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Chris and Jeff discuss why engineers are sometimes seen as cold, heartless bastards who refuse to be team players. Oh yeah, and how that might be linked to a lack of empathy.
A recent journal article claims that engineering students have less empathy than students in other fields of study. Chato Rasoal, Henrik Denielsson & Tomas Jungert (2012): Empathy among students in engineering programmes, European Journal of Engineering Education, 37:5, 427-435.
Our guest for this episode is Jim Heilman, who appeared previously in our episode on recruiting. He thinks that the whole empathy thing with engineers is a perception problem.
Employers don’t usually ask about empathetic skills when looking for technical personnel, although the ability to “listen” is considered important.
On the whole, women are more empathetic than men, and empathy tends to increase with age and level of education.
We also tend to more empathetic toward those that share cultural and geographical backgrounds. Thus, we may have to work at being sufficiently empathetic towards those with different values and traditions.
Jim believes employers assume all candidates to be sufficiently empathetic, even through the evidence would indicate otherwise.
Taking candidates out to lunch is a common ploy to see how potential employees treat others, especially those who are not in positions of authority.
Chris recalls a quote by Samuel Johnson, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”
A study out of Case Western Reserve University indicates that firing up the neuron network we use for empathy causes our analytic abilities to be suppressed. Anthony I. Jack, Abigail Dawson, Katelyn Begany, Regina L. Leckie, Kevin Barry, Angela Ciccia, Abraham Snyder. fMRI reveals reciprocal inhibition between social and physical cognitive domains. NeuroImage, 2012
Chris wonders what the biological advantage might be in this trade off between empathy and analysis.
Jim has noticed that women seem expected to show more empathy than men, especially by other women.
A recent Forbes article detailed an interview with author Jon Ronson. In his book, The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, Mr. Ronson notes that about 4 percent of CEOs display signs of psychopathy, four times the incidence found in the population at large.
Jeff recalls reading Thick Face, Black Heart: The Warrior Philosophy for Conquering the Challenges of Business and Life. It talked about the importance of having certain professionals, such as surgeons, be emotionally distanced from their patients.
A ranking of psychopathy incidence by profession shows CEOs leading the list, followed by lawyers, media personalities, salespeople, and surgeons.
There seems to be a gap between the knowledge skills and characteristics that a graduate engineer is expected to hold, and what skills and characteristics these engineers actually have.
Jim feels that engineers may be getting unfairly criticized, as a lack of empathy seems widespread in a number of industries.
Today’s college students display less empathy than previous generations.
In Steven Covey’s book, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, the fifth habit is “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.”
Chris and Jim debate the need for empathy in the field of engineering.
Jim has found that sharing a meal with someone can lower tension in the workplace.
Engineering parents are twice as likely as non-engineering parents to have autistic children.
When we pay attention to the emotions of others, we start to mirror those emotions ourselves. This is the topic of the book, Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect with Others.
Steve Blank has written about developing empathic skills by emulating empathy.
The article about engineering students having a lack of empathy generated quite a bit of response on Reddit and Hacker News.
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Thanks to giveawayboy for the drawing titled “You unlocked all the channels in me.” Podcast theme music provided by Paul Stevenson
Podcast: Play in new window | Download
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In a discussion with Jim Heilman of Discovery Personnel, a mechanical engineer who left industry after two decades to recruit technical talent in the plastics industry, we examine how engineers can best work with recruiters to further their own careers, as well as to find engineering talent for their businesses.
- Following up from the prior episode about design thinking, Jeff notes that a movie titled Designing & Thinking is being shown in selected theaters around the country. Anybody have a review for us?
- Recruiters serve as an intermediary between job seekers and employers.
- Some of the big job databases online include Monster, CareerBuilder, and Indeed.
- Talented individuals who don’t really want to be contacted about job opportunities are known as passive candidates. These are the people that recruiters work the hardest to reach.
- Jim notes that networking is still the best way to find a new position. Salespeople are good contacts, as they are in frequent communication with other businesses in your industry.
- A good reference on networking, and the job search process, is the book What Color is My Parachute?
- Jim reflects that he’s been able to stay competitive in recruiting because, in the words of Rick Springfield, We All Need A Human Touch.
- If you’re searching for a job, you need to tailor your resume to the company and job for which you’re applying.
- When talking with potential employers, try to imagine what they are looking for in an employee, rather than focusing on your own desires for salary and vacation.
- It is far more common for new hires to be let go because they don’t fit with a company’s culture, rather than for technical incompetence.
- Jim is of the opinion that listing yourself as a candidate on Monster.com can “cheapen” how potential employers view your services. It is better to respond to a job that has already been posted. However, many recruiters rely on Monster and CareerBuilder to find candidates.
- In recent weeks, Jim was looking for an engineer who was familiar with Swiss turning machines, which produce features of very high accuracy.
- While a project portfolio is important, the resume remains the best starting point for gaining entry into most companies.
- Jim estimates that there are 150,000 recruiters in the United States, and they all have trouble finding candidates that can meet the increasingly specific requirements demanded by employers. Jim likens the process to finding a purple squirrel.
- The cost of using a recruiter is steep, often 30% of a candidate’s first year salary. Thus, a company working through a recruiter is experiencing a lot of pain, and is anxious to find a qualified employee. This cost is normally paid by the employer, which means that recruiters are generally looking out for the best interests of the hiring firm, not the candidate.
- Networking is important when trying to hire engineering talent, as well as in conducting a job search.
- As a hiring manager, be aware that recruited employees are only guaranteed to stay with your firm for a short term, often only 30 days. However, Jim estimates the early departure rate for his placements as being fairly low, around 1 in 100.
- Jim Heilman can be reached at Discovery Personnel, and you can follow him on Twitter.
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Thanks to Victor 1558 for the photograph.