Saturday, January 05, 2008

Behavioral Based Interviewing and Politics

At work they send us on courses to make us into better managers. One of the courses I took was Behavioral Based Interviewing. That's a fancy name for a simple concept... that how people behave in one situation is likely to be repeated in the future. So instead of asking made up interview questions (If you were in situation X what would you do?) we are to ask questions based on real life (Tell me about a time when you were in situation X). So for example, if a person has a history of being diligent, honest, capable and flexible in the past, they are likely to display all of these attributes when working for you. Makes sense, right?

Of course in the work world we can't ask questions of a personal nature. But often a candidate cannot come up with an answer from the work world, and will substitute an experience from their personal life. For example, they may talk about how they demonstrated their virtues in a community association or a stressful family situation. And while we don't solicit personal information in interviews, when someone volunteers personal information it's considered to be valid. That's because it is unlikely that the candidate is radically different in their personal and professional roles. Someone who is diligent, honest, capable and flexible in their personal life is unlikely to be indolent, corrupt, lazy and rigid in their professional life. Makes sense, right?

But now let's apply this to politics. Doesn't it stand to reason that a candidate's personal life will be a reflection on how well he or she will fill public office? So let's assume you have two candidates. The first has had a series of affairs and several divorces. His children all moved out as fast as they could, and indeed their own lives are a series of train wrecks. He hasn't held down a steady job and was a poor student. His attitude towards religion is one of irreverence or indifference. That's the first candidate. The second candidate has been faithful to his wife through life's ups and downs. His children have their own ups and downs, but basically they are steadfast. He worked hard in university, earned a scholarship and graduated with honours. He did well in his employment and he is a respected member of his church, synagogue or mosque. Doesn't it stand to reason that all of this will have some bearing on how he will fulfill the responsibilities of being our elected representative?

So why, in Canada, is a candidate's personal life off base for questioning? Why do we pretend that his personal life has no bearing on his fitness for public office? What's wrong with asking a candidate to explain his or her personal life and to show how it demonstrates the virtues we believe to be important in an elected official?


Blogger Ed LeBlanc said...

Good questions on morality and politics. I made some related comments on a posting on my blog at

12:10 a.m.  
Anonymous jgriffin316 said...

Basically there are two answers to that question. First, personal lives are exactly that, personal. If I am going into public life then if I am a caring parent and spouse I will most likely try to shield my family from the vitriol that passes for Canadian politics (and media reporting). No child should be hounded by the press or have to listen to every negative element of their parent's life spun and magnified out of proportion as we so often see south of the border. Second, because some people believe that a person's professional life is a greater bellwether than their personal life. There are many examples of people who have abysmal personal lives but are very good at everything they do professionally.

Of course, the more cynical among us would go for a third option, that to many career politicians have very full closets.

8:12 p.m.  
Blogger JMJ said...

Look at the life of David, he was one of the best kings of Israel, a man after God's own heart. However, his personal life is much less than exemplorary.

So I'm not sure the two are analogous.

2:35 p.m.  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...


I tend to think there is a correlation. Most of King David's problems, including the fact that he plunged the kingdom into a civil war, stemmed from failure in his "personal" life.

9:26 p.m.  
Blogger Shawn Abigail said...

Hi John,

I think there is some middle ground between the view that my personal life is personal so my moral failures are irrelevant, and the view that says that running for public office should make your family fair game. And yes, I'm sure there are people who are professionally competent and personal wrecks (and visa versa) but what I'm suggesting is that there is a correlation. If a person has a wreck of a personal life, then the burden of proof is on him to show why that personal wreckage is unlikely to spill over into his professional life.

9:30 p.m.  
Anonymous jgriffin316 said...


For me this is less a case of "should it be done", and more a case of "do I trust the media to do it?" The Canadian media seems to take a particular delight in attacking the families of public figures, take the contest to "deflower" Mulroney's daughter as a prime example. In my opinion, the Canadian media can not be trusted in family matters and so should be excluded from covering them.

7:16 p.m.  

Post a Comment

<< Home