Category Archives: Psychology Human Resources

Italian Assignments, Navigating Cultural Differences

Italian Assignments – Guidelines for Navigating Cultural Differences

University of South Florida

December 4, 2017

Todd Benschneider, Gabriel Bussell, Ali Dogan Sivritepe, Pam Sundown


Table of Contents



  1. Employee Responsibility and Preparing for Success
  2. Bureaucratic Tasks and Tips
  3. Anticipated Economic Adjustments
  4. Schooling for Children
  5. Transportation
  6. Housing
  7. Medical Care
  8. General Business Etiquette
  9. Effective Negotiation Styles
  10. Dress Code and Personal Fashion
  11. Dining Etiquette
  12. Gifts
  13. References

Employee Responsibility

Please understand that your assignment is first and foremost to serve as a corporate diplomat for your employer: Interglobal. One thing that is certain, you should expect that the progress toward your business objective to take much longer than you anticipate, so please adjust the timelines of your assignment objectives to accept these differences, a good rule of the thumb is U.S. estimated timeline multiplied by 2.5 (20). It will also benefit you to resign to the fact that controlling your Italian business partners sense of urgency or work ethic will usually damage relationships. With that stated, your first task will be to adapt your pace to the Italian partner’s timeline.


In addition, it is your duty to understand the Italian’s “Ugly American Stereotype”, and avoid reinforcing any negative preconceptions such as: Americans are rude, self-righteous and condescending towards their Italian hosts. It is imperative to understand that over 30% of American expats abandon their first foreign assignment in the first twelve months, the high failure rate is easily reduced by intensive culture preparation like the training course you have been provided (20).


Another obstacle in cultural acclimation is the preparation of your family for the assignment, which is why they will also be participating in preparatory conditioning for the cultural adventure the family is about to embark upon. Success on a foreign assignment will prove your resourcefulness and adaptability and be an important stepping stone in the advancement of your areas of responsibility here at Interglobal.


For Italian work assignments that last longer than three months, US citizens are required to obtain a “National Work Visa”. Most companies handle the application on your behalf; however, the approval process usually takes six to nine months; therefore, it is imperative that you follow the status of the application and understand your company’s policy. Family visas are comparatively simple to acquire after your National Visa has been granted, your family will only require a written request and valid passport to join you (12).


Depending on the living arrangements provided by your employer, you will probably need also to apply for a residency permit to rent or purchase a home. With a residency permit, you will need to apply for tax number, this number, much like a social security number will be required for many routine family needs such as obtaining insurance or healthcare (12).


In addition, most expats learn the hard way that their U.S. mobile plan does not transfer to Italy and that roaming charges can rack up a frightening bill unless you modify your plan to an international package prior to your arrival. For business purposes it is standard to have a prepaid Italian SIM card installed on your mobile phone which can convert your current smartphone to a local Italian phone number. When you want to switch back to your American number, you just swap back to the original SIM. A popular technology in Italy has become dual SIM mobile phones that allow you to carry two independent phone lines on a single phone, one as your personal number and the other as your work number (19).



The cost of living in Italy is not significantly higher than in the US, but the regionally adjusted income to cost of living equates to around 50% higher depending on region. The first observations many expats realize is are larger pay gaps between junior and mid-level managers, this may be a factor of the Hofstede Power Distance Index of 50 compared to the US score at 40 (9). The website is a valuable tool to use in understanding international cultural differences. For example, Italy pays its young workers the lowest entry level wages when compared to its western European neighbors, you can expect to find students from with excellent academic credentials hiring in at a 2016 average starting pay that equates to $32,500. In contrast nearby Switzerland offers its new graduates an average starting salary equal of $99,300. In the United States you are accustomed to working with young college graduates that typically hire in at $50,200. Fortunately for our prospective mid-career expats you will learn that Italy uses the money saved on young employee salaries to compensate older workers. While still at 11th of 15 western European countries Italy pays its mid-level supervisors the equivalent of $84,100 annually, which climbs quickly as you climb in the corporate ranks (14). These salary differences are partly cultural and due to the fact that Italy has limited resources that impact its current potential GDP. On the following page are detailed comparisons of each region’s major city with cost of living compared to Tampa. You will notice surprisingly inexpensive rents but low local purchasing power due to lower average salaries and higher tax rates (13).



