Interesting perspective on the hiring process
July 28, 2019 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Everyone's hiring practices are broken, and yours aren't any better. I’m sure lots of people have very passionate opinions about the right and wrong way to hire. Quite frankly, I’ve lost all interest in hearing about people’s opinions and anecdotal experiences. Until and unless someone does a rigorous scientific study evaluating different interviewing techniques, preferably using a double-blind randomized trial, there’s no point in beating this dead horse further. Everyone’s hiring practices are broken, and yours aren’t any better.
posted by aleph (65 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
As someone looking for a job in the journalism/pr field, the criticisms are similar. I've had to do so many type of tests/ evaluations that make no sense. Personality type tests have also made an appearance. I also hate the useless 20 minute hr interviews which only seem to confirm I'm alive and maybe not a complete bullshitter. Half the time the job gets reposted, like they'll get anyone better the next round after everyone interested applied a month ago. Flakes.
posted by greatalleycat at 9:39 AM on July 28, 2019 [9 favorites]


Um, yes?

It gets even worse. The software industry is just the tip of the iceberg. It's so difficult, it's best to just choose the metric and run with it, faults be damned. You gotta realize, not only is it awful for those looking for employment, it's also a terrible, lossy process for employers. Only the fools will deny it.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:48 AM on July 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


If/when somebody gets around to doing the double blind randomized trial (which is a big ask of a social experiment) I suspect that the answer will boil down to the fact that no possible hiring practice will be proven to be unalloyed good, nor will there ever be a combination of those flawe practices that universally suits every team or org. Choosing the "least bad" approach to anything will continue to be the best approach for many,many things in industry.
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:50 AM on July 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


No, see, the question you should be asking your potential hires is "Do you like tacos?"
posted by aws17576 at 10:07 AM on July 28, 2019 [24 favorites]


In our workplace (a ~50 person digital services agency, my dep't being a ~9 person dev group), we've found what we feel is a reasonably good interview process--it's resulted in one bad and five or six good hires--and those good hires are all quite different people. We haven't found a mold into which our ideal hire fits, we've just found a way to extracting the disqualifiers relatively painlessly.

I mention this because hiring seems obviously now to be a problem of successfully not having a single process. Different candidates have different strengths; a strict process produces homogeneity, which is bad. We try pretty hard to help candidates succeed in their interviews, and then make a judgement call, and count on a three month probationary period for the real test of whether they're going to succeed.

I understand hiring in the world of Silicon Valley to be, not dysfunctional per se, but deeply idiosyncratic. Some people interview constantly to keep their skills sharp, collecting offers like badges. Many move tactically between the major companies--for example, at Amazon, your compensation is spelled out in a fixed four year schedule that's unchangeable, and is front-loaded with cash, so at year two many people simple hop to Google for six months in order to reset that compensation term, and then come back. For Google and Amazon, recruiters try to keep a hiring pipeline stuffed and various groups interview from the pipeline as needed, so you're often not even being recruited for a single offer, you're being put on display with the hope that a particular group will grab you.

Articles like this that assume a single hiring process is attainable are, in themselves, part of a pathological addiction to Silicon Valley driven technocratic fixes.
posted by fatbird at 10:21 AM on July 28, 2019 [7 favorites]


Personally, the absolute worst development in hiring practices has been the requirement that applicants must apply via some crap automated online system. I get that HR folks looooves them, but, at their best, they are clunky, frustrating, maddening, crash-prone, roadblocks for the applicants.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:23 AM on July 28, 2019 [39 favorites]


The point of a hiring system is for the recruit to game it successfully, and the challenge for recruiting is to make it easier to game by deploying desirable quantities (ambition, creativity, good social skills) than by deploying or disguising undesirable qualities (deceit, manipulation, sloth, poor social skills).

It's also really important to drill down on what qualifications mean. A Stanford degree doesn't mean you're brilliant ... it means that you are reasonably smart and from 14 to 17 were exceptionally good at digesting complex rules and performing across a broad spectrum of skills (4.5 grade point average AND varsity tennis AND model UN prize-winner, etc.) A CalTech degree means you're brilliant but doesn't say much about digesting complex rules or broad-spectrum performance.
posted by MattD at 10:24 AM on July 28, 2019 [9 favorites]


There's surprising little good real-world work on what selection processes produce high-performing employees. I suspect that's largely impossible anyway because there are so many confounding variables like bad management, let alone any sort of even qualitative measures of performance. That's without even factoring in straight up gender/ethnic/ableist bias in the whole process.

Still, that largely means that everything from resume evaluation through exams and test to interviews and reference checks are largely guided only by intuition, even with numbers and metrics and rubrics. Too often I've found then these faux-objective processes produce counter-intuitive results that don't match well with my own, or the rest of the hiring-boards senses of the people we're evaluating. We've more or less decided that even the so-called "structured" systems are really only, at best rough guideposts.

By far and away, the best "interview" we've found for external hires is an internship (or in our case paid student or casual positions). The majority of our most recent hires have all be done this way. That seems to be the only reasonable approach to me: try someone on a strictly temporary basis for a defined period and see how they fit. If it works out, offer them a new job.
posted by bonehead at 10:31 AM on July 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


A word like “broken” assumes that there’s a fix but hiring is by nature an open-ended prediction mess*.

The question every interview tries to answer is “will this candidate succeed here?” Both sides of the conversation are taking a risk by saying Yes. Even though the tech industry is known for being bad at this I think it somewhat mitigates the risk of bringing people into constantly-changing environments through hiring bonuses, high salaries, and an acceptance of poor fit as a good reason to have short stints on your résumé. Similar dynamics exist for executive hires. In both examples in this economy the candidate has a lot of power in the negotiation, and bad hires are viewed as a serious failure for the company. In fields where the candidate does not hold relatively-greater power right now like journalism, academia, or government, the same risk is borne disproportionately by individuals.

