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After my blog last week on Daniel Kahneman’s passing and detailing his 1955 contribution to the effective interviewing and assessment of candidates I was asked a follow-up question by a relatively new recruiter, “Why is a universal assessment of a candidate (rather than assessing each success criteria independently) so unreliable as a sole predictor of work performance?

It’s a question that all recruiters should be able to answer, but I doubt many of them could.

Here’s a concise version of what I told the recruiter;

From our life-long conditioning we assess people we meet for the first time with the following questions used as our automatic and unconscious assessment methodology; “Do I like you?”; “Do I trust you?”.

Unless we specify the key selection criteria and ask questions relevant to the accurate assessment of those criteria, we default to asking questions that help us assess the person’s likeability or trustworthiness as it relates to us.

This is a fatal flaw because we are not interviewing them to be our friends or to decide whether we want to have any sort of personal relationship with them; we are interviewing them to assess their suitability for a specific job, working for a specific hiring manager, as part of a specific organisation.

There’s nothing wrong with hiring people you like however if you hire a person primarily because you like them and, once in the role, the person proves to be insufficiently skilled or motivated to do the job to the standard required, then you won’t like them for very much longer.

Daniel Kahneman asserted that System 1 thinking is our default — fast, automatic, and effortless. It operates on intuition, emotions, and learned patterns. Identifying patterns helps us make quick judgments based on past experiences. It uses mental shortcuts called heuristics to navigate the world efficiently.

Interviewing a person you do not know to make a considered judgement about their suitability for a role is hard work and it’s an inexact science – no hiring manager with any sort of tenure has a 100% strike rate.

System 1 rebels against the amount of hard work required to do this task so it defaults from the hard question it should be answering (“Is this person likely to succeed at this job?”) to a much easier question (“Do I like this person?”).

System 2 has limited resources and can easily get overloaded. Unless you create processes and templates to minimise the mental load on System 2 it will quickly get tired and System 1 will become the default for the decision you make about the candidate.

Daniel Kahnemen was a genius because his research showed us why and how we humans often make decisions that, in hindsight, seem naïve or ill-advised (at best) or downright stupid or inexplicable (at worst).

You only have to consider an intimate relationship you once had (but now consider a bewilderingly bad choice) and the feeling you had for that person, compared to the opinion you now hold about that person, hence your decision-making at the time.

That tells you all you need to know about how easily System 1 dominates System 2.

Related blogs

Recruiters have much to thank Daniel Kahneman for (but it’s mostly ignored)

What a Nobel prize-winning economist discovers about interviewing

The two least understood, yet critical, factors in candidate assessment

Is your candidate just very confident or really a charismatic narcissist?

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Euan Mackay

You are absolutely right in that many recruiters make a decision on whether they “like” the candidate. Having been in the ‘working’ side of IT, I tend to look at candidates from 2 aspects: would I be happy for them to be in my team, and whether I think they would fit in with the hiring manager and their team. So, I am not totally impartial, but I have found this to be a fair yardstick, particularly when HR is often trying to stop recruiters from talking to the hiring managers! (I mean, how dumb is that…?)

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