What Influences Behavior


Yesterday, I was sitting next to three people who were conducting a group interview with a job candidate in a Starbucks. Hey, if you want privacy, use an office, don't sit next to everyone else in a public space! Seriously, I was trying not to listen in, and the tone and content of the questions being asked kept pulling me in.

But it wasn't the questions that I'm interested in discussing here. I'd like to share with you a few insights about the answers, because they will tell you a lot about you and about the people you may be trying to attract and convert to doing business with you.

Answers like:

  • I want an environment where people collaborate
  • I'm a team player
  • I do what it takes to get the job done
  • I'd like a role that has increasing levels of responsibility

Peppered the conversation centered around the kind of experience the candidate had and why he's looking. Raise your hand if you'd answer differently. This is what everyone wants — to be respected, to have a chance to contribute, to create meaning and be considered as a human being.

Which is why many choose to vote for themselves these days.

Two recruiters to one candidate, taking turns grilling him to make sure he checks every box. Then explaining about the automated resume builder that will spit out a form response — everyone gets it,  it's what we have to do, and I'm sure he felt very special at that point. Then, for good measure, added how hundreds of people submitted already and they have different kinds of experience, and the odds.

Pleasant hand-shakes to finish off and move on to other conversations.

Not once I heard words like love and passion, or even opportunity. The words were chose carefully, rehearsed, and weighed — all very professional. The after review consisted in rationalizing how to communicate with the organization about this candidate — not so much of this, a little bit of that. All quite civil and… reasonable.

Except for the market is all but reasonable — and predictable.

Would this person get along with the team? Would they perform and deliver results? They won't be able to decide that by looking at information on a piece of paper, or even asking. I've hired enough people to know that sometimes you have to trust going with someone who may not be your typical candidate and pick attitude.

You won't find attitude if you're not looking for it though.

What influences behavior

Looking through the lens of the story in this post, there are several elements that influence behavior, including corporate culture, relevance of the opportunity or situation, individual values, and biases.  There is more, of course.

In a previous post building on what really affects behavior, there are several informational guideposts, and social influences you should consider.

From the list of guideposts are things like:

  • keeping it simple — can you simplify beyond information? Can you simplify an industry? Amazon with the media category
  • information decoys — what choices can you present to position a package as a deal? The Economist provided a third subscription choice, just print, to boost sales of print + online
  • gains and losses — can you capitalize on categories where fees are driving customers crazy? Southwest airlines did that with free (check in) bags
  • the cost of zero — is there a downside to free?
  • anchoring — can you rearrange the information about your products and services by providing a broader context and tell a different story? Fund raising organizations provide choices on donation
  • sensation transference — are you using information to help transfer how a product will make the buyer feel?

Social influences include:

  • peer pressure — examples of this are "go along to get along" in the office. In the story above, the two recruiters spoke the same corporate lingo, which the candidate needed to decode and respond to, so he could demonstrate he was ready to be one of them in the organization. More broadly, mirroring the behavior of others in social contexts to fit in. If you're on Twitter all day, or reading certain blog posts all the time, you will begin to think and write that way.
  • social exchange — is stronger than an economic one. Most human interactions consist of an exchange of value. From a psychological standpoint, actions like sharing signal desire for self expression, need for validation and social status recognition, and also simply altruism and affinity with a group or cause.

Both social influences are amplified in public settings. It's like saying "watch this!" An organization and business is also a public setting where rituals develop. The environment may encourage certain behaviors and tacitly or openly discourage others.

What happens next with the candidate and the recruiters? Eventually, the organization will choose. Whether it is the candidate I saw or another, one thing is for certain — to influence results, it better meet perception of its brand and culture with reality.

The consequences?

Your top candidate checking out shortly after being hired is not going to deliver a great return on investment. The reason is likely to be that it focused too hard on the investment and didn't think hard enough about the likely and desired return.


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0 responses to “What Influences Behavior”

  1. When I saw this blog article email in my inbox this morning, I was quickly drawn into it. I wanted to know what happened inside a Starbucks.
    Then as I got into reading it, I was really intrigued. Valeria, I was fascinated by the answers the interviewee gave. That person is under some social pressure to parrot to the interviewers the more professional responses like, “I want increasing levels of responsibility.”
    The interviewers hopefully can peel away, and tease out from the interview the really genuine answers, and find out if there is any love and passion.
    And then in the end, it made sense that if the interviewers don’t tease out the values consistent with the brand culture then there is a risk they’re hiring someone who on paper looks great, and maybe a smart person, but won’t live up to the customer expectations as the brand promises.
    By the way, I think you mean “If you’re on Twitter all day, or reading certain blog posts all the time, you will begin to think and write thaT way.”

  2. My take is that he was saying what he thought the recruiters wanted to hear. They seemed pleased in their non verbal and verbal feedback during the interview. They did not seem keen on getting to know him, aside from some surface data points, like if he’s married, why he’s looking, etc. Just another candidate, you know? It is the rare recruiter who gives a damn. Even more so today. To me, it will be the brand to let him or whoever they hire down. They have people jump through hoops to get in, and once in, they discover it was all like a Hollywood set, not much substance behind the claims.
    Thank you for signaling the typo. Another late night post.

  3. Great article and I can definitely relate to finding the passion in job candidates.
    A few year ago, I interviewed a woman for a Digital Account Manager – I was the last interviewer. She’d already spoken with three members of our digital team and looked exhausted. I asked her a few job/technical questions before asking her what she was passionate about in life. She told me she was a college dance minor and hadn’t paid much attention to it since graduating. I asked her to talk about its importance in her life; you could literally feel the passion she felt for dance.
    Was I interviewing her for a dance position? Of course not. But after four interviews, it was clear she could do the job. It’s often hard to gauge passion in a formal interview environment at the risk of the candidate feeling they come across as ‘weak’ (for both men and women).
    I’m 32 and consider this a ‘generational’ approach. However, in her extended answer (15 minutes) I think I learned more about her professional potential than my fellow team members interviewers – I knew why she’d be a good fit. At the end of our time, she actually apologized for her ‘tangent’. I told her it was exactly what I wanted to hear. Since then, she’s become one of the most valuable account managers we’ve ever had.
    I realize this doesn’t apply across the board or in all industries or positions. Yet there there is something to be said about those who are passionate about things outside of, and apart from, work.
    Again, great article and I always enjoy reading what you post!

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