Just One ThingThe “Just One Thing” Series at Management Excellence is intended to provoke ideas and actions around topics relevant to our success and professional growth. Use them in good health and great performance!

There’s an interesting article in the May, 2014 issue of Harvard Business Review, entitled, “In Hiring, Algorithms Beat Instinct.”

According to the authors, we would be better served by letting algorithms do the heavy lifting before inserting our own bias-filled and easily distracted selves into the hiring equation.

The authors (Kuncel, Ones and Klieger) suggest, “…that a simple equation outperforms human decisions by at least 25%.” They offer that their findings extend to situations with large pools of candidates and at all levels from front-line to the C-Suite. They further cite our propensity to be thrown off by our cognitive biases, irrelevant data points, arbitrary comments in conversation and candidate compliments as reasons why we might need some objective help in our hiring decisions.


I’m experienced enough and comfortable enough in my own skin to recognize and agonize just a bit over my own hiring gaffes during the course of my career. Two in particular haunt my hiring dreams. In both cases, I would have taken a bullet for the decision on the front-end, only to discover in one case a fatal character flaw and in another, a fatal cultural incompatibility. An extra layer of insurance up front in the form of help from a reliable, predictive test instrument would have been highly valued in identifying and helping rule out these candidates before I made those costly mistakes.

However, (you had to know there was a “however” coming somewhere in this post) I truly struggle with the idea of deferring my up-front candidate pool crunching to an instrument. In particular, I fear missing out on the unique or outlier candidate that might be fairly wide of the algorithm’s parameters.

Many of my most successful hires have come from non-traditional backgrounds with very unique experiences to draw upon in our work. I’ve made a habit of avoiding HR screening of the candidate pool (particularly for strategic roles) in search of people with diverse and non-traditional backgrounds and success in analogous situations. While perhaps it’s a personal oddity of my own practices, I’m more interested in discovering remarkable people than I am in identifying perfect people.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’m intrigued by the help that these tools can provide. I’m also leery of suspending judgment and/or relegating my evaluation process to the candidates our screening instruments deem worthy of consideration. Some of the great contributors of my career wouldn’t have made it past HR without a hall pass from me, and I’m not willing or ready to relegate this to a program tuned by someone with a lot less interest, curiosity and drive to discover the next great contributor.

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