Tag Archives: Job Interview Questions

Is “A” Really the Best Option or is it Just that It’s Better Than “B”: List of Biases in Judgment and Decision-Making, Part 18

The other day, someone was talking to me about my series on biases in judgment and decision-making and it made me realize that I was missing a rather important bias — the contrast effect! I’m not sure how this one slipped through the cracks, but I’m glad to be able to write about it for you today.

It’s been almost a year and a half since I wrote something for this series, so let me refresh your memory. Each week, I took a cognitive bias and explained it. I provided an example and then I offered some ways for mitigating that cognitive bias in your own life. So, without further adieu, the contrast effect.

What’s the contrast effect? Well, as with many of the biases, it’s exactly what it sounds like: an effect that occurs because of a comparison. That is, people are more likely to perceive differences that are bigger or smaller because of something they’ve seen first. This is something that is used in sales — all — the — time. If you’re shopping for a new car, the salesperson may show a series of cars that are way out of your price range and then show you one that’s just a little out of your price range. After having seen so many cars that are way out of your price range, the one that’s just a little out of your price range won’t seem that far out of your price range. The contrast effect.

That’s not to pick on folks who sell cars, it can even happen with smaller purchases, shoes, for instances. Let’s say you’re looking for a particular kind of footwear. The salesperson may show you a bunch of shoes that don’t quite fit your needs and happen to be priced rather cheaply. Then, the salesperson shows you a shoe that does fit your needs, but is quite a bit more expensive. As you’ve seen all these shoes that aren’t what you need and now you’ve finally come to one that meets you’re needs, you may ignore the price and buy the shoes.

One of my favourite examples of the contrast effect comes from Dan Ariely‘s book, Predictably Irrational:

One day while browsing the World Wide Web (obviously for work-not just wasting time), I stumbled on the following ad, on the Web site of a magazine, the Economist.

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I read these offers one at a time. The first offer-the Internet subscription for $59 seemed reasonable. The second option-the $125 print subscription-seemed a bit expensive, but still reasonable.

But then I read the third option: a print and Internet subscription for $125. I read it twice before my eye ran back to the previous options. Who would want to buy the print option alone, I wondered, when both the Internet and the print subscriptions were offered for the same price? Now, the print- only option may have been a typographical error, but I suspect that the clever people at the Economist‘s London offices (and they are clever-and quite mischievous in a British sort of way) were actually manipulating me. I am pretty certain that they wanted me to skip the Internet- only option (which they assumed would be my choice, since I was reading the advertisement on the Web) and jump to the more expensive option: Internet and print.

But how could they manipulate me? I suspect it’s because the Economist‘s marketing wizards (and I could just picture them in their school ties and blazers) knew something important about human behavior: humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We don’t have an internal value meter that tells us how much things are worth. Rather, we focus on the relative advantage of one thing over another, and estimate value accordingly. (For instance, we don’t know how much a six- cylinder car is worth, but we can assume it’s more expensive than the four- cylinder model.)

In the case of the Economist, I may not have known whether the Internet- only subscription at $59 was a better deal than the print- only option at $125. But I certainly knew that the print and-Internet option for $125 was better than the print- only option at $125. In fact, you could reasonably deduce that in the combination package, the Internet subscription is free! “It’s a bloody steal-go for it, governor!” I could almost hear them shout from the riverbanks of the Thames. And I have to admit; if I had been inclined to subscribe I probably would have taken the package deal myself. (Later, when I tested the offer on a large number of participants, the vast majority preferred the Internet- and- print deal.)

Before we movie into some of the ways for avoiding the Contrast Effect, I wanted to make it clear that sales isn’t the only place where this bias can creep up on us. Another good example is in evaluations (be they interviewing job candidates or marking term papers). If one doesn’t have a rubric by which one is scoring candidates (or papers), it can be easy to slip into the contrast effect: “Well, that candidate was much better than the last candidate, let’s put them through to the next round.” It could be that the latter candidate, while better than the first, still doesn’t meet your criteria to make it the next round, so putting them through would be wasting valuable resources — both yours and theirs.

Ways for Avoiding the Contrast Effect

1) Standardized Evaluation

In our most recent case involving interview candidates or term papers, creating a rubric or standardized method of evaluation prior to examining candidates/papers will go a long way to help one avoid falling into the trap of the contrast effect. This method could also be applied when it comes to shopping (i.e. sales). For instance, let’s say you’re looking for a car. Prior to arriving at the dealership, you could create a table for how you’re going to evaluate the cars you view while at the dealership. In this way, you can guard against the salesperson knowingly (or unknowingly) showing you cars at either end of the spectrum before showing you the cars you might actually purchase.

2) Are There Other Options?

