Who wants to be interviewed by a robot? Hiring is analog, not digital

By: Gary Miller

I’m not an engineer, but as a recruiter of technical talent in automation, I was fortunate enough to have a mentor explain it to me many years ago.  He said to me, “Gary, in manufacturing people make things or stuff; things you can count, stuff you measure.  Analog measurements are infinitely variable like the level rising in a tank while digital measurements are like steps or parts you place in a box. Since I heard that over 30 years ago, I’ve always considered the infinite variability of how interviewers evaluate potential hires.

Over the years, many attempts have been made to make recruiting and hiring a digital practice.  In fact, in the process of writing this blog, an article came out by Business Insider saying that Amazon has shut down the AI tool they used to hire people because of discrimination issues. With keyword searching and filtering being the primary initial screening in all computer-based transactions, many would have you believe that much progress has been made in streamlining the process and predicting success.

That’s the secret sauce, right?  Can I locate a candidate, qualify them and ultimately predict success before meeting the individual?  Software companies would like to believe that, but I don’t think so.  The feedback we get is that great hires are missed because these right-fit candidates don’t happen to apply or when they do, the “digital” part of the process misses their “fit”.   Time goes by and the candidate gets hired by another company’s attentive manager with a good process.

Some organizations have made progress with recruiting scorecards and those can be helpful.  Grading a candidate on a scale of Very likely, likely, not sure, not likely and no is a convenient way to score a candidate across three critical areas.  Can they do the job? Will they fit?  Will they grow and contribute?  You can ask several questions to gauge this, assign a value and give a candidate a score.  The challenge comes in the infinite variability between the grades compounded by your personal biases added with other interviewers, mixed together to give a score.  What you have is an opinion-based, totally subjective assessment disguised to look like a scientific process.

I’m not saying a tool like this can’t be useful and lead to some serious discussions about a candidate’s viability, but in the end, your gut and emotion make that call; and that’s analog. How good do feel about the person? How well will they fit? What will their performance be?  These are all unknowns and your digital “yes” decision is ultimately about your degrees of confidence.

There is a way to gain insight into what a candidate is all about, and that’s through structured behavioral interviewing.  A great article on the subject was written many years ago by Malcolm Gladwell called “The New Boy Network”.  The challenge is that it would likely take a trained psychologist to pull this off and not many of us are trained that way.  Plus, a structured behavioral interview is extremely tedious, and you must be almost emotionless to execute it well in an interview setting.  Frankly, a computer would be able to conduct an effective interview better than a human if programmed properly.  It’s been our experience that candidates are so bad at responding to programmed “video” interviews, it becomes a bad experience for everyone.  I believe it will take a decade or two for candidates to be willing and enthusiastic about interviewing with a robot but still, what will it gain you?

In the end, interviewing and hiring is about personal chemistry.  If two people feel good about the prospects of working together, it has a better than average chance of working out.  The first six months of employment is the real interview. The best you can do is increase your odds of that success with a solid interview process on the front end.  Consider marriage. People spend months and even years courting, being engaged, and sometimes even cohabitating before tying the knot.  The divorce rate is currently sitting around 45%.  Do you think that in an interview setting of a few hours, you’re going to be right 80% of the time?  Not likely.  If 60% of the people you hire stick with you for more than a few years, you’re pretty good at assessing talent.   Sticking with you long-term and becoming top performers is another blog!

Here’s my recommendation: after 40 years of recruiting and getting feedback on interviews and witnessing an unbelievable number of interview processes, as soon as you see a candidate that seems worthy of an interview,  (notice I said “seems”, that’s analog, right?),  spend as much time as you can with that candidate in the shortest time span possible.  If others are involved in an interview process, make sure they’re going to be available, get it scheduled, and hope they care about the outcome as much as you do.

Elbert Hubbard, an American Author said “There is something much scarcer, something that is rarer than ability. It’s the ability to recognize ability.”

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