr Silvester advised interviewees to turn past failings into positive events. 'But don't lie, don't say it was someone else's fault. And you've got to be positive. Don't say you failed maths because you got pissed the night before.'

Companies are less interested in selecting people who are able to 'pass the buck', Dr Silvester said. Employers would prefer to select individuals who, 'while admitting to being less than perfect, still manage to convey the belief that they can be pro-active and change future adversity into opportunity'. One manager told her: 'We don't need individuals who can't admit to being wrong - we want people who can say sorry, then ask themselves how they can put it right.' Employers focus on 'realism rather than perfectionism', Dr Silvester said.

The research was based on tape recordings of interviews conducted during the 1993 graduate 'milk round' involving 45 undergraduates seeking jobs in a City law firm and a national distribution company. These were then compared with interviewers' notes.

Dr Silvester said that while the interview process for the two companies was very different, the results were the same.

The honesty and integrity of young job applicants are considered more important than academic qualifications by small companies, which now employ a third of the British workforce.

A study on the selection techniques employed by small organisations, carried out by Professor David Bartram and Pat Lindley, showed that such firms also relied overwhelmingly on 'first impressions' in unstructured and often casual interviews.

Professor Bartram said: 'The smaller the company the more they rely on gut reaction.'