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Friday, February 5, 2016

How Do You Hire an 'Impostor'? 02-05

How Do You Hire an 'Impostor'?

Impostors are highly talented people who believe their success is a mistake—that they don't deserve the honors. James Heskett argues these people have too much to contribute to ignore. But how do you find and hire them? What do YOU think?

Have you ever felt that you didn’t deserve admission to a prestigious school, an award, or even a particular job that you’ve always prized? Students in my Harvard Business School MBA classes often expressed the notion that they were “admissions mistakes.” In my case, I had doubts about whether I should have been admitted to the Stanford MBA program. I filled out the application in pencil to please an Army buddy when we were stationed in Europe, and my grade record at a little college in Iowa didn’t warrant admission anyway. Then I got his seat in the Stanford class.
I’ve learned that this is called the “impostor phenomenon.” Researcher Pauline Rose Clance defines it as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness.” HBS professor Amy Cuddy in her new book, Presence, sums up the research on one aspect of the impostor phenomenon by pointing out that those who experience it most are “People who have achieved something; people who are demonstrably anything but frauds.”

So maybe it would be worthwhile to have at least a few impostors in our organization, although we probably wouldn’t want just any impostors. The trait is a double-edged sword.

Research shows that some people who experience imposterism allow it to build to such an extent that the fear of failure takes over, making it harder for them to succeed as they battle feelings of low self-esteem, second-guess themselves, and experience performance anxiety. Some may actually suffer serious depression. Among my MBA “imposters,” a few left School after the first week of class.
Most, however, succeeded in completing their MBAs with honors. They used the phenomenon as an incentive to succeed, setting high standards for performance and worrying about being under-prepared. They were (and are) achievers, the kind we could benefit from hiring. But how do we identify the right kind of impostors to bring on board?

Believe me, they become very good at covering up their feelings. If impostors—even the achievers—were to expose their fears and other impostor-like feelings in an interview, we probably wouldn’t hire them. How do we distinguish between productive and nonproductive impostors? Will the person overcome by fears and uncertainty let it show differently than a candidate unconsciously using the feeling to succeed? Should we even allow anyone to interview them, instead relying solely on what such imposters have achieved in order to eliminate interview bias?

Should we be focusing on hiring impostors anyway? There are probably plenty of other candidates with more “normal” confidence levels, motivations, and abilities. An organization comprised solely of impostors could be a pretty exhausting, chaotic place. On the other hand, can we afford not to hire a few of them?

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