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Decoding a prospective monster boss in a job interview

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Rey Elbo

In The Workplace

An HR manager interviewed me for the vacant post of the operations manager of a medium-size manufacturer. After an hour-long job interview, he asked me to draw a monster with a one-sentence description on bond paper. I was told that it’s part of a simple psychological exam that he’s performing on other candidates. I have not heard from him for two weeks. What do you think is my chance of getting the job? Really, what’s the reason for that “monster” exercise? Puzzled

A boy entered a neighborhood grocery store and asked the grocer for a box of detergent. Since the store was not so busy, the puzzled grocer asked why he would want a box of detergent. The boy was going to wash his cat. “Young man, you should not wash your cat with this kind of soap,” the grocer exclaimed. But the boy insisted it would be OK.

A few days later, the boy returned, and the grocer asked about the cat. “Oh, he died!” The grocer replied: “Well, son, I warned you not to wash your cat with that detergent!” The boy replied with a sad face, “The soaping didn’t hurt him a bit! The spin cycle got him.”

Read on until the end of the article and you’ll know your chance for that job. Now, let me tell you this — forewarned is forearmed. As a job applicant, it is possible you were being tested on your reaction to stressful work conditions. In other words, they could be trying to find out whether you can fight fires in a complex work situation. I would not be surprised if the job carries with it many challenges that include the possibility of you reporting to a dictatorial, toxic boss.

The trouble is that the HR manager may not have been honest with you, maybe because of the difficulty of getting a replacement.

You should ask the HR manager why the post is vacant. That alone could give you an important understanding of the job you’re taking on. If the incumbent has retired or has moved to another company, then it would appear normal and ordinary.

However, if the former operations manager was dismissed for “incompetence,” then you need to watch out as there’s also a chance that you will be placed in a similar situation. You may want to investigate further. Check with the security guard, receptionist, or janitor for the name of the former operations manager. Google him and try to talk to him about that job. He may or may not answer, but there’s always that chance that you will get another perspective.

Further, one question that could give you an insight about that job vacancy is why they are looking for some persons outside the organization rather than promoting someone from within. For me, that’s a red flag.

The HR manager may have characterized the process as “a simple psychological exam.” He may have asked you about your definition of a toxic boss and how would you propose to manage him. Since we don’t have a copy of your drawing, at least you may remember that “one-sentence description.”

Who among us has actually seen a monster? Tadahiko Nagao and Isamu Saito may have the answers for you. In their 2000 book Kokology: The Game of Self-Discovery, the coauthors say you “(a)sk a hundred people to draw a monster and they’ll paint you a hundred very different pictures. There are all kinds of monsters — the ones we see in movies, those that chase us through our dreams, the monsters of fairy tales, ghost stories, and even video games.

Monsters can be like Theory X managers who believe that man is lazy and must only be coerced or threatened to produce something. If you can still remember your “one-sentence description” about your concept of a monster, then at least take heed of what Nagao and Saito have written:

“The monster in your imagination is a manifestation of the archetype known as the Shadow, representing the darker side to every person’s personality. The Shadow is present in each of us, and the monster’s anger is actually directed at a source of stress in our own life.” Now, here are the four interpretations by Nagao and Saito:

One, a “hungry and hunting for food” monster is “reacting to your own fight against your appetite. Have you been wrestling with a diet recently? It’s hard to keep a clear head when you’ve got an empty stomach. Remember, everything in moderation and that includes moderation itself.”

Two, a monster “searching for its lost love” means you “have been going through some difficulties on the romantic front.” I guess this applies if you’re still single and beyond the calendar numbers. Nagao and Saito say “a love life without worries is no love life at all.”

Three, a monster who is “despondent because it’s so ugly” applies to persons who “are dissatisfied with their own appearance in some way. Faults can be magnified in the mind’s eye, and that negative self-image influences the way the rest of the world.”

Lastly, a monster that “is angry at the entire world” has a “pessimistic outlook. Not only is the glass half-empty, but the water is warm and tastes bad. It’s good to be able to find mistakes that need correcting, but you’ll never change the world just by complaining.”

If your description of a monster falls into any or all of the above interpretations, then chances are, you may have unwittingly described yourself to the hiring manager who may be looking now at the direction of the other candidates. But don’t despair. Tell me your “one-sentence description” of what you’ve drawn, and we’ll try to ask Nagao and Saito about it.

elbonomics@gmail.com