What can a former CIA counterintelligence officer teach us about hiring?

Posted On July 18, 2022

When your job is to recruit informants for the CIA, you learn to ask the right questions.

Blake Mobley did just that while working as a counterintelligence officer under two presidents. It was an experience that taught him how to look for the structural weaknesses in organizations, how to find what motivates people, and the sorts of questions one needs to ask to really learn what they need to know about a person.

Those are valuable tools in the hiring process, too. And in the latest episode of “What’s Working with Cam Marston,” Mobley shares how some of the lessons he learned in the CIA can also help you hire the right employees for your business.

“Using some of the same lessons from the psychology of understanding counterintelligence assets and keeping secrets, those same dynamics applied in HR and turned out to be tremendously powerful,” said Mobley, currently the Chief Data Officer at WasteFuel, a company that produces renewable fuels from municipal solid waste, and the co-founder of Keeper Recruiting, a firm that screens and matches job candidates with companies.

Mobley, how based in San Diego, offered four tips to asking the right questions and what to listen for in an interview:

  • Off-script questions generally yield the most honest answers.
  • Gauge entitlement vs. gratitude. Most people are oriented toward the former.
  • What is the candidate’s energy level and how will that fit in the organization?
  • Are they order-focused or chaos-focused? What’s their tolerance for chaos?

Mobley also compared the relative strengths and weaknesses of hierarchical and decentralized organizations, shared strategies in avoiding confirmation bias, discussed whether there’s value in multiple interviews and third-party interviewers, and addressed the dangers of a workplace not living up to the promises of the interview.

“There’s a co-authorship to failure,” he said. “I think it is a little strange that we haven’t put more thought into this as we’ve evolved in our corporate cultures.”

Also with experience in the biotech industry and with the Rand Corporation think tank, Mobley brings a fresh perspective to a timeless issue – how to find the right employees to help your company thrive and grow. To read more from him on his counterintelligence expertise, check out his books: Terrorism and Counterintelligence, and Evading Secret Police: Counterintelligence Vulnerabilities in Authoritarian States.

Categories: Blog, Podcast, Recruiting, What's Working with Cam Marston