The New-Boy Network
June 28, 2000 6:42 PM   Subscribe

The New-Boy Network Finally, the Malcolm Gladwell article describing - all at once! - hiring in the software industry and the scientific basis of first impressions ia onliné. I discussed this very story with a recruitrix from MSN just today. It cast a bit of a pall over an otherwise surprisingly pleasant and reassuring interview (held after hours in a café with me wearing shorts). But I digress.
posted by joeclark (5 comments total)
Very interesting article. Reminds me of Sterling's "Islands in the Net", the future corporate culture that merges family with work so that the line becomes imperceptible. And the similarities with cult recruitment are, um, unsettling. This new social formatting is fascinating, chilling and refreshing at the same time. My gut tells me structured interviewing is the way things will ultimately go, but where this all leads us is hard to say. I also don't doubt that other sophisticated systems of character assessment like astrology (that's right, astrology) and the enneagram will be employed eventually too.
posted by aflakete at 8:15 PM on June 28, 2000

This makes enormous sense to me, mainly because I've used it and it works. Some of the best hires I have made in ten years in this business have been the result of a 30 minute casual conversation.

I don't know how I do it; I just know what I'm looking for. Somehow, I am able to answer two crucial questions about anyone I interview: (1) can they do or learn to do what I need them to do and (2) what kind of colleague will they be? If the answer to (1) is "yes" (particularly if it's "yes, without having to learn," but I never, ever rule out anybody who's bright and can learn because my experience is they make the best employees), and the answer to (2) is "fits right in" or "represents an effective alternative point of view," I'll be making an offer.

It's gut, it's instinct, it's too touchy-feely to even try to record on some "structured HR form" and it works, at least for me. I always assumed that this was a skill I brought with me to the software business from years in professional theatre; I cast hundreds of shows, for myself and for others, and when you're seeing five hundred actors for four parts and a walk-on, you develop the ability to see into people in a very short period of time. It's nice to know that others are finding this technique useful in identifying and attracting quality employees.
posted by m.polo at 7:28 AM on June 29, 2000

I haven't read the article but what m.polo described sounds like a dangerous method of making hiring decisions which would allow all sorts of prejudices to creep into the process. People tend to be comfortable with those like themselves ("fits right in") and this comfort has historically been a difficult barrier of entry into the workplace for women, people of color, open or obvious homosexuals and the disabled. I'm not down with that.
posted by sudama at 8:29 AM on June 29, 2000

Very interesting and timely article, which, in my experience, accurately captures what goes on (for both better and worse). Thanks Joe.
- - -
The idea that hiring processes in general could be free of prejedices is fantasy. Preferential treatment of applicants by education, experience, etc. is based on prejudices (along with a population-level statistical correlation which most people mistakenly assume applies to individuals). I'm not down with keeping deserving individuals out either, but I think that homophobia/racism/ablism (or religious and attractiveness-based discrimation for that matter) is almost a red herring.

As a privileged young white male, I have used this method. The first person I ever hired (for an internet consulting firm) was woman who was also an open and obvious homosexual, the second was a person of color. Anecdotal sure, and probably very unusual, but then I most comfortable with people unlike me (at least in certain respects: they shouldn't be angry, violent or read too much post-modern academic crap).

The fact is that, ceteris paribus, pleasant, charming, articulate, intelligent, confident people — regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. — are much more likely to be hired (by me at least). The prejudice is in favor of people with better social skills and while this may have unfortunate consequences in many cases, I don't think this is any more dangerous than hiring by some set of practices which abstracts over the specific characteristics of individual applicants and considers only "objective" measures of their suitedness for a given position.

Plus I'd rather work with people I like (and there are compelling reasons why most businesses would prefer this as well). OF COURSE, there will be unwelcome consequences to decisions based on snap judgements, but I don't see any way to avoid this, given that the tendency to make those judgements is so deeply-rooted and so much a part of the general way in which human beings relate and interact. Suggestions?
posted by sylloge at 10:03 AM on June 29, 2000

To respond to Sudama, as an admittedly white but nonetheless homosexual man whose partner is not white and whose three best friends are a white straight woman, a white straight man and a non-white lesbian, I think I'm pretty much open to any permutation of human lifestyle choices. I never said my method was for everyone, I merely stated I was happy to see it validated by others in print.

On a more theoretical level, however, I maintain that it is perfectly valid to select employees based on temperament, in addition to skill and learning ability, or perhaps, even instead of. No one works in a vacuum and you'd have to be pretty goddamned brilliant for your contributions to offset the fact that nobody wants to be a meeting room with you without punching you in the mouth.

I think happy employees are more productive, smarter employees because they waste no energy on non-productive cultural crap. I'm in business to make a profit, not to make the world a happier place for someone who thinks they're being excluded (for whatever reason). And I'm Libertarian enough to believe that it is none of anyone's business other than my own and my employer's why I hire the people that I do, since my company is privately held.
posted by m.polo at 11:15 AM on June 29, 2000

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