Milan’s Local Salary Purchasing Power is 50% lower than Tampa’s

Rome Local Salary Purchasing Power 49% Lower than Tampa

Naples’s Local Salary Purchasing Power is 59% lower than Tampa’s




Most expat families send their children to international schools to alleviate the challenges of mastering academic fluency in a second language. The benefit of attending an accredited international school, is that these institutions provide a standardized coursework that transfers into other international locations and can increase chances of being accepted into the most selective international universities (11).


In Italy, schooling is broken into three cycles plus kindergarten, which begins with three years of optional kindergarten through age six, then a mandatory elementary school through age 11, during this cycle Italian education system requires all students to learn two foreign languages, the first is typically English which is introduced while children are seven years old, a second foreign language is required at age eleven (7).


Following the elementary school cycle, Italian children enter middle school for ages eleven through fourteen. At fifteen they begin the third cycle that we call high school which they are required to take an admission test to qualify for the academic courses to prepare them for the universities. If their academic skills lag their peers, they will typically be assigned to a vocational training school rather than a high school (11).






You should plan on relying on public transportation for the first several months, since you are legally required to carry an International Driving Permit to rent a car. In addition, expect to pay about 60% more for gasoline, however on the bright side, Italians also drive on the right side of the road and most major highways have no speed limits (7).


Public buses and trains are the most affordable and reliable mode of transportation in major cities, many expats use the iBus line.  Fortunately, Uber has become very popular in Italy’s major cities in recent years and is often the most affordable mode of transport in many areas, however the Uber network is not well developed in smaller towns (7). Unlike Uber, many taxi drivers will frequently take advantage of foreigners by insisting on payment much higher than the meter reading (7).



While many of you will be taking advantage of housing provided by the company, some may choose to explore alternative housing, especially those who find a work from home culture. In Milan and Rome, many prime apartments are being bought up by investors and utilized as AirBNB rentals, which is a type of personal Home to rental Hotel room application that works on a similar principal as Uber as does for personal transportation, this trend is creating a shortage of small apartments with a view of the city (12); however, it is an excellent way to rent for a short while in different parts of the city prior to signing rental contracts.




Italian employers are required to contribute to the government health insurance of their workers. Unemployed and retired are covered by the government plan which ensures that as a nation, Italians are well cared for. In comparison to other overseas assignments, Italy provides some of the best healthcare for its residents, including expats. Expats may want to consider private add-on insurance to expedite the timeliness of their medical care visits, especially on assignments where they may not qualify for the host company insurance provisions. As a general rule of thumb, medical attention is given to all regardless of insurance coverage, add on insurance speeds the process and covers most items not covered by the government health insurance. Consult with other expats in your region for their recommendations on medical centers that are familiar with the expat health insurance requirements (12).



As a rule, Italians have difficulty trusting strangers and most business relationships require and introduction by a third party from the host culture. It is generally considered unprofessional to approach executive level business partners and introduce yourself to begin pitching them your ideas, instead you would normally be introduced to them by someone of similar rank that vouches for your expertise and trustworthiness and begins the conversation for you mentioning your expertise on solutions (10).


While English is often the preferred second language of Italian international firms, you should understand that most professionals expect you learn Italian to be accepted into the inner fold of office politics. The Italians are very proud of their heritage, language and culture, and have a hard time building relationship with foreign business associates that are not interested in learning their language. Remarkably, even if you have a mastery of the standard Italian dialect taught to American students, you should expect to be puzzled by the countless number of local dialects that distinguish one region from another (8).