Often times, when we’re succumbing to the contrast effect, we’re looking at option A versus option B. This is why it’s so important to have some sort of standardized evaluation (see #1), but short of a standardized evaluation, it’s important to remember that almost never are those two options your only two options. “Should I get this car or that car?” Well actually, you have another option — neither of those cars. And another option, you could consider buying a bike or maybe taking public transportation. Whenever you find yourself faced with a decision between two options, it can be useful to consider other options, just in case you’ve fallen into the trap of the contrast effect.

Note: the images in this post are all examples of the contrast effect.

If you liked this post, you might like one of the other posts in this series:

My Answers to the 13 Weirdest Interview Questions You’ll Hear in 2014, Part 3

Over the last two days, I’ve been going through Mashable’s list of the 13 weirdest interview questions you’ll hear in 2014. On the first day, the guesstimate question took a little of time to answer because I had to type it out as I was talking through it out loud. In yesterday’s post, I was thrown for a bit of a loop when I answered why tennis balls are fuzzy (note: tennis balls are fuzzy because, “The felt delays flow separation in the boundary layer which reduces aerodynamic drag and gives the ball better flight properties.”) Today, I’ll answer the last three questions.

11. Can you instruct someone how to make an origami ‘cootie catcher’ with just words? – LivingSocial

Yes. There are two tricks for doing this. One would be to actually make an origami ‘cootie catcher’ and then retell the process to someone else as I’m doing it. The second way, and probably closer to an answer your looking for would be for me to imagine that I were making the ‘cootie catcher’ as I was telling someone how to do it. In this second way, I’m able to flex that part of my brain that is used for spatial reasoning.

12. How honest are you? – Allied Telesis

The research from psychologist and behavioural economist, Dan Ariely, would indicate that I’m at least a little dishonest — as we all are. The degree to which I’m dishonest might vary depending on one’s perspective. I would say I’m more honest than the next person, but the next person might say they’re more honest than me. A testament to my honesty: I’m honest when no one’s looking. There are times in our lives, when we have the opportunity to ‘cheat’ and do something for which we know is dishonest. Of course, as Ariely would tell us, we rationalize our behaviour. In knowing that we have this inkling towards rationalizing our behaviour, I do as best I can to be aware in these moments, so that I can prevent myself from being dishonest. For instance, maybe I don’t take an extra cookie when no one’s looking. Or maybe I am honest about what time I arrived and sign in at the ‘right’ time rather than back-dating my time a few minutes.

13. If you were on an island and could only bring three things, what would you bring? – Yahoo

[Note: In arriving at this question at the end, it feels like a chance to say… “there’s always one…” with the implication being, that there’s always one of ‘these’ questions where you’re asked to name some things you’d bring to an island based on certain criteria. This one doesn’t seem to have any specific criteria. It’s also worth noting that there’s no specificity in the kind of island one’s on. Anyways…] If I were on an island and could only bring three things, I’d bring my laptop, my Aeropress, and a surfboard. I’d bring my laptop, so that I could continue to write — I really enjoy writing. I’d bring my Aeropress because — hands down — I make the best coffee using it. And I’d bring a surfboard because I always wanted to learn how to surf.

My Answers to the 13 Weirdest Interview Questions You’ll Hear in 2014, Part 2

In yesterday’s post, I started to answer some of the weirdest interview questions you’ll hear in 2014 as chosen by Mashable. Today, hopefully, I’ll get through the rest of ’em. Let’s get to it!

7. Describe to me the process and benefits of wearing a seatbelt. – Active Network

When one sits down inside a car, in most cases, there’s a belt that they can fasten across their lap and/or over their shoulder. If you enter on the right side of the car, the seatbelt will normally be found on the right side of your leg/shoulder. If one enters on the left side of the car, the seatbelt will normally be found on the left side of one’s leg/shoulders. To fasten the seatbelt, pull the belt across your body/lap and insert the metal fitting into the buckle, until you hear a *click*. Then, if you have a lap belt, you’ll need to pull the strap until the belt is snug — but not too uncomfortable — over your body. The primary benefit of a seatbelt is to ensure that your body is in the optimal position, in the event of a collision. If one weren’t wearing a seatbelt and one’s car was in a collision, one’s rate of injury is extraordinarily higher than if one were wearing a seatbelt.

8. How does the Internet work? – Akamai

Very well for some. Two very good examples: Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen. Without the internet, there’s an extremely low probability that Bieber’s eventual manager finds Bieber’s YouTube account and sees him singing. And without Justin’s manager finding him through YouTube, his world, and the world of many “Beliebers,” would be quite different today. Building on that is Carly Rae Jepsen. Jepsen had made a name for herself in Canada, but when Bieber tweeted a YouTube video of her song, she became an international star.

9. If you were a pizza delivery man, how would you benefit from scissors? – Apple

If I were a pizza delivery man, it’s probably only because that’s my cover for being a spy. As a spy who’s walking around as a pizza delivery man, the scissors would come in handy when I needed to cut the electricity to house that I was delivering pizza to, but I needed to do so under a cloud of darkness.