* Donella Meadows: “Systems above a certain level of complexity, and life is definitely one of them, do not present us with problems. They present us with messes. Problems have solutions, but messes can only be managed.”
posted by migurski at 10:33 AM on July 28, 2019 [19 favorites]


That's nice, but a "rigorous scientific study" isn't going to give you the True Way To Hire either, it's going to give you some ideology laden social science goo.
posted by thelonius at 10:38 AM on July 28, 2019 [12 favorites]


"preferably using a double-blind randomized trial"

exactly how the fuck is that possible?
posted by thelonius at 10:39 AM on July 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


@MattD “A Stanford degree doesn't mean you're brilliant ... it means that you are reasonably smart and from 14 to 17 were exceptionally good at digesting complex rules and performing across a broad spectrum of skills (4.5 grade point average AND varsity tennis AND model UN prize-winner, etc.) A CalTech degree means you're brilliant but doesn't say much about digesting complex rules or broad-spectrum performance.”

I could have gotten into An “elite” university based on my grades etc. I chose to not even apply because I didn’t want to go to one of those schools.

An artist friend got offered a generous scholarship to attend RISD and turned it down for a full scholarship at a state school (and now has her doctorate).

There are so many ways that the school you choose at 17 is not even remotely reflective of your skills, ability to “digest complex rules or broad spectrum performance”, and future job performance that it is mind boggling.
posted by kellygrape at 10:39 AM on July 28, 2019 [24 favorites]


It's also really important to drill down on what qualifications mean.

I don't take qualifications to mean anything more than a minimum bar. A doctorate from Stanford/MIT/whatever, does not mean a whole lot more to me than a degree from, say a technical university in India or China. What does matter are things like who their advisor was. What their publication record is.

There is pressure even in the so-called "best" graduate schools for advisors to graduate every student they take on. Weaker students might have had significant help to cross the finish line and get their degree. There are many stories passed around of students who largely had their dissertations written for them, just to get them out the door. Gossip goes around that this happens even in the so-called best groups in the best schools.

Hiring for a research capacity in my view, is more about taking more of a portfolio/output evaluation approach than one based on qualifications. You needs degrees and certifications to apply, but they're really not much more than a minimum to me.
posted by bonehead at 10:45 AM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


exactly how the fuck is that possible?

Fully anonymized hiring isn't possible, but that doesn't mean that parts of it, particularly forming the pool of candidates for more detailed evaluaitons isn't possible.

My employer did a moderately large scale trial of this two years ago: Anonymized Recruitment Pilot Project. It worked pretty well by all accounts I've heard.
posted by bonehead at 10:48 AM on July 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


Article not only conflates the hiring process with assessing credentials and qualifications, but it leaves out some common industry best practices:

* Bar Hopping: do you really want a co-worker who can't stand a few beers, a couple of tequila shots and a drink or two every day after work? Probably, but why be the office's only functional drunk when you can drag others down with you?

* Twitter Graphing: assessing people based on which novelty Twitter accounts they follow is obviously insane but at least you will work with someone who shares your depraved sense of humor, even if they turn out to be actually insane.

* BuzzFeed Quizzing: why spend time and money on conducting scientificic interviews and questionnaires when BuzzFeed has thousands of almost relevant quizzes you can use right now? Still can't even? BuzzFeed's got you covered.

* Ex xoxoing: vindictive and petty exes can tell you everything you need to know about a person for blackmail purposes HAHA I MEAN RECRUITING HOW EMBARRASSING ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

* Diary Researching: can you really trust an employee if you don't know their darkest secrets and most intimate thoughts? Not according to Stalin and countless of paranoid psychopaths who are today's leaders of industry.

* PornHub Silting: let's be honest, no one wants to work with a prude who can't stand perfectly normal discussions about actirasty or nasolingus [1]. Strive to hire people who at least score a Bob Saget on the Adjusted Sexual Deviancy Scale. If interviewees refuse this totally resonable request and spit in your face - HIRE THEM INSTANTLY.

* Slavery: Jesus Fucking Christ, hiring sounds like too much work so why not use the labor method favored by the great pharaohs, kings and despots of history? Did you know there are four territories on the planet in which slavery technically isn't illegal yet due to jurisprudential fuckery by former colonial powers? Of course you do, of course you do. BONUS: you won't need a HR department anymore and the tax benefits are to kill for. Seriously, you will have to kill everyone to cover up your crimes against humanity.

-----

[1] Sexual arousal to the sun's rays. The act of licking and sucking on a partners nose and nostrils. I know you googled it SO DON'T EVEN.

Edit: writing this stupid comment totally ruined my already suspect search history. Give me my $5 back, matthortex.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 11:09 AM on July 28, 2019 [43 favorites]


Fully anonymized hiring isn't possible, but that doesn't mean that parts of it [...] isn't possible.


Indeed. I work with a team maintaining a job board / applicant tracking system for a large scale public employer and an important part of what we do is ensuring that recruiters are not able to get hold of identifying information about applicants until the latest possible moment in the process. This includes information about race, gender, age and other things.

That seems to be the only reasonable approach to me: try someone on a strictly temporary basis for a defined period and see how they fit. If it works out, offer them a new job.

That's pretty obviously best for the employer - actual trial and error. And given the huge cost of recruiting, the trial can reasonably be at full pay (or even above - I got my current position as a contractor and was persuaded to join the full time staff much later). It's also good for the employee - the process is as much about the employee finding a good employer - but it is badly asymmetrical in this respect. If I were considering moving on for career advancement or whatever, resigning my current stable position to jump into a three-month risky probation would be a tough call. I would guess not many people are really in a position where they can afford several stretches of unemployment as they try out different employers, especially as doing that tends to look bad on your résumé,

As intimated elsewhere, I don't think there can be a perfect solution to such a messy problem, even for a particular part of a particular organisation. But OTOH there are surely far better solutions available than are actually deployed in a very large number of cases.
posted by merlynkline at 11:12 AM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


For software it's such a mess. Our processes are usually really hard to get through but only loosely correlated to actual work, with a set of rationalizations that none of us really believe. The primary effect is that we hire people who are good at interviewing and pray it works out OK.

