The Perfect Hire

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The Perfect Hire

The Perfect Hire or the Perfect Avatar?

By Susan Goldberg

Novelty makes good reading when it comes to print.  Every journalist looks for an alternative view, a new angle, something new to inspire, to expound, to broadcast, to convert, to potentially change the way others do things.  It makes for good reading, perhaps even guarantees reading, and encourages debate or at least conversation that prolongs the life of the article and thereby the fame of the author and publication.  A journalist wants to be known as the first to cover a new trend.  A publication wants to be the one publication to print an article that unearths a new trend.

When I read the article in Scientific American Mind entitled:  “The Perfect Hire: Technology and Psychology are Reshaping the Search for the Best Employees” by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Christopher Steinmetz,  I expected a new perspective on hiring, or some new fangled concepts about evaluating potential hires, from a professor of psychology at University College London and a graduate student at the same university.   My thoughts were:  I want to know more!  What are these new trends?  How prevalent could these new concepts be?  What were the studies they would use or refer to?   Where would they gather the information?  Would their ideas blossom and cast seeds to other trends or thoughts?

Who am I to be reading this article with such passion?  I live in this world every day.  The happy vocation of hiring and placing individuals has been my life since 1991.  I am a consultant who searches for very specific executives for my clients and only shows them the best candidates who fit their profile and culture, and who are interested in pursuing something new; in other words, the best choices of people in the market who are open to a conversation.  I have been the head of programs, president, vice president and co-chairs of organizations that specialize in retained executive search.  I have been a member of a small business acceleration program for business owners, which spends a fair amount of time teaching about hiring for small businesses.  I interact with countless professionals, contingency recruiters, HR professionals, in-staff recruiting departments, etc. so this is something I know from a real world perspective.

Regarding social media, I have taken a class on social media at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism taught by its Dean of Student Affairs and its resident expert on social media.  I use LinkedIn in countless ways and have corresponded with people at the company and consultants to the company.

What I gathered from reading the article, the authors present a concept that is tantamount to traditional hiring is inherently flawed, while using social media alone, not only can you find the right candidates but also you can predict how they are going to do on the job.  The authors don’t trust traditional hiring methods but they do trust social media.

After mentioning my background and my appreciation for LinkedIn, let me declare: I do not use social media to find my candidates.  In fact, neither do any of the folks I know in contingency recruiting or retained recruiting.   I only use it as one way to vet candidates’ appropriateness.  Why?   I don’t trust social media.   A few things I’ve learned about social media:

1. Most people are pleasant and positive on twitter and Facebook because you receive more followers that way.   In fact, you lose followers if you change the tone of your messages, pretty quickly.  Everyone wants additional followers.

2. People can and do use twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to be provocative, to start conversations, which may not necessarily be their point of view, to get attention or followers, to push or start trends.

3. Within social media, people badmouth or tout things, people, companies, products for marketing purposes to win cash, prizes, affect competition, to help or support a friend or a friend of a friend, or as a job, etc.

4. Many people do not use social media at all because they don’t want to leave a digital footprint that at any time could place them in a precarious situation or in danger.   This is particularly true with more mature people, attorneys, etc.

5. Some people have said they don’t have time for social media because they are too busy with other things and therefore they aren’t engaged in using it.  This again is particularly true for busy professionals.

6. Social media consultants are a growing profession.  These people often act as ghost bloggers, posters, etc. for the people who hired them.  In other words, the person you think is tweeting, blogging, and facebooking is not; there is someone doing it for them who may not necessarily have the same exact views as the person who they are representing. It’s all about marketing.

7. LinkedIn profiles are usually only updated if a person is looking for a job and sometimes not then, because they don’t want to alert others at their company who interact with them, that their profiles have been updated and potentially give the impression they are looking for a new job.

8. LinkedIn profiles, when they are current and up to date, are often more concise versions of resumes.  The idea is to lure a reader into learning more about the individual thereby causing a follow up email or call.

9. People lie or misrepresent themselves more easily when they don’t have to face the consequences of looking into someone else’s eyes and revealing their body language.  (Sorry, hate that one, but it’s true).

For all these reasons I don’t trust social media for giving me great accuracy on the read for a potential candidate.  What it does, though, is acts as another necessary albeit superficial way of assessing a candidate’s character for immediate disqualification.  If a potential candidate uses social media and the person doesn’t have good judgment about what constitutes an unsavory picture, a string of biased comments, and a clear viewpoint which is contrary to a client’s I will probably eliminate them from further interviewing or at least question them about it.  I question whether the authors use social media personally enough to understand the industry.

