Get the Perfect Job in Security: Hack #2

Curse of Knowledge

    This is one in a series of posts on how to use behavioural science to improve your chance of getting a job in security.

    Curse of Knowledge: Hack #2

    You’ve applied for your first security manger role and you’ve been invited to interview for the position. Sat in the job interview you’re asked ‘tell me about the last time you overcame a serious challenge’.

    You have an answer that comes to mind, it involves handling a protest outside your place of work. You’re so proud of your achievement you get straight into how you dealt with the lead protester and managed to avoid any disruption to visitor access and egress. As a result you even beat your security key performance indicator! 

    After the interview you run over your answers and say to yourself: “I crushed that protest question!” However, the interviewer thinks otherwise and marks you down. Why? 

    Beware the Curse of Knowledge

    Have you ever tried explaining something you’re really into and found the person you’re talking to doesn’t really ‘get it’. If you have you’ve probably just moved the conversation on telling yourself the other person doesn’t really care. This could be true but it could also be because you are suffering from the curse of knowledge.

    The curse of knowledge is a behavioural bias, an inclination for us humans to know things that the other person does not and to forget what it’s like to not have this knowledge.

    This bias can have severe implications. Imagine a commanding officer who has just received a battle plan briefing by high command. He needs to communicate his orders to his troops, who don’t know what he knows. If he suffers from the curse of knowledge the battle can go very badly for him and his troops.

    Curse of Knowledge in a Job Interview

    How does the curse of knowledge impact a job interview?

    In the above protest example the interviewee talks about the actions taken, the solution. What the interviewee misses is an examination of the problem, the protest. It sounds obvious but we tend to forget that a solution’s value is defined by the problem is solves.

    Mould doesn’t sound particularly valuable. Unless you’re Alexander Fleming who returned from a two-week vacation in 1928 to find that a mould had developed on an accidentally contaminated staphylococcus culture plate. Fleming, a lab technician, realised the mould was worthy of investigation. The rest is history, Fleming had discovered penicillin, the most powerful antibiotic known to man and responsible for saving over 80,000 lives

    A solution’s value is defined by the problem it solves.

    Interview Tip: Think back to the last mathematics exam you took. You may recall you scored marks for not only having the right answer but also for showing how you got to that answer, your workings out. The same applies in a job interview, we must define the problem fully to score top marks. 

    Six Pointers

    One great way to structure your answer to interview questions is to start by running through the problem using the six points below: 

    • What
    • Where
    • When
    • Who
    • Why
    • How

    You can address the above points in whatever order you like. Applied to the protest situation one could say:

    What: A crowd of between five and ten people appeared outside our building holding placards and shouting slogans.

    They appeared…

    Where: Outside the main entrance to my workplace is a large multi tenanted office building in the heart of a financial district.

    They were…

    Who: All the protesters looked to be in their twenties and dressed as animals.

    We saw them immediately…

    When: It was around 11am on a Tuesday, in February last year, that’s what our security guard software recorded. 

    We think they targeted us because…

    Why: One of our tenants invests in a company that performs animal testing.

    They got there..

    How: Our CCTV incident response platform showed they were dropped off by a van.


    You may consider covering each point overkill but, using any of them will improve your performance at interview. The key to dispelling the curse of knowledge is to recognise we all suffer from it and rely on a structure to avoid it. 

    If you’re ever interviewed by a journalist you’ll discover they tend to follow this same method: ‘Tell me about what happened? Where was this? At that time was this?’ A journalist knows what they know but they have no idea what their reader knows. And we as interviewees do not know what our interviewer knows. 

    Help is at hand if you struggle to remember these six points. One of the England’s finest writers, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about these six points. Below is an excerpt from his poem I Keep Six Honest Serving Men: 


    I KEEP six honest serving-men
    (They taught me all I knew);
    Their names are What and Why and When
    And How and Where and Who

    Rudyard Kipling

    About the author: Andrew is one of the founders of SIRV. He also serves as Behavioural Economist in Residence at the London College of Fashion and speaks about persuasion at London Business School, UCL School of Management and Cass Business School. He lectures on negotiation at Cass Business School and University of the Arts London.