Sure, hiring processes are flawed – but that's why we have probationary periods, right?
By Dave Crisp
In the interests of sometimes getting down in the trenches to see the context of HR in action, I note this item that popped up on my Google Alert for Human Resources.
(I must be among the worst at getting ranked on Google since these weekly alerts are supposed to collect all the items on HR and mine rarely turn up, despite how often I use the term.)
You can see this paragon of employee-hood has us nailed (in his own opinion) and there are plenty who seem to go along with him, apparently including some highly placed commentators — as you see from the link he includes. At least he offers this as back up for his views. The second link seems to condemn the irrationality of hiring interviews, although author number one hasn’t followed through to see if this is actually true or where it leads.
Of course the issue is not everyone in HR can be perfect, no walking on water like author number one says of himself unabashedly. Humans hiring humans through the fallible interview process are inevitably going to be wrong a considerable portion of the time. I recall reading a good piece of research many years ago that spelled it out succinctly — interviewers are right only about one-third of the time.
That means we’re wrong, not just HR interviewers, but everyone who interviews is wrong about two-thirds of the time. Except, of course for author number one, who has this to tell us about himself: “Unless by some miracle you accidentally have a guy like me to hire your people, there is no way a Homo Sapiens could ever make a correct choice in personnel.”
Of course he assumes all this flawed interviewing is done by HR. Doesn’t that stereotype make a good straw man to bash at? It always helps to personalize these things to make a point. Not enough to hate the process, you need to find an evil person to blame.
For the record, the study showed you might get upwards of 75 per cent accuracy if you add in track record analysis, reference checking, varied testing, multiple interviewers, background checking and other hiring tools — but still far less than perfect.
Each is about as fallible as interviewing, but multiple approaches add up somewhat. Few organizations make this much effort, even ones that pride themselves on careful hiring. To do so would probably feel like overkill to the candidate, possibly turn people off and still not be completely reliable — so we do the best we can to decide what mix is best for our particular organizations.
Of course it’s easy to poke some fun at these authors because their take on hiring won’t be any more accurate than anyone else’s. It’s just too complex a topic.
Author number two (Dan Ariely, professor of behavioral economics at Duke University in Durham, N.C.) slips a bit by relying on his reputation and not citing back up studies he seems to have in mind. The headline no doubt got a lot of attention: “Job interviews, like dating, are an exercise in irrationality.”
This is actually a useful comment for two reasons. The first is obvious: eHarmony, the most successful dating site is starting up a division to use its algorithms for matching potential recruits to jobs. Clearly this is something worth trying to understand. The second: I clicked the link for his name which goes to a page of interesting video clips that do seem to bolster his authority as a behavioural scientist. The first lengthy clip includes a number of the shorter ones below it. I played the full clip while continuing to blog.
What Ariely says, if you listen, is insightful. It's also often based on research, some of which he now mentions. He acknowledges how dating, his surrogate for hiring, is just too complex to completely analyze and get right. Then he takes apart various pieces of the process in interesting ways you can apply to both. One of the most interesting comes later on (you can choose just that piece entitled, "Trust and revenge are irrational – but vital to our society).
This casts a whole new light on his piece about interviewing and more or less defeats much of the argument from his own headline and the opinions of author number one. Being totally rational, it turns out, is not necessarily what’s best and the example used can be generalized to lots of other situations. This is a brilliant observation.
All of this raises far more questions than it answers, but they are highly interesting. Should we view interviewing as an unavoidable necessity the way Churchill viewed democracy’s flaws — "the worst form... except for all the others?"
Is there some way to more fully understand or prevent the mistakes we make in interviewing (such as using behavioral interviews more, as many seem to be finding helpful, but not entirely accurate either)?
Even more interesting in light of Ariely’s "trust and revenge" as two sides of the coin is why so many candidates seem to feel OK about lying on their resumés (studies suggest nearly 70 per cent do) and in interviews (where they make up "stock answers.") For example, as one commenter pointed out, saying "my worst quality is I sometimes work too hard."
Do we rely on a human interviewer’s BS detector to filter out such fluff or do we worry he might rule someone out who is otherwise terrific? Should we up the applicants’ fear of revenge if they’re found to be lying?
Ariely’s only advice starts to sound like author number one — sometimes just hire someone you don’t think is best to see what happens. You may learn to do better... or maybe just become more confused. But perhaps that suggests the best answer.
Dave Crisp is a Toronto-based writer and thought leader for Strategic Capability Network with a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co. where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.balance-and-results.com.
If interviews are flawed then, for sure, we need to see what happens... ideally during a probationary period where there’s no commitment to keeping someone permanently if they don’t work out. Perhaps that’s Ariely’s “revenge” element that is missing in all too many hiring situations — no revenge pending, no trust in accuracy of an interviewee’s answers. All of a sudden I feel less embarrassed about those who’s probation I had to terminate, whereas I always used to feel sorry that I was sort of taking revenge on the innocent and we’d disrupted their lives.
Now I see it is more realistically a balance in payoff for them also not helping accuracy enough to ensure a successful choice. I feel better about my days in the trenches and about HR.