Another view of the authors about hiring is that IQ is an ideal indicator of performance on a job.  I saw the graphic within the article and I read their declaration but I don’t know where it’s coming from.  There’s no source.  How quickly a person can learn and be trained can predict their performance in a variety of jobs?  Are we talking about working on a conveyor belt assembly line?   I’m Missouri, here; show me these results coming from real life businesses.  There was just such a discussion on one of my LinkedIn groups recently on how IQ and GPA do not indicate how well someone will do in a job.  It was fairly consistent, within those who hire; they feel this just isn’t so.  Why?  IQ tests don’t indicate anything about how a person communicates, gets along with others, their leadership skills, their ability to fit in a particular culture, their ability to stay focused, the determination to get a job done, their drive, their passion, their motivation.   It doesn’t even indicate that given a real work environment at a real company that the individual could complete a task that is given to them.   This discussion isn’t worth having, however, because no company would base its hiring decision solely on an IQ test, if used at all.

The authors believe in social media and IQ tests in hiring, while also speaking well of the value of standardized interviewing, this is after questioning the value of the practice of interviewing in general and it’s link to effective hiring.   Confused?   Me too.  One point they make: standardized interviewing or questions as a way to vet a candidate’s initial interest or qualifications, this, I can agree with.  It is a great way to weed out the ones who are serious contenders to the ones who won’t fit your criteria, thereby saving you time in the hiring process.  What could be bad about that?   But to take it further afield and to have everyone in your organization ask the same questions to the same people?   What is the goal then?  To build an unnatural consensus based on a few specific criteria?  That’s only a small piece of the hiring puzzle, however, if everyone is asking the same questions.  When you are considering a candidate seriously, you want as much information gathered as possible to be able to make a determination if the candidate is suitable for the position and the company, to eliminate risk and cost of a potential bad hire.  The more information a group of decision makers can gather and present to each other to be able to fill in the gaps of someone’s candidacy, the better off everyone is in coming to a decision.

And, yes, references help in the process because they shed light on real life work history and experiences of this individual.   If the reference process is interactive, which it is in our business, the interviewer can ask very specific questions of the reference to uncover and drill down to crucial information that may not be able to be gleaned from direct interviewing, resume, etc.

A final point, the writing team discusses video games in the hunt for talent and states that desirable job hunters are more likely to pursue a job if there’s a video game involved in the interviewing process.  I am confused again.  Who is in the driver seat:  the candidate or the company?   For starters, let’s look at the job market.   The current playing field, the marketplace, is one of greater supply than demand; there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs, therefore the onus is on the candidates to prove themselves.  The goal in hiring is to discover who is best qualified, motivated, truly interested and will remain at the company if they receive the position.   That’s who you want to hire.  Video games to keep the candidate interested in the hiring process?   Why would you want someone who needs fantasy motivation to keep their interest?   If they would be working on a daily basis on computer gaming, I could see the correlation, otherwise, it seems counterintuitive.  Don’t you want to hire someone who wants the job enough to go through the interviewing process no matter how uncomfortable or long?   Isn’t that the way of uncovering who would be the best candidate?   If they lose interest early, why would you want to hire them?  Are you more interested in hiring people who are not self-motivated and could lose interest in their job and leave?   Hence, I have many questions about video game interviewing.

While I applaud the professor of business psychology and his student for novelty regarding the integration of hiring, social media and video gaming, I am not convinced that their ideas work in the real world of hiring and employing individuals.  Individuals are not ideas, concepts, avatars, or action figures.  Give me the real stuff, the flesh and blood, the complicated nature of the individual person to evaluate for a specific position.  In my field it’s still about people, not concepts.

The Article prompting this response can be found at:

Susan Goldberg

One of the editors prompted Susan Goldberg to look at this article and let us know how it corresponds to the real world.  As grizzled gimlet-eyed investigators we could smell the gloss – Susan Goldberg – removed the gloss.  There is a great gap between science and tradecraft.  I respect both greatly. Science exists to remove our biases and heuristics that cause use to make “influenced choices”.  Tradecraft is part of knowing from experience – knowledge gained by the saturation of deeds in a field when we are being influenced against our best interests.

Aegis also accepts the notion that we are never better than when we put our deeds in writing and the internet has no – editors.  Your Editors.

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