My take is that there's a fundamental flaw in software engineering where there is not agreement to what degree it is a teachable, testable skill. If it was teachable, then we'd hire nearly anyone and just teach them to do the job, but we don't - there's basically no apprenticeship system for anyone past internships, and even an internship requires some basic fluency in development. How much of this is bias? (a bunch) How much is cargo-culting? (Even more!)

I can say for sure that most people who apply have no idea how to explain the functions of a computer or implement a simple algorithm on demand, which tends to reinforce the biases in interviewers that most folks are basically clueless and our interview processes are an important filter.
posted by temancl at 11:12 AM on July 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


Personally, the absolute worst development in hiring practices has been the requirement that applicants must apply via some crap automated online system. I get that HR folks looooves them, but, at their best, they are clunky, frustrating, maddening, crash-prone, roadblocks for the applicant.

All I can say is if working with an online form is unacceptable to a candidate, then they would be utterly miserable at my workplace. 90% of our work involves online forms and documents- we are close to being paperless.

The other nice thing about our online resume system is it can store different resumes from the same person, and it's incredibly easy to update and apply for other positions. Its pretty much do a new cover letter and hitman button

In short, there is no one way to do hiring.


Fully anonymized hiring isn't possible, but that doesn't mean that parts of it, particularly forming the pool of candidates for more detailed evaluaitons isn't possible.


That's how our work operates. HR sends resumes and cover letters with personal information removed, and the department judges if the applicant meets the basic requirements. You'd be amazed at how many people think "I was an adjunct professor" counts as "I had two years of administration experience. "

Hint: being able to read the qualifications is a test.
posted by happyroach at 11:18 AM on July 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm responsible for hiring web application developers at my company. I've thought and read a lot about the problem described in the article. I've based our hiring process on a method outlined by Daniel Kahneman in chapter 21 of Thinking Fast and Slow, that is, simple metrics targeting well defined set of relevant competencies.

I also have collected a set of principles to guide our process:
  • Hiring cycles will be structured and as short as possible.
  • When we start a hiring cycle, we will finish it by hiring the most qualified applicant who accepts our offer.
  • Every applicant will receive a response within 48 hours and be updated on the status of their application at each step asap.
  • The hiring process will be as transparent as possible.
  • Objective and fair-minded measures will displace biased and bigoted ones.
  • Every applicant will appreciate their experience, even the rejected ones.
  • The process will be agile and adapt over time to improve and meet the specific needs of the organization.
  • Onboarding will begin with hiring.
I mean these look pretty unrevolutionary when they're spelled out like this. But when I've been through the hiring wringer, it's pretty obvious most companies don't any clear sense of thoughtful guidelines driving their process, especially ones that consider the experience of the applicant.

Our underlying goal is not to have a perfect hiring process but to hire people who will like their new job and do well at it. More importantly, I think, we strive to treat everyone involved with respect. I've hired about 2 dozen people over the last couple years and we've been pretty successful in honoring these principles while finding people who are a good fit for our roles.
posted by klenwell at 11:20 AM on July 28, 2019 [17 favorites]


I don't understand the point of this article. Yes, hiring selection is hard, and all methods have fairly well-understood disadvantages. Everybody who works in hiring knows this. The article doesn't offer any suggestions to improve on this state other than "a double-blind randomized trial", which...huh? So...randomly assign candidates to receive (say) a coding interview or a behavioral interview, but neither interviewer nor interviewee know whether the interview is a coding interview or behavioral interview? Is it possible the author doesn't know what "double-blind" means, other than that it's a good thing in experimental design? Or am I missing something?
posted by Syllepsis at 11:27 AM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


All I can say is if working with an online form is unacceptable to a candidate, then they would be utterly miserable at my workplace. 90% of our work involves online forms and documents- we are close to being paperless.


(a) ...no one cleans your bathrooms? Or is that you guys only take e-dumps so you don't need any? Intrigued.

(b) You may wish to consider whether, if a number of people in its intended userbase have trouble using a specific instantiation of a tool, the problem is with the people finding that instantiation "unacceptable" or with the instantiation.
posted by praemunire at 11:32 AM on July 28, 2019 [11 favorites]


Fully anonymized hiring isn't possible, but that doesn't mean that parts of it, particularly forming the pool of candidates for more detailed evaluaitons isn't possible.

Well that's a good point, and I should acknowledge that my whole comment was a bit knee-jerk in its opposition to what seemed to me, on first impression, a pretty glib positivism. But it's not like we are in possession of a "rigorous" scientific theory of what fair and effective hiring would be, but are just too stubborn or dumb to apply it; there is no such theory.
posted by thelonius at 11:52 AM on July 28, 2019


in a non-flawed hiring process, workers would hire their managers and maintain the right to fire and replace them whenever they desired. any hiring process that works the other way around — with managers having hiring and firing privileges over workers — will always be both oppressive and dumb.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:53 AM on July 28, 2019 [24 favorites]


(a) ...no one cleans your bathrooms? Or is that you guys only take e-dumps so you don't need any? Intrigued.

In my experience bathroom cleaning and other janitorial duties are contracted out.
posted by Nec_variat_lux_fracta_colorem at 11:58 AM on July 28, 2019 [7 favorites]


It's not so much that having to fill out a form to apply for a job is unacceptable, it's just that it shows that the organisation is unsympathetic to the applicant.

Consider the position the unemployed person is in. They probably need to carpet-bomb the job market with applications in the hope that somebody will show an interest. They've worked hard on honing their CV into something that is detailed enough to intrigue a reader, but light enough to be easily digestible. And now you want them to spend a significant amount of time answering your special questions, because that's not enough for you? Because it's easier to filter applications this way?

If everybody takes this approach, all that happens is people hack together lacklustre answers out of bits and pieces of stuff they've done for the seven other jobs they applied for today. The employer doesn't get a true picture of the applicant, and the applicant spends thankless hours dancing to your tune.

