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Confusing Confidence with Competence

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One Question to Avoid Hiring Dunning Kruger as Your CMO


Dunning Kruger is a term in psychology to describe how people often believe they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Since as a culture, we often confuse confidence with competence, when you're interviewing a potential CMO -- or anyone -- how do you know who’s really competent, and who’s just confident? Who flew standby on a rocket ship, and who landed a plane on the Hudson? Compounding the confusion is that the value of a trusted "brand", unfortunately, extends beyond personal purchasing decisions into screening, interviewing, and selecting senior level executives. Recruiters, HR directors, and boards find it easier to sell someone from a trusted brand regardless of whether or not that person contributed to the success of the brand. Remember the engineer that left one of the best loved brands in the world -- Google -- to become CEO of Yahoo? What about the former CMO of Apple (not to be confused with Steve Jobs) who went to run JC Penney? Here are some questions and interview alternatives to help separate confidence from competence. What are yours?

“What’s the Biggest Decision You Made in Your Last Position”. It evokes an unpracticed answer that often reveals the scope of responsibilities the candidate had, and the results he/she really achieved, as opposed to the results that coincided with his/her tenure.


  1. Market This – (Pick up an object on your desk or one you brought with you). It's a hypothetical question designed to assess innate capabilities as well as the extent to which a candidate has a strategic process for making marketing decisions. If you're interviewing a CMO and the candidate first describes how they’d advertise it, then you know they're too tactical for a CMO role. If they describe a methodical strategic process -- great. Follow up with, "What aspect of this product do you think might inspire customers?" to assess their creative, intuitive skills.

  2. Shake Shack CEO, Randy Garutti, asks: "If we're sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great 12 months it's been for you in this role, what did we achieve together?" The purpose is to find out if candidates have "enough strategic vision to not only talk about how good the year has been but to answer with an eye towards that bigger-picture understanding of the company — and why they want to be here." (Business Insider)

  3. Ron Friedman, psychologist and author of "The Best Place to Work" -- recommends skipping interviews altogether and going to an audition. I've used this and it works, as long as you can review the work objectively and not to confirm a positive bias you already have about a candidate.

  4. Automattic, the company that owns Wordpress, assess competence by having every candidate work on a trial basis for the company for up to 8 weeks, 20 hours/week at $25/hour.

  5. Pay Pal, Sonotype, Charlotte Ruse, and Others - Read What They Ask

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