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Daniel Kahneman passed away last week at the age of 90.

His name won’t be recognised by most in our industry, however Kahneman’s influence on recruitment was profound.

In 2002, Kahneman received the Nobel memorial prize in economic sciences. He then became one of the most influential and distinguished writers for the public in the behavioural sciences, primarily through his 2011 book Thinking, Fast and Slow, a classic in the field of human decision-making.

The core proposition of Thinking, Fast and Slow (hence, Kahneman’s primary field of research) was the systematic ways people deviated from rationality. Kahneman explained this as humans possessing two systems of thought. One of the two systems is fast (98% of our thinking), unconscious, efficient, confident and prone to error (system one), while the other is slow (2% of our thinking), self-aware, resource-consuming, full of doubt and perhaps a little less prone to error (system two).

These systems co-exist. System one reacts when we are late and tempts us to drive quickly to make our important appointment on time, while system two prods us to consider the danger of driving quickly and the potential costs (e.g. a speeding fine, an accident) of doing so.

The way these two systems operate in a variety of human judgement situations was the foundation for Kahneman’s many decision-making theories (Prospect Theory, The Planning Fallacy, Loss Aversion and The Anchoring Effect were among his most enduring) used to explain everything from under-budgeting to over-eating.

Kahneman’s scientific contributions, many made in collaboration with cognitive psychologist Amos Tversky until Tversky’s cancer death in June 1996, transformed the disciplines of psychology and economics. The spillover effects were significant in a wide variety of disciplines including philosophy and political science.

Kahneman’s influence on recruitment goes back to 1955 when the then 21-year-old lieutenant in the Israeli Defence Force was assigned to set up an interview system for the entire army. The existing system of soldier assessment for combat leadership had proven ineffectual and Kahneman’s degree in psychology made him the most qualified person to undertake the task (the state of Israel was only seven years old). Although, As Kahneman admits “From the perspective of a serious professional, I was no more qualified for the task than I was to build a bridge across the Amazon.”

Nearly 50 years later, (in Thinking, Fast and Slow, pages 232 & 233) here’s how Kahneman described his application of using System 2, in preference to System 1, in making hiring decisions:

If you are serious about hiring the best possible person for the job, this is what you should do. First, select a few traits that are prerequisites for success in (the) position. Don’t overdo it – six dimensions is a good number. The traits you choose should be as independent from each other as possible from each other, and you should feel that you can assess them reliably by asking a few factual questions.

Next, make a list of those questions for each trait and think about how you will score it, say on a 1 to 5 scale. You should have an idea of what you will call ‘very weak’ or ‘very strong’.

These preparations should take you half an hour or so – a small investment that can make a significant difference in the quality of the people you hire.

To avoid halo effects, you must collect the information on one trait at a time, scoring each before you move on to the next one. Do not skip around.

To evaluate each candidate, add up the six scores. Firmly resolve that you will hire the best candidate whose final score is the highest, even if there is another one whom you like better – try to resist the urge to change the rankings.

A vast amount of research offers a promise: you are much more likely to find the best candidate if you use this procedure than if you do what people normally do in such situations, which is to go into the interview unprepared and make choices by an overall intuitive judgment such as ‘I looked into his eyes and liked what I saw’.

Kahneman instructed his Israeli Army colleagues to concentrate on scoring each trait as accurately as possible and “leave the predictive validity to me”.

The new interview procedure proved to be a substantial improvement over the old one: the sum of the individual trait ratings predicted a soldier’s performance far more accurately than the interviewer’s sole decision-making criterion – their global evaluation of the interviewee.

After Kahneman won his Nobel prize he returned to Israel and paid a visit to his former army base. He discovered they were still using the same interview process he had designed forty-seven years earlier, now with decades worth of data proving its effectiveness in predicting the combat performance of soldiers.

Nearly 70 years later most ineffective interviewers make the exact mistake Kahneman identified in 1955 as a 21 year-old – they rely on their global intuitive judgement of a candidate rather than do the more disciplined, and mostly less interesting task, of asking each candidate the same questions on the same success criteria and scoring each criterion before moving to the next criteria.

Vale Daniel Kahneman – a giant in the field of human decision-making.

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