A former colleague of mine wrote this article recently and I think it's very apposite here.
posted by Buck Alec at 12:10 PM on July 28, 2019 [11 favorites]


Back when I was trying to break into the software world years ago, my interviews went something like this: very busy software engineer would grab my resume off the printer on the way to the conference room, glance over it for 5 seconds, and then ask me the same generic questions they probably asked everyone. I felt like I was being cross-examined, and even stumbled over questions about my own past experience, never mind the ones I just didn’t know the answer to. “Think of a time when...” questions were the worst if I was already nervous, because my mind would just go blank.

Since I’ve been on the other side of the table, I’ve been trying to conduct interviews that I would have been comfortable in. I look over candidates’ resumes well in advance, and I develop a set of questions related to the things on the resume. I’m not trying to catch them out (except over basic stuff that everyone applying to the job should know), or give them a memory test, but rather get into a conversation to see how their mind works and how deeply they’ve thought about their skills and experiences. Kind of like a journalistic interview. Some people excel at it, some people stumble despite my best efforts.

While that might seem rather qualitative, there are a lot of other steps to our hiring process, so my feedback is far from the only determinant. But it usually aligns well with the feedback from the other people who interviewed the same candidate. If anything, I’m a bit more on the generous side, since I’m intentionally trying to focus on their strengths.
posted by mantecol at 12:13 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


So: software dev of over 17 years.

The harder it is for someone to apply, the higher the desperation of your average applicant, because less desperate people are gonna bounce off in higher numbers. Not everyone who is desperate is a bad fit, but the odds are worse. Anyplace that won't take a simple resume submission in a widely used format (PDF, .docx, text, etc) is only hurting itself.

That said, honestly every hiring system I've worked in has been bad (as a hirer and a hiree). The only thing I feel like I know for sure is that the more standardized you try to make it, the worse it serves you. Trying to give standard homework problems or look for specific "gotcha" syntax answers is pointless.

I honestly don't know what the overall fix is, other than the industry (gasp!) acknowledging that you can hire people and then train them or improve their skills as needed, but this is an industry almost allergic to career development. You're supposed to show up fully formed and fit right into the slot in the machine as imagined, and if not then that's your fault, not the fault of our shitty processes.
posted by tocts at 12:31 PM on July 28, 2019 [15 favorites]


The article is mostly correct, but misses that there really are bad interviewing techniques. My favorite example: the guy who believed that his question about how people mow the lawn was somehow very telling about software development.

At one job, we took a short seminar on interviewing. I think its advice was pretty good— basically, have people talk about their experiences (in school or at work), in depth. Is it perfect? No, but it focuses on actual work rather than what kind of a person you are, or what you want to do in 5 years, or whatever other crap poor interviewers come up with.

Most annoying technique: the gotcha technical question. If it came up in the job and I didn't know, I'd take the 10 seconds to look it up, dude. Though I'll grant you that it is probably a good measurement of the self-esteem of the interviewer.
posted by zompist at 12:42 PM on July 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


Granted, this is a small town, and we are a large company, but I swear that we have the best system for hiring that there is.

At any one time, we may have as many as 70 positions open, from part time to executive salary level, and there will be some, but not overwhelming amounts of people applying for them. If they can't hack the online system, we'll have them come in, and help them fill it out in our offices, just so that they get the feel of it.

People who don't do the computer thing, we can assign to maintenance, inventory, customer service or initial retail, and after two-three weeks they WILL be able to do the computer thing on their own, and that's great. People who can do the computer thing now, we will start in inventory control, data systems, or as retail store managers, and that's great. We watch for people who do well in these positions, and then start bringing them up the ladder.

Executive manager hires start by doing every job in the company first, and that internship lasts for six-eighteen months . They get paid a little better, but they know what they will be doing for the next 5-10 years of their lives from the ground up. We have about a one washout in ten hires ratio at this level, and trust me, the one knows that it is not for them.

Since we have a variety of positions, most of these employees end up picking the exact right job for themselves, simply by being able to try them for fit, and make a shift in the right direction without having to go anywhere. The base jobs start at $15/hr, and the others are higher to start, based on experience and desire. There are commissions. There are bonuses. Since we work with people, they tell their friends to come too, and that works out well most of the time.

It sounds crazy, and on paper it looks crazy, but it works. All it takes is time, and we would have those openings anyway, and it's better to have somebody working and trying than it is to continuously attempt to fill 70 open positions with people we don't know. We just get to know them. And pay them.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 12:43 PM on July 28, 2019 [14 favorites]


> All I can say is if working with an online form is unacceptable to a candidate, then they would be utterly miserable at my workplace. 90% of our work involves online forms and documents- we are close to being paperless.

Personally my frustration is their rigidity and lack of ability to actually represent me well. My partner is dealing with this right now, and keeps running into a problem where there's nowhere for them to put in volunteer experience, even when applying to non-profits that are primarily staffed by volunteers (the rejection email for one even suggested they volunteer there!). The form won't accept 0.00 for salary, either, so they have to put in $1/yr and then add a note somewhere that says "I'm not really paid, it was volunteer, there's nowhere to put that" and pray some automatic filter doesn't kick them out for it.

Filling out forms is all fine and good when the information you have actually correlates with what the form is asking you and when failing to fill the form out correctly won't literally be the difference between homelessness and stable living.
posted by brook horse at 12:47 PM on July 28, 2019 [15 favorites]


I think a lot of "the hiring process is broken" comes down to employers being unhappy that they have to expend any work at all on finding good candidates and developing and retaining good employees. I've applied through those crappy automated systems, and all they've provided me is evidence that someone was able to sell that employer a Magic Convenience that would eliminate the work of hiring. (Granted, maybe I'm bitter because I've never gotten an interview unless a human looked at my resume.)

Because hiring IS work. It is skilled work. And it's not just the work of evaluating candidates. Orgs need to think systematically and honestly about themselves. An org that refuses to self-assess and really understand what hard and soft skills it needs -- both in a specific role and within the larger workplace culture -- will just waste everyone's time and doom themselves and their candidates to poor fits and bad feelings.

