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November 01, 2006

The “I” Exam

During our breakout session on "Growing a Brand. Growing a Team." at the 2006 In-HOWse Designer Conference, we discussed how to spot “Likeables” and “Assholes” during the job interview process.

We were working under the thinking that “Likeables” are friendly and helpful. They are the consistent performers on project teams. They always meet deadlines. They make others look good. They hold themselves accountable. They have a positive demeanor. They would rather solve matters face-to-face than through email exchanges. They are selfless.

On the other hand, “Assholes” are co-workers that no one wants to work with. These folks keep extensive CYA files. They cc: the world on inconsequential emails. They always have excuses. They would rather engage in divisive hallway conversations than actively participate during project meetings. They are selfish. Yet, every company has them and continues to hire them.

One participant in the breakout session chimed in that “Assholes” can front themselves as a “Likeable” in the interview process only to show their true colors later.

So, how can you distinguish between “Assholes” and “Likeables” during the job interview process?

Our breakout session devised a simple test called THE “I” EXAM.

When interviewing a potential job candidate, listen for how many times they say “I did this” or “I did that” when talking about their past project/group work. Sure, it’s natural for a job candidate to talk about themselves in an interview. But if they routinely say something like, “In the group I led, we did this … and we did that…” then you probably have a “Likeable.”

However, if the job candidate neglects to mention the “We” and only mention the “Me” … then they’ve failed THE “I” EXAM and are most likely “Asshole” material.

Right? Wrong? Any thoughts in-between?


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Another test that I find useful is to ask the receptionist how the candidate acted. Likeable folks will be just as polite and interested in the receptionist as in the CEO. Assholes often snub folks they see as "below" them.

I think the "I" Exam is fairly accurate, although it shouldn't be used as a be all end all. Reason being, there are people who could have come from a team that was, for the most part, low caliber. That person may have been high caliber, and being on that team could have greatly frustrated them. They might be that Likeable person, but because of the frustration and lacking of the team, they make statements like "I did this."

But I think I'd tend to agree that generally, even if the above situation were the case, there would be some sort of credit given. Eg: "Don't get me wrong, the team I was with were a bunch of great guys. But I did most of the work." (Likeable). Compared to "The team I was with were numbskulls, forcing me to take on the majority of the load just so we could succeed." (Asshole)

Kent's example I think is a fair addition, and also a possible means of rating the extrovertedness of the person being interviewed.

I agree with Nathan. The overuse of "I" may also be a byproduct of trying to compensate for self-esteem issues. i.e. Trying to sound confident even though one is not.

My assumption is that softer observations like Kent's suggestion would be good indicators. Even something similar to Starbucks offering candidates a cup of coffee before an interview to test their passion for the product.

Just this week I mentioned to an employee at our firm how the interview process is not conducive to revealing the type of person you're hiring.

I often wonder if a one-week "Apprentice-like" team challenge would be more helpful. Measure results. Get feedback from teammates on how they liked working with their colleagues.

One of those thoughts from DUST!N's crazy box of ideas.

I have a real problem with the I test. In the creative department I work in there are 11 designers. 10 of them work on packaging. I do promotions, advertising and sales collateral. On 90% of these projects there is not team - simply an army of one.

Also in an interview I'm looking to hire an individual not a team. If the candidate starts talking about what the team they were on accomplished, my only interest is is drill down and find out what they contributed.

I simply don't want to hire someone who doesn't have enough pride in their work to take credit for their own accomplishments.

I think the "I" exam is a very powerful thing. People use it a lot whether they know it or not. I am a 20 year old college student, and I use it all the time sub-consciously when I meet anyone and asses whether or not I would ever want to hire or work with them.

My 19 year old brother, recently beat out thousands of students for an internship job at Northwestern Mutual that he didn't even apply for, but bumped into one of the company execs who was so impressed with his early success ( and "likeability". He got a call from the exec's assistant the next day!

Along with the "I" test, we could also include the attitude behind it.

In all the hiring I've participated in, attitude is probably the No. 1 criteria I've went by.

In some of those cases, we look at whether a person is moldable also. If that is determined, the "I" part isn't as important to us.

I'm worried that you may have created an incubator for mediocrity. Doesn't "asshole" too often mean "I don't like" or (worse) "We don't like"? Aren't you afraid of engineering sameness and jettisoning creative dissent?

Whoa ... lots of good chatter here. Thanks everyone for adding your take.

Is THE "I" EXAM perfect? No. Should it be the only "test" given to a potential employee? Heck no. It's just another thing to consider when evaluating the cultural fit of a job candidate.

As for Andrew's take that THE "I" EXAM may engineer sameness ... I look at it differently. Hiring Likeables is about creating unity and not engineering conformity.

Unity is about getting passionate people together and focused on achieving a unified goal. Conformity is about everyone thinking the same way.

All Likeables will not not think the same way. However, they should all act the same way showing resepct and diginity to others. I would rather work for a company where its employees are unified in being likeable to others.

Its only smart that everyone keeps a cya or dirt file. I have used mine only twice in all my years of playing hard ball (actually pulled information only once when the company was unfairly trying to fire my 55 year old director, a desperate bid to save his severance payout, and I referred to my file one other time when a VP tried to bully me into taking a road I'd rather not go down).

I use "I" when referring to mistakes and errors and "We" when referring to successes. Its not that I toe the line (normally the opposite), merely that I know that successes are almost always a group effort.

John - I also listen for name-dropping. It's often another way of saying "I".

Kimber - I agree with your final paragraph above - I take full responsibility when there's a miss and give my team full credit when there's success.

The "I" exam is total bullshit invented by people who have their heads up their ass. Typical marketer bullshit. Maybe someone says I in an interview because they believe the interviewer would like to know about their skills.

Some assholes use the "we" as cover for their (singular) disagreeability. Two immediately spring to mind: the one who sabotaged everything from within because he got kicks from dragging things down and the one who tried to surf to the top of everyone else. Both used their "teamplaying" as cloaks for their daggers.

Your test is over simple.

Groupthink is a main result of promoting we-ism or your "agreeability". I'd rather work with someone who is honest and isn't afraid of dealing with conflict than someone who wants to sing kumbya. Good things come from being challenged and mature in the crucible of opposing forces.

Thomas ... thanks more making such a worthwhile contribution.

I would definitely recommend the I test as a part of one's interview. The problem comes when you work in big organisations where you have to hire people like hell..I can never find people who will fit this criterion because likability is something that comes scarce now a days.

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