U04 L08: Determining individual differences: Where to draw the line?

I was recently interviewed for a job with a high profile charity. I thought the interview process was ethical and was impressed with the way the organization assessed what individual differences I would bring to the position.

According to Penn State’s ethics and leadership class, individual differences include four categories: personality, motivation, intelligence and biodata.

How did they do about gathering the most amount of information for each of these factors? Well, I believe personality shines through at all points throughout the interview process, and the interviews were constantly taking notes as they spoke to me. To determine my intelligence, they gave me a written test with problems I would have to solve while in the role. Motivation: they asked about projects I worked on in the past that I was proud of and the career goals I had for myself. Lastly, for biodata, I feel like you’re assessed mentally. As soon as interviews hear your voice, see your face or even just read your name, they are making assumptions and judgement based on your genetics. As a Caucasian woman I did not feel like my biodata would hinder my chances at getting the role.

That is, until they spoke with my references.

I had one of my references tell me that one of the questions was, “If Amanda was to leave this job in six months, what do you think the reason would be?”

It forced me to think about why they would ask such a question. First I thought it was because they were trying to see if I was committed to the jobs I take on. But that’s silly; my resume clearly outlines I’ve been with organizations for many years and I was not a fleety person. The only response I could think of was to gauge if I was likely to take a maternity leave soon.

This is an interesting way of technically staying within ethical boundaries, but it still left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Upon further research, I realized that according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, an employer can outright deny hiring a woman if she’s pregnant, if the company has fewer than 15 employees.

This still seems wrong to me and in my mind, does not align with the American Psychological Association’s ethical principle E: Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity. It stipulates that psychologists have to be aware of vulnerabilities (which includes pregnant woman) and have respect “the dignity and worth for all people.”

As for me, I landed the job. But I’m aware that being single may have worked to my advantage.



American Psychological Association. (2010). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct: Including 2010 amendments. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/  (Links to an external site.)

Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Retrieved from http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/titlevii.cfm

Pennsylvania State University. (2016). PSY 533 SP16 Unit 08. [Online Lecture]. Retrieved from:  https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390



  1. Amber McGraw March 21, 2016 at 3:18 PM #

    I agree, that usually the interview process itself is used to determine one’s personality. Since interviewers want to get a feel for the type of person they are interviewing, sometimes the questions can seem a bit strange. It makes since though, since you are trying to get a feel for a person in a very short period of time. The downside to not using a personality inventory during the interview process, I would think, would mainly affect those who are introverted, as it is sometimes difficult for us introverts to let our personality shine in an interview.

    The motivation questions in your interview that pertained to your past accomplishments is a typical interview technique. Seeing as though motivation is such a broad category, and each person is motivated by different factors and motivated differently depending upon the situation, I find that this may be one of the most difficult individual differences to get an accurate read on during an interview. I guess, the main goal of interview questions directed at motivations would be to learn whether an applicant has stable motivations over time or if they have shifting motivations (PSU, n.d.). Since stable motivations help to predict whether a person is inclined to act either ethically or unethically and shifting motivations may warn that a person is inclined to act unpredictably in a variety of situations (PSU, n.d.), I can see why motivation is an important individual difference to learn about during an interview. An interviewer would want a candidate who is consistent and reliable, and ideally consistently ethical.

    The biodata portion of your interview is the induvial difference that I would think can easily skate along the line between ethical and unethical practice. And making determinations on whether or not to hire based on these factors (though typically difficult to prove) can be highly unethical if handled incorrectly. Mainly, from what I have read, bio-data is used to predict patterns of behavior. The assumption is that what was done in past, will be done in the future (Williams, 2007). Interviewers asking about biodata typically want to know about a person’s life and work experiences, as well as one’s opinions, values and attitudes about events that have occurred in their life (Williams, 2007). I think the goal is to determine how one’s past experiences have shaped their identity and their behavior; it is just another way to reflect an applicant’s experience. I do agree with you that having your interviewer ask your reference about leaving in the next six months, with the implication that you would take maternity leave, is bizarre and I cannot figure out any other explanation of why one would ask such a question.

    In terms of intelligence, I can see why they would give you an application type of intelligence test to see if you could complete the tasks of the position to which you were applying, but I am curious to see if you were given any other, perhaps general intelligence type of assessments. Where they at all concerned with your general intelligence, or did you get the impression that they just wanted to know how well you could perform the job? I have taken a number of different intelligence test myself, and from experience, I found the most accurate predictors of my success where those tests that combined general intelligence with problem solving and critical thinking skills. I feel that one without the other fails to provide a holistic picture of one’s true intelligence level.


    Penn State University (n.d.). Motivation. Retrieved from Penn State University Ethics and Leadership: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1775390/pages/l08-motivation?module_item_id=20678754

    Williams, W. (2007, February 21). Using Bio-Data For Selection. Retrieved from ERE Recruiting Intelligence website: http://www.eremedia.com/ere/using-bio-data-for-selection/

  2. Amy Lynne Ranker March 21, 2016 at 3:34 AM #

    Hi Amanda,
    My first reaction upon reading your post and reacting to your reference to the Civil Rights Act and the legal right of an employer to deny hiring a pregnant woman was a jaw drop. Although there are many laws and legal documents that have withstood the test of time, this is one that even for all the good it has done, should be revisited. What I thought when I read that, especially given the idea that your interviewer might be fishing for information about a potential maternity leave, is that “popping the baby out” is truly the easy part (in most cases). The difficult and more impactful consideration in this hypothetical scenario is raising the child, which is a gender-neutral activity and impacts not just the female. In our modern society, when paternity leave is growing in popularity and dads are taking a more equitable role in child-rearing, this aspect of the law offers no value and in fact, may prove harmful to women.
    The lecture states that “biological markers and personal histories combine to become biodata that create individual differences between people” (Penn State University, 2016), asserting that this information is most important during the activities of hiring and promoting. Wouldn’t the world be less biased in these (and many other) activities if we could hide some of these biodata at times like these?
    Interesting food for thought. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  3. Russell Fitzpatrick March 20, 2016 at 3:29 PM #

    This post raises many issues related to diversity in the workplace, and ethics in the interview process. I am a bit shocked that the question asked to the references is such a veiled question to determine if you were planning to have children. I believe this fear of a professional woman’s family responsibilities is a common problem with many companies, I have heard this whispered in the halls myself when considering women professionals for higher management positions, or positions where travel was a requirement.

    There is an entire culture of discrimination against women, that is subtle and hidden. The fact that discrimination against pregnant women is even allowed, as you noted, as an exemption, is unethical and wrong. There are many instances where the US laws are completely unethical when it comes to diversity and discrimination against individual differences, including for example, religious exemptions, sexual orientation exemptions, and the one you pointed out. Of course this is a very complex matter, trying the juggle where to put the discrimination. But it seems to me, that any exemption is an automatic source of discrimination. All of these exemptions are based on a fear of diversity, of individual difference, and what different experiences might bring to an organization. Diversity should be celebrated and not avoided.

  4. Amanda Rose Grace Cupido March 19, 2016 at 7:50 PM #

    Sorry about not stipulating that in the headline, Jill! I just made the edit.

  5. Jill K Wheeler March 18, 2016 at 1:08 PM #

    Thanks for making a Blog Post for Lesson 8.

    I just wanted to clarify that this Blog Post is for Lesson 8. Any student comments on this Blog Post that you wish to have graded as a Blog Comment assignment submission are due by Monday, March 21 at 9AM (Eastern) and should include discussion of individual differences as they relate to leadership and ethics.

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