This plays out at my org in interesting ways, because it's really obvious which program directors have hiring skills and which don't. The program directors who understand their programs' needs and workflow have lower turnover, and their staffers tend to learn quickly and function at a high level in spite of our org's near-constant levels of chaos. The program directors who are more prone to magical thinking tend to hire staff who don't last: Either the staff do poor work (and this isn't even always the employee's fault) and get fired, or they do great work and get fed up and leave. Although the program directors who hire successfully aren't all using the same hiring process, they are interrogating the needs and shortcomings of the org, the program, and possibly themselves, in very similar ways, and integrating that into their hiring criteria.

Any hiring process fixated on minimizing hiring and training costs puts the onus on candidates to be perfect, fully-formed employees out of the box. I think the answer is that employers just have to accept that hiring costs, and the real choice is whether to invest in finding and keeping good fits or to keep eating the cost of having and filling vacancies after bad ones.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 12:50 PM on July 28, 2019 [17 favorites]


Cute short article, good pros and cons. I was pretty good at hiring teachers for a private school (needed them to be relatively inexpensive, but with some teaching experience and field knowledge, as well as the ability to coach one of the sports we needed and to run one of our clubs, also to provide diversity of race, gender, and background, and satisfy the AD, the Head, and my department); I only hired one clunker and even that one was decent, just not a good fit for the job. My opinion? You need to be willing and able to fire people if you want to be good at hiring, because otherwise the terror of making a bad pick influences you beyond all rationality. That allowed me to find some truly remarkable people who were not the top of anyone else's pile of resumes and hire them. (Yes, we let the clunker go at the end of the year).
posted by Peach at 1:00 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


Minimum wage retail jobs now often seem to require an online application with a personality test. It's bollocks. One, which was a job where I wouldn't even be till trained, required a math test along with reading comprehension. Frankly, it's degrading, and pointless because they're not even subtle (yes Company, stealing is bad and customer service is good! I love being social!). I hate the whole damn thing.
posted by stillnocturnal at 1:09 PM on July 28, 2019 [9 favorites]


This person seems to think that "Rewards people with great social/networking skills" is indicative of a poor hiring process. You don't want developers who are pleasant to work with and who might be out attracting new talent and business in their free time?
posted by Kwine at 2:12 PM on July 28, 2019


There is no right way to hire, in that its always going to be a risk, a leap of faith, and some of the leaps will always fall short despite HR's vain iand fruitless attempts to attack that risk.
Perhaps if hiring managers were paid as a function of how many of their own hires were successful in joining that organization.

Naaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah
posted by Fupped Duck at 2:29 PM on July 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


Hint: being able to read the qualifications is a test.


That sounds like you're expecting potential applicants to remove themselves from the process. You can weed them out if you're serious about it. A lot of the requirements at my place of employment were put there by the HR department and have fuck all to do with the actual work (where as "we can't justify paying someone that much money without a degree" is a thing that was said by the current HR director). If an otherwise qualified person can slip past the first HR hurdle without the "required" degree more power to them.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 2:47 PM on July 28, 2019 [7 favorites]


i've come to the conclusion that applying for jobs is demoralising by design. its a way for companies to take some power away from the workforce by making them feel hopeless and powerless. its never been about finding the best person for the job because thats not what works really about its about suppressing the workforce as a whole.
posted by mosswinter at 3:08 PM on July 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


I’m a federal employee who sometimes hires technical people. Our entire HR process, regardless of the intent, is dysfunctional to the point of actively harming my agency. It’s so terrible, in fact, that one of our biggest challenges right now is that hiring specialists are quitting faster than they can be replaced. The process is opaque, slow, and burdened by well-intentioned policies that prevent it from working. For example, all interviewees must be asked the exact same set of questions. This sounds like a good way to avoid bias, but it also means that you can’t really engage in the kinds of follow-ups that regularly come up when you’re talking to candidates about their prior experiences. So, it’s nit only the private sector that struggles with these issues.
posted by wintermind at 3:41 PM on July 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


Hint: being able to read the qualifications is a test.

To not apply for a job you're interested in just because you don't meet the qualifications only guarantees you won't get the job. Most people will apply anyway because they know that. When the applicant pool isn't that great, those who applied but don't meet the qualifications have a better chance of getting an interview than those who didn't apply at all.
posted by wondermouse at 4:19 PM on July 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


I hire a lot of people (maybe 7 in the past year). We generally have good success with graduates - about 75% of them stay 10+ years with us, that is our primary talent pipeline as we only promote internally to management+ roles. Basically, if you need a manager or senior manager, the idea is you already hired them 10 years ago as a graduate and have grown their skills in the meantime so they're ready to step up, if you didn't then you messed up along the way. The other reason is that we have a rather atypical company culture that works best if it's the only culture you've ever known and grown into, if you come in as an outsider it can be very confusing and frustrating.

The subset I hire for is an alternate pathway for entry - outsiders with several years of work experience for positions starting at $100k pa. I primarily do a variant of "live coding exercise" except with data analytics - show me a live exercise where you interpret and process data related to data pattern matching and foreign exchange transactions / reporting. As the article says, it is highly stressful, and I am indirectly testing both for fluency in analytics skills and how well a person handles stress and failure. The test is considered a complete pass if they can verbally describe what steps and processes they would use to solve it, they don't actually have to do it, yet only 10% of applicants can successfully navigate it. We've had good success with it.

I guess the hiring rubric really depends on the culture of the organization. If the question is "can this person show up and do the entry level position that is being advertised" then 80% of applicants will qualify. If the rubric is "I will need a manager / senior manager in 7 years time and will this person be ready by then" then maybe 10% of applicants will quality. It's really only something you can begin to answer if you've been in the organization 10-20 years yourself and have seen several cohorts of graduates and seen which ones succeed and which ones don't, and it also depends on the company culture being relatively unchanged for the last 30 years - which means only very few organizations can begin asking that question. The question becomes "can this person succeed here in this very specific work environment and culture which values this specific combination of analytic skill and resilience to stress" which I emphasize should not be generalized to all jobs and workplaces - just because you were rejected doesn't mean you're a bad employee.

