More IT Job-Hunt

Wednesday, 2007-January-17 at 11:49

IT Management finally admits that interviews are known to be one of the worst ways to choose employees.

Given that interviewing is known to be a very unreliable way to select employees, you would think the tech industry would apply some type of technical test to applicants that, in a short period of time, could assess by reviewing background, education, and personality whether they come close enough to the ideal to be worth taking a risk on.

So what does the article recommend?  Tests!

Back in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s there was a lot of work done to do exactly that. Massive studies were used to develop and refine tests that applicants could be given that would assess their capabilities and best match them to jobs. For many of us these tests started in high school as part of a process to help us pick careers we would find rewarding. While relatively unreliable at first, over time and with experience they increasingly were able to help parents work with their children to mold education plans to best match natural skills.

I think that is a load of malarkey.  In high school, they gave us those tests.  My parents had both been US Army nurses, and I was active in a Boy Scout troop that did a couple of weekend campouts or hikes each month, plus we had dogs and cats.  So what did I score high in?  Medical jobs like doctor, nurse, and various kinds of medical technicians, forest and park ranger jobs, and a distant third was veterinary jobs.  The problem was, none of those things ever remotely interested me or suited my temperament.

It reminds me of the military.  They give people the ASVAB to help them decide where to put them.  My brother scored off the chart in every area except mechanical aptitude.  So he winds up first as a air traffic controller—he could not handle the stress—and then as a heating systems technician.  And my point is, he adapted and prospered, doing the thing he was least skilled in.

So why not use grades?  Well, the article has some good reasons, but I do not think those reasons are the real reasons.  The fact is, as far as employment is concerned schooling is good for one thing only.  It provides a foundation for learning on the job.  To use someone's schooling for any other purpose will distorts its purpose and gives poor results.  Thus, if you flunked Electronics, but learned how to solder and became curious about components, circuit boards, chips, and technology, you may be just as productive once you get hired as the guy who aced the class and built his own radio station on the side.

Grades are often a poor metric of future on the job performance. "A" students often get their grades by gaming the system or by working very hard largely on their own as opposed to collaboratively. Courses are designed to provide an educational framework but seldom focus on the very real day-to-day tasks needed by a company. In short, the scores often have little or nothing to do with the employees' actual capability and they may not, depending on how the system was gamed, not even have anything to do with how hard the student actually worked.

It is not just how hard the person works.  It is what they get done.  It is really not about collaborativeness, because even in collaborative work environments, individuals do the work.  Collaboration is something that a company can enable once it has individual contributors.

The underlying problem is that too few people have actually studied HR from a behavioral standpoint. That goes back to the loss of testing, because it was testing that drove this line of thinking. And once it died, HR largely became a compliance organization with little ability or authority to focus on actual hiring quality.

In business school, they talk about all of that.  Testing is a failure, because there are no measurement criteria that are universally reliable.  Interviews are a failure, because they favor glib talkers over productive workers, and also because interviewers favor people who share their backgrounds.  I would even venture to say that pulling ten random people who are willing to learn and to work hard in place of ten "A" students who pass aptitude tests and interview well, will prove over the long haul to be a better choice.

Now, I want to note that the article's author has done work for Microsoft and The SCO Group, not that this is in itself bad.  However, it has been my own past perception that he has largely been a mouthpiece for hire.  For example, he says that Google is downplaying education, but a cursory glance at their jobs site says that education is still a consideration.  Still, the good thing is bringing these things up for discussion, even if the conclusions he makes violate everything that even undergrads already know.

Entry filed under: Job-Hunting.

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