Subjectivity in hiring decisions

We are subjective, and most of the time, we are clueless about our subjectivity.  Hiring employees, or contractors, is only one arena where this shows up.  If you can find a way to become more conscious of your own subjectivity, you can become more clear about how you make hiring decisions.

Earlier this year, Erica Douglass guest posted about hiring a freelancer at the Freelance FolderWould you hire this freelancer?

I hired Person B because of this sentence: “My normal rate is high for big companies such as eBay, Cisco, SAP, etc.”

Even though the grammar isn’t perfect, I love the marketing position this sentence takes. To me, that sentence said “I’m confident enough to take jobs with the big guys, but I’m willing to cut you a break because you’re small.”

Funny how exactly the same words say different things to different people. The author sees this as a confident marketing statement. I see it as a lack of confidence in one’s value, and a willingness to cheat.

I would have gone with example A.  I spent a brutal Saturday listening to another art vendor offer to give everyone who stopped by his booth “a special price, just for you.” While I am open to alternative arrangements, I do not lead with “of course I’ll discount.”

Reading the comments is also fascinating.  There’s a wide range of opinions, and a large number of them are conclusions and inferences drawn from the original responses.

It shows their priorities are not the work or the project but (something else)

I have read that Americans are particularly prone to infer*: we see a typo in a resume, and we conclude that the applicant is not attentive to detail. What we actually KNOW is that the applicant can’t spell. Not all excellent spellers are good at fixing hardware without having any extra parts left over, which is a different kind of “attention to detail.” While it’s important that nurses and doctors spell drug names correctly, being able to spell does not guarantee that someone will measure a correct dose. I could go on.

The point of the exercise of reading the comments for you, the new-to-hiring employer, is twofold:

  1. Consider how you would have evaluated the two applications
  2. Consider how your evaluation shifts and changes in response to the various perspectives shared in the comments

Given that the author was happy with the results of candidate B’s work and wasn’t doing a split test, we’ll never know if candidate A would have done an equivalently good job. You will rarely know how the “other” candidate would have worked out, either. All you can do is become increasingly conscious of what factors are affecting your decisions.

If you’re making good hires, keep using the same evaluation methods.

*Can’t think of the reference; it was a critique of social science experiments run with freshmen.  The point of the critique was that using American college freshmen in social science experiments did not always lead to conclusions that could be legitimately applied to the rest of the world’s population.  (Non-American readers:  it is common practice to mandate that first-year university students studying psychology participate in some amount of “test subject” activity as part of the course.  See Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational & The Upside of Irrationality, for examples of such experiments.  Some involve drinking beer.)

Have you ever encountered a similar situation in hiring, where you interpreted an application one way and your partner read the sentence with an entirely different meaning?  Let me know in the comments!  thx

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Abe September 26, 2010 at 2:50 am

Hiring is just like any investment… after evaluation, you try and if does not work you drop… specially free lance.


LCV September 26, 2010 at 2:51 am

I do follow Erica Douglas once in a while and I get amazed how she gets credit so easily… (this can be seen as a double meaning statement).


admin September 27, 2010 at 10:33 am

@Abe–agree, mostly. It’s important to consider the costs to make the investment. If the up-front fees are high, people tend to stay in the investment. And hiring has some of the highest up-front costs of any investment.
@LCV–have just started following her. It will be interesting to see where it goes. Thx for commenting!