Then you have all sorts of other questions like "is your culture becoming outdated" and "is it still working for you".
posted by xdvesper at 4:41 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


In my experience bathroom cleaning and other janitorial duties are contracted out.

So much for my giving the benefit of the doubt on people not being unaware of the fact that these hiring techniques are used even for custodial employees at cleaning companies, thus making it extremely difficult for people lacking the money or resources to apply electronically for such jobs precisely because they are poor or for not adopting the catastrophic abdication of responsibility for and solidarity with one's fellow-worker that results from choosing to contract out such work. Your organization, if it occupies physical space of any size, hires maintenance people; it's only a question of whether it puts another layer of formality between itself and those people to avoid thinking about them.
posted by praemunire at 4:58 PM on July 28, 2019 [7 favorites]


it means that you are reasonably smart and from 14 to 17 were exceptionally good at digesting complex rules and performing across a broad spectrum of skills (4.5 grade point average AND varsity tennis AND model UN prize-winner, etc.)

I have taught Stanford undergrads.

I do not think this is what a Stanford undergraduate degree means.
posted by kenko at 5:41 PM on July 28, 2019


Because no interview can ever do the thing we really want to do: predict the future. Best we can find out is the person is capable of THING. That doesn't tell us they're going to do THING or if they are going to do THING while being a giant pain in the ass. If they ever really did THING, at least by themselves without a lot of help. The past is not fully knowable, and even if it were, it doesn't mean the future is going to be the same.

So just pick any dumb scoring system you can plausibly defend, then try to go for diversity. Accept that a certain percent aren't going to work out.

I actually don't see much difference between my right-out-of-high-school hires (I get a certain quota for that and choose carefully) and my college graduate hires. Except that the college graduates cost more and have a long annoying know-how-things-should-be-run-better-than-me-the-manager phase the high-school grads don't have.
posted by ctmf at 5:43 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


Many move tactically between the major companies--for example, at Amazon, your compensation is spelled out in a fixed four year schedule that's unchangeable, and is front-loaded with cash, so at year two many people simple hop to Google for six months in order to reset that compensation term, and then come back

Amazon is incredibly infamous for backloading their offers. You get shit until years 3 and 4. Also, I honestly can't imagine anyone leaving Google to back to Amazon after they have escaped, although I guess anything is possible.
posted by sideshow at 6:46 PM on July 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


i've come to the conclusion that applying for jobs is demoralising by design. its a way for companies to take some power away from the workforce by making them feel hopeless and powerless.

You're assigning way too much intentionality to this process, even if certain sociopaths enjoy humiliating applicants. Capital has never respected labor; it was only forced to for about 50 years worth of the 20th century, which reaped benefits for capital, because happy and healthy employees do a better job. Capitalism is mostly a cult and a fairly dumb virus designed by humans who like power to convert the environment into manufactured objects. That's all it does. What it's doing now, with the checks against it implemented during the 20th century falling away at an exponential rate, is finishing the de-evolution of the earth into a dead planet, creating humans who are completely dehumanized and disposable, and a count-on-your-hands number of people who "own" the planet. The interview process is just a teeny sliver of that.

and I'm not even in a bad mood tonight
posted by MillMan at 7:14 PM on July 28, 2019 [8 favorites]


and I'm not even in a bad mood tonight

Most of the people the article is about are looking at total comp in the range of $300k+ a year, so you really shouldn't feel so bad about the suffering involved during the software engineering interview process.
posted by sideshow at 7:25 PM on July 28, 2019


This person seems to think that "Rewards people with great social/networking skills" is indicative of a poor hiring process.

Reading generously, my guess is that 'strongly favors' is a better word-choice here than 'rewards'. Imagine a two-dimensional plane with social skills on one axis and technical skills on the other, rated, say, from 1 to 5. Now imagine you get to try to draw an 'acceptance' line in this plane, by connecting a point on the x-axis to a point on the y-axis. Drawing a line from Tech-1 to Social-5 is presumably going to get you a stable full of people going full Westeros on each other for management jobs while the company implodes under the weight of its incoherent code base since no one can program their way out of a paper bag.

But, indeed, no one wants to hire assholes either. Assholes - especially once they are in management - will drive out non-assholes.
posted by kaibutsu at 7:35 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


total comp in the range of $300k+ a year

Jobs in that salary range aren't inherently meaningful or uplifting.

I work in the analog IC industry and while hiring is not easy per se it's a lot simpler than software for several reasons -

1) The products I work on are done by small teams; for what I do specifically there is only one person in the role 90% of the time. So your shit either works or it doesn't, and if you're bad at the job you won't survive more than a year. If you've got five years experience you're probably fine; people that somehow managed to skate by can usually be caught out with technical questions.

2) The product development process is very similar at all companies and hasn't really changed in decades - my response at some hiring meetings has been "yep, he/she is a test / product / design / applications engineer." There's no fetishization or distraction provided by the latest buzzwords as there is in software.

3) ICs either work or they don't (can't get by on vaporware), sales are almost entirely B2B, the semiconductor industry is mature, and the margins aren't that high. So there's little BS in the industry itself - there's no VC lottery ticket money being thrown around, grifters and smooth talkers can't get jobs and there are more lucrative targets anyway.

Which brings me back to my capitalism rant. I ended up reading the "startup interviewing is fucked" article linked off the article here:

Silicon Valley is full of startups who fetishize the candidate that comes into the interview, answers a few clever fantasy coding challenges, and ultimately ends up the award-winning hire that will surely implement the elusive algorithm that will herald a new era of profitability for the fledging VC-backed company.

Literally a cargo cult. Theranos (the best example since the original dot com era) survived as long as it did because it was funded for years by a lot of very rich people who thought they were very smart but were actually dumb and just members of a cargo cult.

