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An Optimistic Outlook

Newsletter • volume 1 • number 8

What is most important in selecting high achievers? Aptitude, motivation or optimism? Until recently, we never considered this question. The surprising answer ­ optimism.

Conclusions about optimism are based on extensive research by Dr. Martin Seligman from the University of Pennsylvania, author of the book Learned Optimism. (1) His research shows that success is not necessarily achieved by the most talented individuals. Rather it is realized by talented people who are also very optimistic.

Dr. Seligman's theory has been tested by determining the levels of optimism in different salespeople, and then weighing it against their sales records. The results are astounding. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, who screens their new salespeople with a questionnaire developed by Dr. Seligman, has found that the more optimistic half of their new salespeople outsold the less optimistic ones by 38 percent! Further, at the end of the first year, the number of optimistic salespeople still on the job was twice the number of less optimistic new hires.

Dr. Seligman measures optimism by examining the "explanatory style" people use when talking to themselves about negative events in life. Pessimists will perceive such events as being permanent ­ "It's always going to be like this," pervasive ­ "It's going to undermine every aspect of my life," and personal ­ "It's my fault." Optimists will view the same events as being temporary, specific and external.

What does all this have to do with interviewing and Management Team Consultants, Inc.? We are collaborating on an exclusive basis with Dr. Seligman, and creating ways to integrate our behavioral-based selection interviewing techniques with his methodology for measuring optimism. From our list of sixty behavioral qualities, Dr. Seligman has selected a dozen qualities which match up with the trait of optimism. Interviewers can now use our specific questions to probe for a deeper understanding of these behavioral qualities. All optimists are not the same and it's critical to match a given skill set with the demands of a specific job. This way the right kind of optimist for the job can be selected.

And by the way, being a pessimist is not all bad news. While optimists are sought for jobs in sales, brokering, deal making and other highly competitive and high burn-out jobs, pessimists have their place too. Because pessimists see reality more accurately than optimists, they are better suited for jobs in design and safety engineering, financial control, accounting, and law (but not litigation).

We're optimistic about the importance of this area of assessment. Let us hear from you if you'd like to know more about our work with Dr. Seligman around optimism and behavioral-based interviewing.

1 Seligman, Martin E.P., Ph.D., Learned Optimism, Pocket Books, New York, 1990.