Why does hiring suck so much?

This is going to be a ton of armchair reasoning coming from someone who doesn’t work in corporate America. But I’ve gone through the hiring process with enough clients who are going into corporate America that I feel like I can say this: Hiring Sucks.

It’s like, the most arbitrary process ever.  We use these outdated things called resumes, to do this ridiculous process called an interview, to reject based on gut feelings and bullshit criteria, using people who aren’t even trained on how to make these ridiculous practices work kinda right – and in the end, we end up with a sub-optimally choosing one of the basic building blocks that makes a company work.

But why does hiring suck so much for the company?  Because hiring isn’t about doing what’s best for the company, it’s about what’s best for strengthening your tribe within the company.   The entire hiring process  subjective resumes, interviewing face to face, etc, all make sense if you realize that the purpose of hiring is to get “allies”, while making it look like you’re getting competent hires.  If you want someone of the proper status with similar viewpoints who will help bolster your viewpoints, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to take even an obvious step such as blinding a resume, and the more obvious step of removing humans from the process till the very end, and making 90% of the hiring process completely objective.

This is a problem for fixing education – because if you want to change the incentives for education to be optimized for innovation and productivity, the only way to do this is to make the incentives for hiring be optimized for innovation and productivity – as one of the largest incentives for education IS being hired. It makes sense that we have a largely signal based, status based model of higher education right now, because those signals are exactly the type of thing that companies look for when trying to find someone who would make good political allies at work.

To be sure, academia has it’s own entrenched systems and perverse incentives, and government regulation in lower education mucks things up even more – but  that’s all secondary to the fact that if your main goal is to get someone who’s competent enough while fitting into your tribe, you need a system of education that can help fit people into those tribes – and anyone who skirts the system will have a harder timer getting hired.

So if you’re really interested in getting companies to make hires that will cause them to be more productive, more innovative companies  (and not hires that are competent enough, while bolstering the hiring people’s individual political factions), what do you do?    This I think will be hardest part of reworking the whole system of education/hiring/teaching/credentialing.  It’s the one area that I don’t see a clear systemic solution to, but what I do have is the seed of an idea that I hope will grow more as I refine my thinking, talk to people, and experiment.

As I alluded to before, there are a few basic building blocks of an organization:  Their people, their processes, and their business model.  This, combined with the external competition and market forces, determine the success of the organization.

What this means is that, while people aren’t the determining factor of an organization, they’re enough of one that if you could get a sufficient slice of a particular market to take up a hiring method that’s optimized for productivity and innovation, on average those firms would out-compete their competitors in the space.

The problem being of course, is that if you could get a sufficient amount of an industry to uptake this in the first place, I wouldn’t have to make this post.  However, it does mean that there’s some “tipping point” – the point at which the other two factors (business model and processes) are averaged out among all the people who adopt the new rational hiring processes, at which point the new hiring method will come to dominate the industry, because those who don’t adopt it will be out-competed by those who do.

Now, based on some obvious observations,  I’d conjecture that people aren’t willing to hire someone outright incompetent even if they’d bolster their political tribe – hiring incompetent people too much would probably get you fired (ok, I know in the dilbert model of the world, everyone starting at junior management and above is incompetent, but I don’t buy that that’s the result of poor hiring decisions).

So the next question is, how do you find situations where there’s not competent people that will fit in your political tribe? And the obvious answer is in talent constrained components of your business – if competent people are hard to find, then you’ll have to hire them when you can find them, even if they’re not the best political allies.

This is why coding bootcamps and data science bootcamps can get away with skirting the traditional signals of a degree – they create competent (enough) people in an area that’s talent constrained, so the political factor just doesn’t matter as much.

Now, most of those data science and coding bootcamp aren’t in the business of reinventing the hiring process – if they know they’re in the business of reinventing anything, it would be reinventing education.  But that’s a missed opportunity – because if they could somehow slip in some changes to the hiring process, and allow those to propagate through the organization, they’d be able to extend their bootcamp model far beyond talent constrained areas –  they’d be able to extend it to any subject in which a four year degree is stretched to four years because of convention, not because that’s what’s actually needed to learn the subject (this describes a lot of subjects).

The propagating through the organization seems like the hard part – you’d need to prove that this hiring process is better than any other, and do it in a way that doesn’t tip off people that you’re taking away their ability to choose their tribe members.  The nature of talent constrained fields is that on average, you’ll have more incompetent hires using that method, so it would be hard to prove that it’s a better method – and trying to prove this while not letting people realize that their political factions are at stake would be even harder.

But at the very least, it’s reduced the problem – we started with how to change hiring practices globally when that goes against basic human nature, then we figured out that if we could get a subset of a certain industry to change hiring practices, that would likely effect the whole industry, finally we figured out that we’d need to choose industries in which a high percentage of their components where in talent constrained fields – thus being more open to disruptive hiring practices. Where to go from there, I don’t know.  But I do know that you can’t reinvent education without figuring out how to also reinvent hiring.



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