Interpretations, recruitment and a little fun


If you look at this picture for a moment, what does the expression tell you? Is the person surprised, angry, annoyed, puzzled, shocked, bored, or something else? For a bit of fun, you could even ask a colleague what they see.  The point is that:

Different people can see the same thing in different ways.

And this can go further. Take the classic case of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum in Paris. It has been the subject of much debate over the centuries as to why the expression seems to change as you view it. The ‘vanishing smile’ as they call it.

It has even been analysed in terms of peripheral vision, dead-centre vision, and of light. You can also look at it from different angles and distances (if you can get close enough with the throng of people in front of you!), but change it seems to. You may even feel initially that she’s smiling specially at you, which can be a little unnerving. In just the same way:

Our interpretation of things can change as well.

To use another example, there was a particular shot of Rod Stewart on TV lately – the one in which he was crying seemingly uncontrollably. It could easily have been interpreted that he was grieving. How misleading that would have been!

Rod has always been a Glasgow Celtic fan. He was at a football match where they had just beaten FC Barcelona, considered by many as the best club team around at present. So it was hardly a case for sorrow, more likely the emotion of joy spilling over.

If the shot had been shown randomly, so that you didn’t know he was at a football match, it would have been out of context and could have been very misleading.

So for accuracy of judgement things need to be taken in context.

OK, so what has this all to do with recruitment?

Well, we’ve spoken about individuals’ interpretations differing, interpretations changing and interpretations that are taken out of context. Let’s look at some situations where these apply:

Have you ever interviewed a candidate jointly with a colleague, and had different assessments of the candidate? It happens. Is this a case for standing one’s ground, or considering your colleague’s interpretation? Maybe it can be beneficial to bear in mind that a discussion can sometimes bring out ideas or thoughts that neither of you had seen before. So, without lowering standards, flexibility can sometimes open up possibilities.

Secondly, what is behind your first reactions when a candidate speaks on the phone, or walks in? Have you ever interviewed someone who, as it went on, seemed more and more capable, likable and suitable for the role? If that is the case, it may be of benefit to bear in mind the potential changes in our interpretations. Ensuring that early reactions never count for too much in the overall judgement could be worthwhile.

Lastly, there’s the context factor. When considering something on a CV, do we take account of where the candidate was in their career and development at that time – and their progress since then?

The same can apply to what is said at interview about their earlier career. So, maybe questioning the context of what is said and done can also enhance accuracy of judgement.

We get lots of cases where we know a candidate’s work is good and our recruiters successfully suggest that clients ‘at least telephone interview’ them. This can happen when their development has outstripped what their CV suggests. They may be more effective on the phone than another candidate with a better looking CV, but whose skills aren’t as good.

It is a question of looking at it in the context of the current level of their skills.

So, in addition to having clear ideas of the skills, experience, and whatever else you are looking for, maybe there are times where some flexibility also has a place – particularly in this skills-shortage market.

Thanks for reading this, we hope you find it of some benefit.

Finally, want a bit of fun with interpretation? Then try this


If you’re interested in the research on the Mona Lisa smile, here’s a link


This article was written in November 2012 by Bill Paterson and the team at New Business People. If you have any queries, observations, ideas or requests, please contact us using the comments section. These are not published and could be very helpful to us. Thank you.


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