Overcoming the differences in negotiation styles between the American approach that you might take for granted and the decision-making processes of your Italian counterparts has the potential to make or break your success on the assignment. In the first year on your Italian assignment you will wise to negotiate using a host country assistant since mistakes made during this period can cause long term damage to your relationships. You can expect to have a difficult time gaining access to decision makers above your own rank, in the Italian business world, the decision makers are rarely in the meeting where the negotiations take place, because of this you can expect that no hard decisions are normally made during the meeting. You are simply presenting your side and responding to their objections, the junior associates at the meeting will relay the information to the decision makers and who may mull over the proposal for months before responding that they are interested (22).


In Italy, decision makers are expecting to deal with someone their own level of seniority, so if you are under 35, it will be wise to reconsider representing yourself in the negotiations, the Italians can feel insulted that they are not dealing with your boss, even if you are the sole decision maker. With that in mind, if the Italians send older representatives to the negotiating table, be certain to address them first, last and with a great deal of deference, even if you are unsure that they are the true decision makers.


Italian corporate culture typically requires that a respected host country executive introduce the interested parties, during that introduction day, avoid talking business unless a senior member of their team specifically brings up business matters. Expect several weeks to pass and several visits before the prospects bring up business. It is at these critical points that you be patient and respect their business traditions, this is an area where many Italians expect you to turn into “an ugly American” and try to rush them into viewing you as a trusted business partner. Your Italian partners feel that high pressure tactics are an indicator that they are being tricked into an agreement that is not in their best interest, by instead drawing out the agreement they are comforted by the fact that you are comfortable with them looking at your proposal at every angle. Once they see that you have their best interests at hand when proposing what should appear to be a “win-win” collaboration of resources in your first few agreements your future partnerships will progress with less effort (22).


Italians will avoid being direct and often ignore your demands for an immediate acceptance or refusal of terms. It will be rare to hear host country partners use the word “No” during negotiations; instead, they will change the focus to a different part of the agreement or skirt away from business talks and ask about your family. Patience will become a daily mantra during your first year in Italy, without patience your business objectives will often fail to win the cooperation needed from your Italian counterparts. Compare the graphics below to gain a deeper understanding of the difference in the negotiating process (21).




Dress codes vary by region and climate; however, you can expect that your Italian coworkers invest a larger portion of their income in their clothing and spend a larger amount of time evaluating their wide range of potential outfits for the day at hand. At first glance you might be misled by the lower number of white shirt and tie dress codes than in the United States; however, if you look closely you may find that knit crew neck shirt is anything but a t-shirt, instead it could be a meticulously pressed merino wool knit that might cost several hundred dollars, the type of attire that Americans would save only for weekend social events.  For example, few American workers with salaries under $100,000 even consider purchasing a $500 pair of shoes or a $2000 handbag; however, it is common in Rome and Milan to notice that some junior level managers own several pairs of $500 designer shoes and a couple of $2000 bags, and what astounds most Americans is that they wear such expensive fashions to work on a daily basis. Forget about the American concept of “work clothes” being the ones that you are not concerned about getting soiled or torn. With that in mind, Italian business people take great care of their clothing, most items are professionally laundered after each day’s wear with the exception of wool suits which are usually hand steamed at home before returning to the closet. As for sneakers or sneaker inspired casual shoes, they are not often seen inside a business office, so when in doubt plan to limit your sneakers to the gym or the ballfield and the same can also be said of typical American jersey cloth sweat suits.

For women, take note that colored nails are uncommon, and makeup is light or often non-existent inside the workplace and is generally considered tacky and the hallmark of a stereotypical tourist. Instead of makeup, women invest their primping time into the preparation of their hair to achieve the best possible shape and shine. You will often be surprised as well to learn that even junior level females commonly spend $100 per week to have their hair care maintained by the countless number of highly respected salons across the major cities, in Milan stylists at the most elegant salons make over $100,000 year (19).


