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5 Things I Think I Know About Hiring
February 26, 2012 - 8:30pm

One of the problems with the whole Predictably Irrational oeuvre of behavioral economics / social psychology literature is that I've lost much of my confidence in my ability to hire well. Turns out, we systematically overestimate our own abilities - in everything from driving to teaching to blogging to (yes) interviewing. Like the children of Lake Wobegon, we are all above average.

When it comes to hiring we are irrational in very predictable ways. We like to hire people who most remind us of us. During interviews, we are at risk of making judgments about candidates that have little to do with their actual ability to do the job, but have everything to do with our gut level instant reactions to their appearance, presentation, and style. We don't understand, much less acknowledge, our own biases - and these biases translate into who we rate highly or poorly when interviewing candidates.   

Here are the 5 things that I think I know about hiring. I offer this list somewhat tentatively, in the hopes that you will improve upon and add to this advice.

1. Diversity is Essential: The highest performing teams are the most diverse teams. We need to have a variety of perspectives and experiences to foster creativity and avoid the dangers of groupthink. Hiring for a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, skills, and perspectives is particularly difficult give our tendencies to want to hire people just like us. Diversity in recruitment must be an explicit goal in the hiring process.

2. Relevant Experience is the Best Predictor of Future Success: There is a good reason that income rises with career experience. Being able to demonstrate and document prior experience and success in relevant job activities provides the best (if not a perfect) guarantee of future success in a similar position. The problem with this approach is that we may miss great people who are just starting out, or who are shifting their focus to a new area of work. Not sure how to resolve this conundrum.  

3. Have the Candidate Interview with Lots of People: If you come to campus I will want you to meet with a large variety of potential future colleagues and clients. I tend to think that some of the wisdom of crowds is in effect when it comes to hiring. Just as hiring for diversity is essential, getting diverse perspectives on the candidate is the best hedge against making a bad hire.

4. Simulate and Test: I've come to believe that effective hiring needs to include some sort of simulation or assessment of the candidates relevant skills and abilities during the interview process. For programmers and developers this means having them do some collaborative coding. For project managers the development of a project plan. For technical support people the diagnosis and solving of a hardware or software issue. Designing and then evaluating a good work simulation is very difficult, but increasingly I think that this will become a standard element of a technology job interview.

5. No Shortcuts: The recruitment, interviewing and hiring process is incredibly time consuming. (And I'm not even mentioning the effort and time we should all be spending on retention). In my experience the biggest hiring disasters were a result of a rushed and inadequate hiring process, one where not enough resources, time or energy were spent in recruiting and hiring. If you and your organization are not committed to investing large chunks of time (and dollars) in the hiring process then it may be more prudent to re-think if it makes sense to go ahead with the job search.

Are you in the middle of an ed tech hiring process?   

What can you share about your philosophy and approach to hiring?

Can you recommend any good books or sites about effecting interviewing and hiring practices?



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