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We provide competency-based behavioral interviewing training for interview teams including hiring managers, recruiters, and interviewers. We have been publishing articles for over 40 years to address the myriad of issues encountered in the process of hiring top talent.

Candidates Don't Know What They Don't Know

Kennedy's Column

According to a study at Cornell University, people who lack certain skills may be more confident of their abilities than highly skilled people. In fact, unskilled people consistently rate themselves "above average," despite all evidence to the contrary. This doesn't bode well for such people, researchers say. Not only do they "reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices," they also lack the ability to recognize it. In other words, they don't know enough to know they don't know.

We recently learned how true this is when we were interviewing for a position in our office. One candidate rated herself a "5" on a 10-point scale for competence in HTML and CSS. When we inquired why she gave herself this mid-level rating, she replied that although she had no on-the-job experience, she had just completed a three-hour HTML and CSS course. Apparently she thought of herself as a "1" before the course, and although she knew she couldn't match her instructor's skills - an obvious "10" - she figured she must now be at least halfway there.

Our clients confirm that experienced people are usually relatively modest about their competencies, while students and beginners sometimes have an exaggerated opinion of their own abilities.

One way interviewers can deal with these skewed perceptions is to drill down and ask candidates for a number of specific examples. And when candidates rate themselves in various skill areas, interviewers should ask them to justify or explain those ratings.

Interviewers can also ask candidates to compare themselves to the most competent person they know and then have them identify what keeps them from achieving the same level of competence.