The thing I struggle with when giving interviews and that I have been frustrated with being interviewed - how do you screen for someone's ability to learn? If I flub a technical question that would take me a one minute google search to solve, it was a bad question. It's still a bad question if it takes me a day of work. This is true even if I allow for capitalism's more recent demand that employees come to work fully formed on day one.
posted by MillMan at 8:24 PM on July 28, 2019


It's possible to ask questions that give you a window into an applicant's thought process, without having a "right" answer. I submitted questions for applicants for the last few hires into my group.

But those questions should be tailored to what the actual job is. In this case, the questions I submitted were dramatically different each time, because each position was different.

As in most cases, the hiring manager/staff need to actually be thinking through what they're doing, but that can be shockingly uncommon in a lot of organizations. My work experience has been heavily laden with a lot of "Do it the way we did it in the past!"

Even when that way was wrong - as in, not following the literal federal regulations (40 CFR Part 58 in this case) about how we're supposed to do this technical work.

I do think it's actually reasonable for a job interview to consist of 10 minutes of doing/trying the actual work, or looking at some kind of documentation and commenting.

It's ludicrous to expect perfection in that situation, or to demand too much from less-experienced hires. But again, a competent manager can observe thought processes and notice, "They got this part wrong, but they were employing solid reasoning and would perform well in the future."

As fish suggested, bad practices here are usually due to suboptimal management and a lack of ability to think things through. Another section's manager was on the last interview committee, and he was baffled by the lack of technical sophistication in our interview batch. I had to explain to him that since his section is more commonly covered in undergraduate studies, he was normally flooded with grossly overqualified candidates, while our section did not get that. He literally never considered the possibility that it might be totally different for our domain. I also had to explain that we were looking at thought processes, not the ability to nail everything perfectly on the first try.

Managerial incompetence is the rule, rather than the exception. To quote Bill Watterson, "If business and government were 75% competent, we'd be ecstatic!"
posted by Strudel at 10:49 PM on July 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


This person seems to think that "Rewards people with great social/networking skills" is indicative of a poor hiring process.

First of all, social skills and job skills are not mutually exclusive.

Second of all, networking represents a particular subset of social skills. I have worked with people who presented well and/or had great networks but were assholes to work with, and people who interviewed awkwardly but were pleasant and productive coworkers.

Thirdly, most assholes get away with being assholes by only punching down. One of the most reliable indicators of whether someone is an asshole is not the size of their network or how they interact with the interviewer(s). It's how they treat the receptionist. The dating rule "Someone who's nice to you but not nice to the server is not a nice person" has professional relevance.
posted by Fish, fish, are you doing your duty? at 11:11 PM on July 28, 2019 [6 favorites]


I've never done any hiring of tech or specialized professions beyond PCB stuffing, but my criteria generally just boiled down to how long someone tended to stay at their previous jobs, and if they actually seem enthusiastic about working there. No inane "tell us about a problem you had to solve etc etc" 20 questions. Query experience directly and maybe have them do a quick practical test. Math test? Hell no. Calculators and Excel have done that heavy lifting for decades.

In my 40s looking for work was very frustrating. I have no degree, but these clowns require one for a CSR position? So I'm either "over qualified" (I HATE THIS SO MUCH), not qualified enough, or am aged out of the running (probably). Sigh.

The engineers I've known (all men) all got their first engineering jobs by networking through their professors.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:19 AM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Once, a looong time ago, I was applying for a position where the process was spelled out like this: 1) we talk quite a bit, 2) if you pass phase 1 we will let you do a test on the computer, 3) if you pass 2 we will offer you a job,

So, well, fine, thanks for spelling it out before we start. I pass 1, I pass 2, and I get this conversation: "you passed the test, but we first want to have you talk to this department that you haven't heard of before because they may be interested in you. My reply: "no. At this point you first offer me a job, because that's what we agreed upon".

I never heard of them again. My conclusion was that the final test was "how easy can we cheat on our promises with you".

I dodged a bullet there.
posted by DreamerFi at 3:02 AM on July 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


My city has written a large, multi-year grant to help businesses improve their hiring practices. It's part of an initiative called Talent 2025, which seeks to make West Michigan a source of talent instead of a brain drain.

HireReach uses a program called "Evidence-Based Selection" which boils down to:
* using job analyses to understand what behaviors are actually required
* linking those job analyses to the federal ONET database to clarify which skills are linked to those behaviors
* Minimizing bias in interviews by using standard questions that target those skills
* using cognitive assessments that match the ONET skills
* using background checks to weed out sociopaths and liars

Then, the "secret sauce" is combining all of these into a compensatory rating system which means that no one factor will knock someone out. Rather, the 5-star candidates will be put in the pipeline for whatever comes up. The 1-star candidates will be dropped. And the 2 to 4 star candidates will be assessed against each other, allowing the hiring manager to determine if they would rather have a worker who is maybe not the best interviewer but very bright, or the other way around.

Does it work? I hope so. The data from the hospital that designed this system in house found great increase in diverse hires (because the process massively reduces opportunity for bias) and lower turnover (because employees have a better sense of job fit). Also, both those hired and those not hired reported preferring this process over others, because it was very transparent, appeared fair and unbiased, and was quick.

Our current challenge is ensuring this program does not cause "adverse impact" against any single demographic to the federal governments satisfaction. This is a big challenge . Normally I greatly applaud high standards and oversight, but I fear in this case it will frighten employers into following the biased status quo because they are afraid of taking affirmative actions to reduce bias.
posted by rebent at 8:52 AM on July 29, 2019 [4 favorites]


Thirding that it's not having to fill out an online form that is the problem, it's that the online forms are terrible. Among my frustrations is that there are a couple of these form systems which are used by many, many companies and the system makes the applicant create an account. And yet the applicant still needs to fill out the same thirty questions by hand over and over again. Plus there's the keyword bingo problem. The HR people who enter the filters have a list of words to look for, and there's no synonym or close-match algorithm there. The most qualified applicant can get washed out long before even a human HR rep sees their application, let alone someone who actually knows what the job entails.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:13 AM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


I posted an AskMe recently and got some amazing responses, but the overall job hunting thing has utterly crushed my spirit last week and I haven't followed up on any of them. God damn, I hate job hunting and considering a career change.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:43 AM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


I recently became involved with hiring for my team. I have no previous experience hiring, so I took the opportunity to read all of the available documentation my fellow managers had, and to scour the Internet for sample questions, best practices, and anything that seemed useful.

