Sugar: The Key to Hiring Success

Last Updated Oct 11, 2011 3:52 PM EDT

Many of us like to avoid conflict. In fact, this desire for conflict avoidance is one reason bullies can be so successful. We'd rather just be quiet and nice and give the bully whatever she wants in the hope that she'll just go away.

While this strategy works sometimes, sometimes you need to be a jerk. Okay, not a screaming jerk but someone who says no. Since Steve Jobs' death the media has gone wild with stories about him. He's close to being deified, but Forbes writer, Gene Marks, reminds us that Jobs was a jerk. He writes:

Jobs wasn't about to let anyone use his products for activities that would negatively reflect on his company. He knew the risks of giving up control. He knew that people would accuse him of restricting free expression. He didn't care. He was a jerk. My products are misused all the time. I have clients turning off internal controls, resetting security and converting contact management databases into inventory systems because it's cheaper than buying a true inventory system. Because I'm not a jerk I say nothing. I just take the money. And in just about every case, these same clients have turned into non-clients. Because they inevitably ran into security and operational issues that turned their investment into a loss. And blamed me. I'll never be as brilliant as Steve Jobs. But if I were to exercise a little more control over how our products are used (in other words: be a jerk more often) I may be a tad more successful.
Well, the difference between us and Steve Jobs is not that we're not jerks, but that we're not, well, geniuses. (Well, you, of course, are a genius, it's just that my other readers aren't geniuses and I'm writing this for them.)

So, the jerk method won't generally work as well for us. Which brings us back to the important topic of the day: Sugar.

A recent study showed that people who eat sugar are more agreeable than others. In fact, Brian Meier and his team discovered:

Students who rated their own personality as more agreeable also tended to have a stronger preference (than their less agreeable peers) for sweet foods and drinks. Among a different set of students, a stronger preference for sweet foods correlated positively with their willingness to volunteer their time, unpaid, for a separate unrelated study - considered by the researchers as a sign of prosocial behaviour.
So, you want to see who the suckers are that you can get to do all that extra grunt work for you, which will help you look better? Fill a bowl with M&Ms. Count them so you know how many they are. Set them on the edge of your desk during a job interview. Offer some to your candidate. Then, excuse yourself for 10 minutes. After the candidate leaves, count the M&Ms. Whichever candidate ate the most will be your most agreeable candidate.

Okay, that's a pretty lousy way to assess candidates, but it doesn't sound much worse than the other ways we assess candidates. (So, tell me about a time you handled a conflict? And where do you see yourself in 5 years? Why did you leave your last job? If you could be an animal, what animal would you be?)

But, then again, is being agreeable a good quality in a candidate? Sure, you can walk right over us and we'll feel guilty about not staying late to solve your problems, but is it better if you have employees that can also be a little bit, well, jerky? Okay, not jerky, but who will push back. Which is more important to you?

What do you think? Someone who will do what is asked, or someone who will push back and question? What do you look for in a candidate?

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Photo by WxMom, Flickr cc 2.0.