While women’s business attire might initially seem sexier than you might find in an American business environment, you will notice that it comes from Italian clothes to be form fitting rather than expose skin, so be cautious about the low-cut blouse or high hemmed skirt that is considered acceptable in American offices. You will later gain an overall perspective on where each culture places its discretionary income, when those Milan coworkers are shocked to learn that you had two $40,000 cars in your garage back in the United States at your pay level.



Italians take food very seriously, and take their time enjoying the food experience. When at a restaurant, it is not uncommon to spend several hours enjoying the company of those you came with. Expect to be at a restaurant for a minimum of 1-2 hours, possibly more, especially on Sundays. Each region, and sometimes even individual cities, have their own specialty dishes, so the best way to immerse yourself in the local culture is to ask your server about the specialties. A full Italian meal typically consists of an appetizer, a first course, and a second course with a side dish.

Most Italians drink mineral water and/or wine with meals and you can expect to see a charge on your bill even for tap water. Coffee is not served until after the meal. Italians usually eat late meals, where lunch will not start until approximately 1pm, and dinner not until 8pm. Nearly all shops and restaurants are closed for three to four hours between lunch and dinner; however, in large tourist areas, one may find restaurants open all afternoon. Because Italians spend significantly more time at restaurants than Americans, the server will almost never bring the bill to the table until asked to do so. In addition, table etiquette is similar to most countries in terms of utensil use. However, forearms (not elbows) should rest on the table, not on the lap, which is common in American culture.

Large tips are frowned upon in Italy; most wait staff are viewed as distinguished professionals and receive a respectable living wage salary. In most regions a “service fee” or table fee is included in on the bill which represents a built-in tip, in these situations it would be uncommon to leave an additional tip. Therefore, the most valued tip is enthusiastic praise to the chef and server. Ask your business associates for their recommendations on tipping practices in the area that you will be working, they will appreciate your concern for adapting your behavior to the local practices and be more willing laugh off any inappropriate mistakes made along the way.


Italians like Americans have corporate restrictions on receiving gifts from vendors, so gifts are not expected from business associates, but are common when invited to a home for a dinner party. Typical gifts are inexpensive and often representative of your home country such as American liquors or chocolate, when in doubt flowers are suitable for any occasion, however avoid chrysanthemums which are used for funerals and never given an even number of flowers as it is considered bad luck.



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Analytical Profiling of Job Candidates by Personality Type

The young science of personality type analysis and implementation of behavioral pattern predictors provide Human Resource managers with new tools to aid in selecting high level candidates for positions of high level responsibilities and leadership. Careful candidate selection for upper level executive positions is of crucial importance to an organization’s long term viability. An organization’s success is as dependent on the compatibility of its people as it is on marketplace competitiveness. By combining questionnaires such as the Meyers-Briggs Personality Assessment, resume history profiling and body language analysis, today’s Human Resource managers have powerful tools to reduce hiring candidates that may prove to be a poor fit.

As early as the 1500’s the godfather of political science Niccolo Machiavelli wrote his still famous book “The Prince” on topics of distinct patterns of behavior that proved consistent among successful rulers of the time. Machiavelli served as a trusted political adviser to rulers of his time and was trusted to teach his scientific approach to the applied psychology of leadership to the future successors of power. It is his study of applied social psychology and his beliefs that public perception of a leader are more likely the product of careful marketing rather than actual leadership competency is the founding principal of political science. One of the most often quoted Machiavellian lines that captures personality profiling for rulers of his era is: “What makes the prince contemptible is being considered changeable, trifling, effeminate, cowardly, or indecisive; he should avoid this as a pilot does a reef, and make sure that his actions bespeak greatness, courage, seriousness of purpose, and strength” (Machiavelli 46)

The United States military later furthered the application of this science as far back as the 1800s and later became one of the first to nations to invest millions of dollars in computer software to calculate which enlisted men that would make the most effective military officers.  It was believed that the officers to be trusted to follow and confidently implement orders from the chain of command fit a very small minority of the general population. It was generally agreed that the position did not rely as heavily on intelligence or charisma as it relied on an unwavering confidence in the mission’s orders. In fact it is rumored that unusually high intelligence is a disqualifier for entry level officer positions, however the military selection criteria are carefully guarded secrets. It would be safe to assume that the judging criteria is confidential to protect against potentially resourceful candidates from teaching themselves how to mimic the qualifying behavioral patterns (Ramsden 5-9).