There are a series of questions on our interview guideline that are 101 level technical questions. One of them is basically "Do you know what a file extension is? Can you name some?"

"Surely," says I "we don't need this. We're a Help Desk. If you're applying for a Help Desk position, you must know what a computer is."

I'm here to tell you that the reason we ask insultingly stupid questions is because people fail to answer them. Fizzbuzz is insulting to ask an experienced programmer. I guarantee you that there are people who have worked in coding positions for years who would fail to pass that challenge (probably due to extensive cargo culting, but who can even guess?). Personality quizzes are terrible, but there's someone who thinks it's okay to tell a customer to get bent. If an interviewer asks you a question and you think "Why is this happening? This is impossible to fail." you are wrong. We ask that question because people /do/ fail.

People apply to Help Desk positions with barely any knowledge of what a file extension is. And so we kept that question.
posted by Zudz at 12:48 PM on July 29, 2019 [3 favorites]


The point of a hiring system is for the recruit to game it successfully, and the challenge for recruiting is to make it easier to game by deploying desirable quantities (ambition, creativity, good social skills) than by deploying or disguising undesirable qualities (deceit, manipulation, sloth, poor social skills).

I am so, so, so tired of the drift in society towards putting empty cleverness on a pedestal at the expense of basic humanity. What if applying for a job wasn't solving some fucking riddle?
posted by COBRA! at 1:27 PM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


Plus there's the keyword bingo problem. [...] The most qualified applicant can get washed out long before even a human HR rep sees their application, let alone someone who actually knows what the job entails.

This is a major issue with screening tools. They're often assessed automatically, or by a third-party HR firm who does it with minimum-wage staff. Getting this right is a major headache. Right now there's no good solution for that that I'm aware of. On the one hand, each applicant needs a fair shake, on the other, it's not possible to turn around hundreds of resumes in a reasonable amount of time, even with a large panel of reviewers.
posted by bonehead at 1:36 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


Plus there's the keyword bingo problem.

Which is neatly dodged when the "right" applicant (that is, the one who they're already planning to promote internally, or the one who was in the same fraternity as the hiring manager) comes along and is asked to rewrite their resume to fit the overly precise, often contradictory, even flat-out impossible requirements.
posted by Etrigan at 1:50 PM on July 29, 2019 [2 favorites]


Personally, the absolute worst development in hiring practices has been the requirement that applicants must apply via some crap automated online system.

It's pretty obvious that these forms are designed to act like a clicker game to judge perseverance and reduce the number of applicants. Otherwise they'd all accept input of a standardized set of fields from a comma delimited file or something to at least fill out the non objective data (name, address, email, work history (place/time/start-stop date/education level/professional certifications/etc.).
posted by Mitheral at 1:53 PM on July 29, 2019 [1 favorite]


There is also a huge problem, at least where I work, of the hiring folks wanting too much out of the on line tools. In my view they have to be a screening tool only: qualifications, applicable experience, and so on. Factual stuff that would go on a resume or cv.

You can't make them into an exam on subject knowledge, or into a "suitability" test and start asking "how would you" questions.

But I see that crap all the time now.
posted by bonehead at 1:56 PM on July 29, 2019


I am so, so, so tired of the drift in society towards putting empty cleverness on a pedestal at the expense of basic humanity. What if applying for a job wasn't solving some fucking riddle?

I think they are referring to the fact that the skills involved in getting a job are the typical "crack the middle class code" type problems.
posted by Dr. Twist at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2019


On the one hand, each applicant needs a fair shake, on the other, it's not possible to turn around hundreds of resumes in a reasonable amount of time, even with a large panel of reviewers.

I think it would be more accurate to say, it's not possible to turn around hundreds of resumes in a reasonable amount of time when you're trying to do it without spending any real money on the process, up to including asking people who might be good at a job but awful at interviewing people for that job to take on the (usually untrained) task of handling the interviewing process.

The actual problem is that companies are cheap as fuck about hiring, and also if hiring cost what it should they might have to worry more about employee happiness (because it would hurt a lot more to lose employees due to e.g. a shitty middle manager with political connections being allowed to destroy a division and golden parachute out at worst).
posted by tocts at 7:07 PM on July 29, 2019


My weeding algorithm always went loosely like this:

Stack of Craigslist Resumes

Multiple spelling and grammar mistakes: round file.

More than 4, maybe 5 jobs in a year: round file.

4+ hour daily commute: round file.

Split the rest into "interview" and "back-up".

Half of the scheduled interviews don't show up. More than 15 min. late: round file.

Write "good" on the resume of hireable candidates.

Completely disinterested interview candidates (at least 50%): round file.

"Afflicted" shirt or socks & sandals: round file.

Hire top candidate who quits after first day because they've never used ERP that is exactly like every other ERP.

Hire next candidate, and goddamn it, he beat his wife six weeks ago.

Sigh at "back up" resumes, review again: round file.

Run ad again, offer more money.

Here are some of my favorite (completely unedited or abridged) responses I've cataloged. Note that the ad always specified sending the resume attached in an email:

No resume included:

"Hello i have warehouse.experience.and.i.wanna.know.where.do.i.send.my.resume?"

No resume included:

"Am untreated in the job opportunity .. Where can I apply?"

No resume included:

"Hi I'm interested my number is XXX-XXX-XXXX"
posted by Brocktoon at 1:20 AM on July 30, 2019


Hiring is impossible abolish the wage and employer system.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:07 AM on July 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


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