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Spotting a control freak at job interview

I’ve noted previously that control freaks manipulate their past unashamedly and this would seem like an opportunity to catch them out. After all there are bound to be some records or some people around from that time who can remember the truth and that can expose the lies. The foolish control freaks who think they are invincible make claims to university degrees they don’t have or other easily verifiable facts and so do get caught out, but this rarely works for clever control freaks because they rarely directly lie. Instead they manipulate others into rewriting history for them and so manipulate their past without culpability.

There is a glimmer of hope though as this rewritten history can be their achilles heel in a job interview which is their most vulnerable time, when they are voluntarily giving up a power base to try for a bigger one. But striking that achilles heel requires a degree of rigour and principle that very few have.

One reason this is not easy is because ruthless control freaks will have been trying to control the interview for some time and so will go into it have exerted influence over:

  • Some of the expectations of the candidates. For example they may have spent some time spreading the meme that as the incumbent in the role was appointed as an outsider this has led to him missing the mark as a result.
  • Some of the questions. For example they might have made exaggerated public defenses of the staff in that area, far beyond what is needed, and so can expect questions on how they think the staff are perceived and what support they will give them.
  • Even some of the interviewers. Yes, a ruthless control freak will have been after this job for years, they may even have tried for it a couple of times before and failed and so spent some time cultivating those who might one day end up as interviewers.

And so they may have already prevented this weakness from being exploited by some high hurdles to cross. You can even the score a bit by ensuring that psychometric tests are carried out in advance, checking references thoroughly and the like, but you will still start at a disadvantage.

Let’s suppose for a moment though that you are an interviewer with the intellectual rigour and principles to weed out control freaks, after all if you don’t and they get through then they will weed you out pretty soon, then how can you go about it?

In interview, everyone likes to embellish their past a bit, or adapt it slightly to fit better with the role they are applying for, perhaps by emphasising some points and omitting others, but control freaks go so far beyond that. Not necessarily because they want to, but because they have to and this is how they can be caught out.

A control freak comes to interview with a huge multi-dimensional reputation, that’s what got them there after all, but to limit the damage they will emphasise the parts of it that are easiest to prove and de-emphasise the parts that are the most exaggerated. However, and this is the weakness, if someone asks them about one of those exaggerated parts of their history they are attempting to de-emphasise then they can’t easily say “oh no that’s far from the truth, actually my role was only …”, because they get into all sorts of pickles if they do. For a start they voluntarily deflated their reputation and no control freak ever wants to do that, but more importantly it starts the interviewers questioning the quality of the background evidence they have and makes them wonder if they should not check everything just in case.

So a control freak when presented with a question about an inflated aspect of their past will do one of two things, either warmly accept it and so reinforce the history, or deflect away to something else. Either way and you’ve got them. If they deflect they keep bringing them back. Control freaks absolutely hate this and it shows. They bridle, curl their lips, get pointed faces and so on – they simply cannot stand someone controlling them back to where they have tried to move away from. If you can expose this anger well enough, by gently but firmly bringing it back using a point of principle as your reason for doing do “it would be remiss of me not to demonstrate that we had carried out due diligence” then that alone can be enough to kill their chances.

This technique works in general for control freaks. If you can spot their deflection and bring it back on a point of principle then they will fight to the death. A clever one will invoke a claimed higher principle to move on, but if you stick your ground then your principle will win the day.

If they warmly accept their inflated history then you need to keep as accurate a record as possible and make sure that their acceptance is as explicit as possible. Ask if needed, when again you will see the physical discomfort because they hate having to lie outright but here is one instance where they simply have to do it. Again, if they try to avoid it then invoke principle to force the issue “Just to make sure that we have accurate records of our due diligence can you confirm …”.

Of course that’s not going to be enough to stop them at interview. This has to be done in the immediate aftermath of the interview where you have full license to check references and history in as detailed a manner as necessary. The control freak will try to control this process but they are an insider at this point and so don’t have enough information to do so. Even if it is not your job to check references you can still do so – after all your recommendation as an interviewer is at stake.

Once the control freak gets the job and is in position they will do everything possible to erase the history of the interview. They will ask for all the notes of interviewers to go to HR and then in a year or two ask for a ‘deletion of old records’ process to take place or they will claim these are personal information and can only be released with their agreement and so on. So the window for action is limited before the control freak takes total control.

Categories: Organisations, People
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