For hundreds of years since political parties carefully study which potential nominees to back in order to ensure that the ideal candidate receives their financial backing. The party hopes that through superior job performance the correct candidate will provide his party with the greatest prestige, which in turn will provide increased power and financial backing for the party. The stakes are great not just for the political parties but the results of the actions of the new leaders will have far reaching and long term effects on an entire world of people. Selecting the best candidates for these positions of power justifies development of very precise tools to aid the selection process (Ramsden 43).

In the corporate world the stakes can run almost as high as the politics or military positions, since jobs, evolving technology and economies of great scale can have a great impact on a society. For example corporations such as Wal-Mart and General Motors have annual revenues greater than all but the most advanced countries gross national product. Selecting the top leaders of organizations of their scale justifies a considerable investment of technology, time and money. What research has shown is that the personality assessment tests and body language patterns among potential and retired upper management of these massive corporations is surprisingly similar (Tiger 21). However, upper management in other industries indicate different personality profiles than those largest blue chip corporations, while the profile of long term successful leaders in those industry remained consistent (Ramsden 174).

Leadership profiles for science and engineering fields are often measured by their natural process of problem solving and creative ingenuity, however personality profiling for upper management is weighted very heavily on the candidate’s process of information, tolerance for risk and resulting command for action as well as their interpersonal diplomacy (Cascio 395). In different industries various combinations of priority must be taken in relations to the investigative, exploring, determining, evaluating, commitment and timing of strategy changes. For instance in fast paced technology fields such as software an ideal candidate might be best suited to possess traits that causes them to skip quickly through the determining and evaluating stages of the process to get unique ideas onto the marketplace ahead of competitors.  However successful candidates for mature, low tech industries with high environmental risks such petroleum production would be better suited to possess traits that prioritize determining and evaluative stages of decision making (Ramsden 266).

The field of human resources is widely recognizing that success in a particular type of industry almost routinely predicts failure at the helm of a company in another industry. However, many managers craving new challenges defect in response to offers from other industries. If the industry requires similar traits the new position will likely enjoy some success (Ramsden 328). However when moving to an industry of considerably different skill sets, the transition often results in a disaster. Imagine the founders of Google trying their hand at managing a corporation that produces nuclear power.

Understanding the importance of identifying personality types that have proven successful in similar companies or similar positions is the first step. Consistently identifying those personality types among the applicants is the second step. Some of the clues will be found on the resume with what types of jobs the candidate has the longest experience with, it is unlikely to find someone such as a detail oriented analyst that would fit an opening for the new staff accountant that also has a 5 year history in outside sales on his job history. It is equally unlikely to discover a successful candidate for software developer position has resume history that includes of 12 years as a bartender (Ramsden 146). On a very consistent level people are drawn to careers that they are most comfortable with and 10 years or more in the workforce typically reveals a gradual migration to positions where the job requirements mirror the person’s talents (Oglive).

In today’s hiring processes most large organizations require candidates for all positions to complete a Myers-Briggs style personality preferences questionnaire while submitting the standard application for employment. The 70-210 question test uncovers if the natural decision making preferences of the applicant coincide with the duties they will likely find in their new position. Many applicants do not have a clear vision of what the daily work regimen would be like in the position they are applying for. If hired into a position that requires them to perform tasks far outside of those they are most comfortable with, both the employee and the employer suffer.

A large mature company may have hundreds of employees in similar positions that an applicant is applying for, the personality assessments for those contented and productive employees can be analyzed and compared to the personality preferences of potential applicants. The same company will likely also have data records of new hires that did not work well in the position and can use this data to discover that their profiles differed considerably from those successful new hires. Myers-Briggs style personality assessments uncover preferences that can identify which candidates are not only qualified, but those who will also enjoy the work and work well with teammates (Oglive 3).

