A reader writes:
I am hiring for a position that I will manage. Our office is small (fewer than 20 people), so this individual and I will work together very closely.
I know selecting interviewees and employees is not truly “fair,” but how much should someone touching on my pet peeves impact the decision to interview someone? For instance, someone sent me a LinkedIn invite a week before their resume was sent to me to consider. I do not send invites to people I don’t know and I don’t accept invites from people I don’t know.
Or, I have seen some resumes that describe where the way people describe themselves as “charismatic” or “intelligent”. To me, it seems that if this is true, I will be able to figure that out when I meet you but the counter punch to that is that it doesn’t bother me when someone describes themselves as “hard-working” or “passionate”.
So far I am interviewing these folks based on their accomplishments, but I have to admit these pet peeves are in my head.
I think the key is to be rigorous in your thinking about what the pet peeve really indicates. Is it just something that irks you, or does it reflect some kind of deeper issue? And if the latter, is it part of a pattern with this candidate?
For example, I agree with you about people who describe themselves as “charismatic” (or “visionary,” which is my big pet peeve). That’s something other people can say about you, but you don’t get to say it about yourself. I’m not going to reject someone on that basis alone, but now I’m going to be watching to see if there’s other data to indicate that they’re pompous or arrogant or just kind of weird in written communication or otherwise out of sync with what I’m looking for in candidates … or if it was just a one-off.
I don’t think the LinkedIn thing is a big deal at all, but you do, so you in theory you could use the same approach. Assuming that you don’t like it because it feels overly pushy or aggressive to you, pay attention to whether or not you see other data about that candidate that indicates the same thing. Does that person seem overly schmoozy in other ways, ways that are out of sync with what you want from the person in the position? (I said “in theory” though, because I actually think you need to let this one go. Loads of people send and accept invitations to and from people they don’t know, so it’s not really out of sync with overall norms. I’d give people the benefit of the doubt here unless you’re seeing other things from them that make you think “inappropriately pushy.”)
I also try to test my pet peeves by looking for patterns. For instance, I think the “visionary” thing is so weird that I’ve made a point of noticing the overall strength of the candidates who do it. If I noticed that really strong candidates were regularly calling themselves “visionary,” I’d want to tamp down my irritation about it since clearly it wouldn’t correlate with weak candidates.) Interestingly, you can spot a lot of patterns around this stuff; here’s a whole post about things that aren’t deal-breakers but which strong candidates never do, like having a four-page resume. (I don’t think that’s confirmation bias, either, although obviously I don’t have lab-like conditions to test this in.)
In sum: a pet peeve on its own is just a pet peeve. The right way to use it is as a flag to see whether or not there’s something bigger there.