10. Why is a tennis ball fuzzy? – Xerox

When people play tennis, they usually hold more than one ball at a time and in order to do this, sometimes they’ve got some sort of velcro like receiver on their hip. The makers of tennis balls found that as a way to ensure that tennis balls didn’t fall off of the velcro on player’s hips and to ensure their safety, they needed to make the balls fuzzy. [Note: I’m almost 100% sure this isn’t the reason why tennis balls are fuzzy because tennis has been around for a lot longer than velcro, but it was the first thing that came to mind and better represents how I might have answered if I were surprised with this in an interview.]

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That last question from Xerox kind of threw me off a bit, so I’m going to put this on pause and come back tomorrow to finish up the last three questions.

My Answers to the 13 Weirdest Interview Questions You’ll Hear in 2014, Part 1

Yesterday, Mashable published a listicle of the 13 weirdest interview questions you’ll hear in 2014, along with the origination of the questions (i.e. in which company’s interview they were [or will be] asked). I thought it’d be fun to go through and answer the questions as if I were in an interview with that company. I specify in an interview with that company because that would change the way that I answer the question. One last thing: I didn’t read the questions before answering them. That is, I’ve tried to maintain the element of surprise that the companies were trying to have in answering these kinds of questions. Here we go!

1. Are you more of a hunter or gatherer? – Dell

I know it’s clichéd to say this, but I like to think of myself as a hunter and a gatherer. There are times when I’d consider myself a gatherer, for instance, when trying to collect information to make an important decision on green-lighting an aspect on a project/product or when I’m trying to build support for a project idea in an upcoming meeting. In this way, I’ve got to use my skills at working around the edges — gathering — the right data or the right employees. There are also times when I’d consider myself a hunter, for instance when I’m looking for the right junior employee to motivate with an important project. In this way, I’ve got to use my prowess — hunting skills — to find the right employee for the job.

2. What is your least favorite thing about humanity? – ZocDoc

Without a doubt, it’s how mean we can be to each other. It can be so jarring to watch someone ‘hate’ another person either with words or with actions.

3. If you could throw a parade of any caliber through the Zappos office, what type of parade would it be? – Zappos

A sock party. Quite simply, socks are the unsung hero of Zappos’ business. Yes, some people don’t wear socks with their shoes, but the vast majority of people [Note: if I had statistics, I’d quote it here!] still prefer to wear socks with their shoes. We should appreciate what the sock has done for shoes.

4. How many square feet of pizza are eaten in the U.S. each year? – Goldman Sachs

[Note: I’m familiar with this kind of question. After having completed an MBA, I’m quite familiar with the types of questions that you might get in interviews with investment banks like Goldman Sachs or management consulting firms. A question like this is trying to determine how you solve this kind of a problem — not whether you know how many square feet of pizza are eaten in the US each year. To do this, you’re meant to talk through the problem aloud, so…] To begin, the US population is approximately 300 million. Let’s say that about every 2 out of 3 people eat pizza and of those 2 people, the average person will eat pizza two times every month (or once every other week). In eating pizza, some may eat quite a few pieces, while others will eat far less, so let’s say the average person will eat approximately 2 slices every time they have pizza. This amounts to 4 slices of pizza a month, per person. Now, let’s say that the average slice of pizza is 6 inches across at the crust and 12 inches long, then each slice of pizza is approximately 36 square inches. So, four slices of pizza amounts to 144 square inches of pizza, which also happens to equal the amount of 1 square foot of pizza (144 square inches is 12 times 12). So, one person will eat approximately one square foot of pizza each month. We can then say that there will be 200 million square feet of pizza eaten each month — multiply this by 12 months, and we get 2.4 billion square feet of pizza eaten each year in the US.

5. It’s Thursday; we’re staffing you on a telecommunications project in Calgary, Canada, on Monday. Your flight and hotel are booked; your visa is ready. What are the top five things you do before you leave? – ThoughtWorks

1. Find out if anyone else on the project team has lived in Calgary for any amount of time (questions regarding weather, things to do in Calgary).
2. Find out if Calgary is still dealing with the aftermath of the floods and if there’s a way I could volunteer to help while I’m there.
3. Find out how far Banff is from Calgary for a weekend trip.
4. Find out if there are “tours” to see the Canadian Tar Sands.
5. Book a weekend train ride to through the Rocky Mountains.

6. Have you ever been on a boat? – Applied Systems

Yes. In fact, I’ve lived on a boat. When I was living in Victoria, British Columbia, I was fortunate enough to live in a floathome. It is exactly what it sounds like — a house that floats. It was an experience that took some getting used to, but it was absolutely amazing to be able to open my eyes in the morning and see the Pacific ocean (!) right outside my bedroom window.

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It took a little longer than I thought to answer the first 6 questions, so I’ll save the next 7 questions for tomorrow.