The latest tool integrated into the process was popularized by the 1993 book that founded the science of body language analysis written by Pamela Ramsden and Jody Zacharias titled “Action Profiling –Generating Competitive Edge Through Realizing Management Potential.” Ramsden’s research added a new abstract art to the science of behavioral profiling. Their revolutionary book is still considered the reference book that founded the scientific study of body language profiling as a predictor in upper management candidates success. The book provides initial analytical interview notes and the subsequent long term performance case studies of 15 high level corporate executives. These long term case studies showed that the prototype analytical system used during the interview process accurately predicted these executives long term success with their new employer. “Action Profiling” had later become so highly regarded in the field of human resources that it had become required reading for Harvard Business School MBA program for several years (Ramsden 3).

Over the past 30 years the interpretation of body language analysis has earned its place as a credible subset in the sciences of applied psychology. Gradual technological advancements in high speed digital cameras and computerized analysis are building a precision field of body language profiling. For example with extremely high levels of consistency individuals that test high in the test area of Sensory inclinations areas also exhibit erect postures a graceful gait and typically have a history of athletic success.  With some measure of predictability these erect sitting stiff candidates are also measurably less likely to have graduate degrees or excel in positions that require creative outputs. In another example candidates that walk with an exceptionally fast pace regardless of where they are walking to typically test high in Decisiveness and are also normally extremely well groomed and dressed, these types also routinely prefer positions with authority to manage subordinates (Oglive 4)

Long term studies of predictive reliability of pre-employment Meyers-Briggs self-assessment questionnaires give hope that once broken down into consistently measurable analytical parameters employee productivity and further developed that body language analysis can become one of the highest profit tools in business management (Tracy 36).  Analytical models for body language predictors were based on finding consistent correlations between patterns of body language types and their remarkably consistent Meyers-Briggs answers (Demarais 18). It is with those correlation findings that psychology researchers are gaining confidence that long term behavioral patterns can be predicted by combining a battery of written tests along with an interview to help isolate which candidates will ultimately provide a large organization with its most effective leadership qualities (Cascio 53).

Ultimately much is at stake in the selection process of top level executives and a successful human resources manager will employ an arsenal of scientific tools to aid in making the best selection of available candidates for the position. Beginning with resume history, criminal and personal credit evaluations, candidates that have successful experience in similar positions will be invited to take skills based testing and Meyers-Briggs style personality assessments to further identify candidates most likely to excel in the job description. Once the field has been trimmed to the final 10% of qualified applicants, a multi session personal interview with several trained analysts in separate settings is justified. These interviews should include evaluations by several body language experts to confirm that the personality measured on their Meyers-Briggs is consistent with body language interpretation. The economy of massive scale that depends on CEO level positions performance justifies the application of as much science and research as is available to protect against the costs of a bad hire at the highest levels.

Work Cited

Cascio, William F. Applied Psychology in Human Resource Management Sixth Edition.

             Upper Saddle River: Pearson Publishing, 2005. Print.

Demarias, Ann. First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About how Others See You.

             New York: Bantam Dell Publishing, 2004. Print.

Machiavellli, Niccolo. The Prince. Second Edition. London: W. Norton and Company Publishing,

1992. Print.

Ogilvie, Rosemary. Understanding Personality Types – Extrovert or Introvert.  Her Magazine

August 2009. Internet June 18, 2012

Ramsden, Pamela. Action Profiling: Generating Competitive Edge Through Realizing

             Management Potential. Brookfield: Gower Publishing, 1993. Print.

Tieger, Paul D. The Art of Speed Reading People: Harness the Power of Personality Type.

Boston: Little, Brown and Company Publishing, 1998. Print.

Tracy, Brian. Hire and Keep the Best People: 21 Practical and Proven Techniques. San Francisco:

Berrett-Koehler Publishing, 2001. Print.