New interview question: how do you take your eggs?

October 19, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

A recent article in HC Magazine (http://www.hcamag.com/article/new-interview-question-how-do-you-take-your-eggs-144523.aspx) suggests that  a person’s favourite way of eating eggs can predict their personality type and job suitability.

Whilst this article might be a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ look at personality profiling, it does highlight two common problems when using statistics to explain selection decisions. The research only demonstrates that some factors (e.g., personality, occupation) are ‘correlated’ with a person’s choice of eggs. These results do not prove that someone’s personality can be ‘predicted’ by their choice of eggs.

For example, age is highly ‘correlated’ with managerial level. In general, senior executives are older than front-line supervisors. If we made selection decisions based on this relationship then we would simply select the oldest candidate for leadership roles. No one does this because we know that (1) several factors, other than age, account for managerial level, and (2) one’s age doesn’t cause or predict managerial level – there may be a strong correlation but it lacks a theoretical explanation. The two may be related, as in this example, simply by coincidence.

Following on from this point, there is no explanation as to how egg preference ‘predicts’ personality. For example, we know that smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. The two are highly ‘correlated’ and in addition we understand how smoking ‘causes’ lung cancer. In this example there is a theoretical and evidence-based argument that explains how one causes the other. This explanation and the supporting evidence is an essential prerequisite to claiming that ‘A causes B’. In this case the egg research is interesting but is limited, and perhaps a little misleading, because it does not prove causation.

We have conducted a number of studies involving over 1,500 Australian managers since 2006. Our research has shown that general cognitive ability, cognitive load and emotional reactivity predicts impulsive behaviour. And that such impulsive behaviour predicts destructive leadership behaviours and leadership effectiveness at the individual, team and organisational levels. We have been using these findings to help organisations select the right leaders for complex, ambiguous and challenging roles (see: Our Thinking).

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