When something new comes along, it feels like everything stops – and stands still
People worry about this stuff: human resources, recruitment, meeting deadlines. But what do those things actually mean? First, consider that the logistics of a company can get so complicated that a new worker falls through the cracks. Sorting through pre-existing work for someone is very time-consuming and usually not taken into account when choosing the best candidate, even if the person has credentials. But then in the job fair a new employee walks in, and the entire process suddenly grinds to a halt. Of course, they don’t even know what happened until afterwards.
The lack of attention to detail that happens at many companies is called “lockdown”, which describes a broader phenomenon in which every decision is met with an additional question. What’s the time frame? Is this a temporary hiring or permanent post? Who is responsible? Who checks the job description? So it might be a minute after your candidate walks in that you’re required to check into this.
An even bigger issue is the lack of understanding of what is meant by hiring. This sounds like a cliche, but it is true. The reason that it’s difficult to hire someone right now is because the whole hiring process is, from day one, wrong. In reality, if you go back and look back at a job description for the position you’re looking for, you’ll see that there are all sorts of errors that can’t possibly have been in there at the start. If you list a 60-hour work week, you’re working the wrong job. If you list the quality of the overall work environment, then most people would be happy with a more casual workspace with free coffee and internet, because nothing more is expected of a work environment.
‘Lots of people don’t even know how to set an interview.’ Photograph: Shutterstock
On top of this, there’s the interviewer’s job: what are they expected to ask? Are they supposed to be speechless, or have sentences? What’s the framing, whether it’s chronological or flow? And how do they prepare for the interview? There are endless weird rules. Lots of people don’t even know how to set an interview. Are you supposed to send a CV or the interviewer has to click to see it? Are you supposed to write a brief summary about yourself and the reasons that you want the job? Did you hire the right person before you even leave work?
The job description isn’t just confusing to the candidate, but to the employer as well. Does the person who’s put their thumbprint on this thing really know everything there is to know about hiring?
A further question, perhaps most important: why are companies so uncomfortable having to actually choose a candidate? The person who is reading the job description now may well think, “My God, I should say a stronger sentence, but surely this isn’t the person I should hire.” Meanwhile, someone who works in human resources has already managed to exploit that thinking – they can read the job description, then realise the person’s in the wrong job.
This is completely new and a reflection of the moment in the world where massive algorithms have taken over, and human workers are expected to do without a lot of the expensive and painful work that used to be done by employing people. Why employ someone full-time when you can deploy machines at a fraction of the cost? The more we rely on robots and automation, the more many of us will think that it’s okay not to hire the right person. We live in a world of the big screens, and it’s normal to allow the machines to determine what we need. In fact, the way in which humans communicate doesn’t matter, because no one thinks this way. It’s simply “change the text”, with four or five error messages and a search engine for HR.
The fact that hiring is so complicated gives us the perfect solution for big companies: hire the wrong person! Whoever you hire is going to be in a position of trust. You can hire who you want, with tons of help from the bots and algorithms in your system. Yes, we know that they’re working with a massive bias. But that’s not something that will change. The robots won’t change. Neither will hiring.
This piece is an extract from how to solve a hiring problem by John Elder Robins in the November issue of the GQ.
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