After reading a recent article by Lou Adler, author of Hire with your Head called “How to Prevent 50% of All Hiring Mistakes” a question arose. We couldn’t help but contrast this with the wildly popular Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking by author Malcolm Gladwell. This ultimately led to asking ourselves, “which process is better for hiring?” Here is a side by side comparison of both Adler and Gladwell’s theories.* In the end, we offer middle ground for your consumption.
Thinking vs Instinct:
Adler believes that when we are conducting interviews and meet someone we like we maximize the potential hiree’s positives and minimize their negatives, as well as the reverse with someone we don’t like. His advice to combat this is to wait 30 minutes after meeting someone to make a decision on whether or not the person is a possible hire or not in order to make a fair and rational decision. He also suggests treating those we like more skeptically, and those we do not as if they could be an industry expert with which we simply weren’t previously acquainted.
Gladwell, on the other hand, believes that we, as humans, have the ability to gauge what is important about an individual or situation in a very short period of time, a phenomena he likes to call “think slicing.” He states that spontaneous decisions are as good as—or better—than planned and considered ones. So if you meet someone you do or don’t like, there is an actual reason for your draw or aversion.
To Dissect or Not to Dissect?
Adler suggests using a hiring team and panel interviews where possible. Each member of the team should be equipped with a talent scorecard (a copy of which can be found in his latest book) listing factors and assessments in order to more accurately calculate the reasoning behind a “yes” or “no” to an interviewee. Essentially, gathering and dissecting any information by a team of your employees. (Alder likewise recommends long interviews at 60-90 minutes).
Gladwell states that we are in an age of information overload, or analysis paralysis. Having too much information can interfere with the accuracy of judgment, so instead focus only on the most critical information, as the other information causes confusion. He even goes as far as to suggest that collecting more information just reinforces our judgment and doesn’t actually make it more accurate. Gladwell suggests using the big picture, rather than the magnifying glass.
What about Feelings?
Alder also believes it’s important to ignore fact-less decisions. Disregard all assessments using the terms: feel, think, dislike, bad fit, too soft, too aggressive, and anything about personality. These are signs of a biased interview and lead to hiring mistakes.
Gladwell believes that sometimes we know something without knowing why we know it. This theory is best illustrated by the story of the Getty kouros, an archaic Greek statue brought to the J. Paul Getty Museum. Experts believed it to be legitimate after careful study, even though their initial responses believed something to be “off.” The Getty Museum purchased the statue for $7 million. Eventually the Getty kouros was exposed as a fake. The experts were unsurprised to hear of the scandal, because when they first met the statue they felt it was fake, only to rescind their judgment after extensive study.
What do we suggest is the “right” answer? While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, here are some rubrics.
1. Professionalize your hiring process: Your gut might prevent you from hiring someone who will steal from a cash register, embezzle money, or be a lout who doesn’t show up to work on time – but it might also deny you a good employee.
a. So make certain you are working with a hiring criteria, factor in your first impression, but also with your potential employee for an extended period to assess their credentials. Hire against a specific, well articulated position that requires specific, demonstrable skills!
b. Learn about them as a person and professionally. Call references. Paint a complete picture of the applicant.
c. Use a talent scorecard, or interview worksheet – something on which you will take notes, and which is uniform to compare multiple applicants with facts, not just feelings.
2. We tend to hire people like us, because we like us, or star performers, because they are successful and we have seen that success and like it.
a. So, diversify your hiring team by seeking a second opinion, or incorporating a panel interview process (if only for a short period with a future first line supervisor, PR person, talented employee, future workmate, executive, etc.)
b. Take a deep breath and treat those we like skeptically, and those we don’t with new eyes.
c. Listen to your gut, but about character, not performance. You may get the heebie jeebies, but try to restrain them to something like “I own a vet clinic and this person has been a drug abuser in their past, so I am concerned they may steal supplies from our medicine closet” and not “she just doesn’t fit, she is too quiet to be good as an HR person.”
3. Use resources that are available to you to become more proficient as a hirer. Read both Lou Alder’s Hiring with the Mind and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, and other worthy works and articles for ideas. Here is another good one on hiring practices or successful hirers in Washington state.
a. Look critically and past hiring, employee performance, and attrition. Could your hiring practices be impacting these indicators?
b. Consider outsourcing hiring to a search firm, executive search firm, stand-alone HR consultancy, or a temp agency.
c. Compile best practices from your industry by researching, speaking to other local firms (in complementary industries or even direct competition), and using your own performance indicators (both HR and employee performance) to take note of trends that may have escaped you initially.
These won’t solve all the challenges associated with hiring, but they are a firm footing from which to start to develop your own specialized practices. Good luck!
*Malcolm Gladwell never addresses the issue of hiring, but we felt his theory applied.