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Square Jobs & Round People - a Psychological Perspective

Stephen Myler

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This paper introduces the concept of a new model of recruitment, in the training of human recourse managers, to enable better retention and a fundamental understanding of the recruitment process that leads to early leavers and unsatisfied employees. The principal idea is to see jobs as “squares" that contain certain information in order to recruit suitable candidates for the company and people as “circles" trying to fit into the squares but never quite making a comfortable fit. The psychological consequences to a bad fit of a circle to a square and the economic costs to companies are explored. The research for this paper was conducted in field studies and feedback from HR managers in China.

Background to Development of the Model

Many companies recruit continually and annually to fulfill the existing loss of employees who become dissatisfied with their jobs or find the company is dissatisfied with them. The costs of an employee leaving are great and include, the loss of the money spent on training, development, the original recruitment costs of advertising and time spent interviewing. The replacement employee re-spends those costs in being attracted by advertisements, placement, induction training and future development. Of course if this is a continuous process so the cost constantly rolls forward from loss of staff to re-employment at a considerable economic cost to the company.

How are Circles recruited into Squares?

We must first look at the current way in which HR managers draw up a job description and requirement of the candidates sort after. The process is called “deselection" in which the HR mangers first interview the department head or supervisor for an outline of skills, educational requirements and personality traits that the vacancy requires for efficient recruitment of the perfect candidate. Once this task is complete the HR manager places the advertisement in various media to attract potential candidates. This job vacancy in our model becomes the “square" It is at this point deselection takes place. The following sequence shows the way in which potential candidates are deselected as the process of recruitment moves forward.

How does deselection happen? 1. We advertise a post 2. We receive over a 100 applications & resumes 3. We dismiss all those that do not meet minimum requirements - the first deselection. 4. We then assess applications for interview - the second deselection. 5. We then interview and reject obvious personality problems - the third deselection 6. Finally we have a short-list for second interviews - the final deselection. Now we have a new employee - the ROUND PERSON - the one not to be deselected.

This process above shows that in the end it is not the best person for the job often but in fact the person to survive the deselection process. The last man standing is a way of conceptualising the position. This person is our “circle" the best fit from the deselection process. However problems become apparent through deselection when our person starts to work! This is because during the deselection process - some circles are not happy in their squares. So what problems will HR officers encounter - lets see for ourselves!

1. The person who cannot cope. The circle is too small for the square. (25%) They are overwhelmed by the tasks they are being asked to perform. This person was selected for economic reasons - they were cheap to hire.

2. The person who becomes bored by the job. This is because the person is too large for the square. (130%) They have more skills than the job requires. This person got through deselection as the best candidate via brilliant education and skills. This person was recruited because the company were lucky to find such a talent, even though they did not have the work to fully employ them.

3. Another person who is bored is the “perfect fit" (100%) they almost fit into the square with very little room for lack of experience or skills. This is the most frequent person who survives deselection, because they are exactly what were asked for in the company advertisement. They were recruited exactly because they were perfect for the job.

4. This person sees the job as a challenge and with prospects to grow. Their circle is about 60% of the square. They were often recruited as the best that the company could find at the time, because they could not find through deselection the 100% person.

If we now compare the length of time each of our circles will stay in employment we can see the economic sense of always recruiting option 4 of our list above. The person who cannot cope will often leave within three months of recruitment, an obvious bad decision based on economy of salary. Our number two circle will often stay slightly longer but leave at six months; this is usually because they stay for the easy money until boredom kills all enthusiasm to continue. The circle number three stays an average of one year. This is because the work is what they can achieve and is at their skill and educational level. However they have no challenge and no where to go forward. This often happens with job shifters, who merely swap one post for another at the same level. The final circle number 4 often stays for over two years. This then is our best choice for cost efficiency in recruitment terms. They start with sufficient skills and knowledge to fulfil most of the tasks described in the square but still have room for further training and a learning curve to meet all the squares requirements at a future point in time.

There are other things we can do of course. When we recruit any of our circles we could simply adjust the square to fit the person - leaving room for growth - but this often is not satisfactory as the original square is the job we wanted filled. Another error encountered in the thinking process of HR is when looking at candidates being over impressed with past test performance. If a student often scores 100% with little effort then even if offered a post would continue to act as they did before and make very little effort in the job. However the student who constantly scores 80% and has to work extremely hard to achieve this would probably continue to make the same efforts in the workplace. Who would you recruit?

The Problem Revisited

Recruiting and retaining staff is a major concern to all companies. How can we improve our selection rather than continue to deselect candidates? Questions need to be asked at the job assessment stage. How can we attract the right person for growth and future potential, while still retaining, skills, education and personality requirements?

The Answer

Think of the job as your SQUARE. What person will stay in this post for at least two years? What can we offer a candidate in the way of training, on the job support and counselling? Your CIRCLE - needs scope to grow.

Most candidates through deselection come to the job with an aspect of psychological fear from day one as to the requirements they are expected to fulfil. Apart from the 100% circle all the other candidates will worry about short-comings to the task and even the over-qualified candidate (130%) will worry about being seen as too expensive perhaps for the job in hand and feel they may only be a temporary employee at best.


Human Recourse managers and companies spend huge amounts of money every year on recruitment and re-recruitment to the detriment of the profits, the moral of existing staff who suffer as constant witnesses to disgruntled colleagues leaving their posts and the reputation of the company that is known as having a high staff turnover. A little more thought about the construction of “squares" and the fitting of “circles" could make all the difference. A note should be made to the validity of the above model and that is that of course recruitment is a much more complex procedure than expressed in this paper. The author recognises that powerful aspects of personality can make an enormous impact on the recruitment process and that every tool at the HR manager's disposal should be used to identify the right candidate including, psychometrics, interviews, references from past employers and skill demonstration if required.


Professor Stephen F. Myler PhD Shanghai

Note: This paper was originally presented in power-point to HR managers and companies during training sessions conducted by Dr. Myler. Of course, in the power-point, the squares and circles were illustrated to emphasis the model and psychological under-pinning. Anyone wishing to see the original power-point may contact Dr. Myler for a copy, subject to strict copywrite, as this is an original concept.

Dr. Stephen Myler is from Leicester in England, an industrial town in the Midlands of the United Kingdom. He holds a B. Sc (Honours) in Psychology from the UK's Open University the largest in the UK; he also has an M. Sc and Ph. D in Psychology from Knightsbridge University in Denmark. In addition to this Stephen holds many diplomas and awards in a variety of academic areas including journalism, finance, teaching and advanced therapy for mental health. Stephen has as a Professor of Psychology many years teaching experience in colleges and universities in England and China to post 16 young adults, instructing in psychology, sociology, English, marketing and business. He has been fortunate to travel extensively from Australia to Africa to the United Sates, South America, Borneo, most of Europe and Russia. Stephen's favourite hobby is the study of primates and likes to play badminton. He believes that students who enjoy classes with humour and enthusiasm from the teacher always come back eager to learn more.


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