Friday, January 22, 2010

The Mathematics of the Familial Millstone

Evil HR Lady has an interesting letter from a reader seeking insight into a hiring decision her employer recently made.  It seems there was a candidate that should have been hired but wasn't.  It seems that she wasn't hired because her sister used to work for the company and left on bad terms.  It seems that there could have been no other reason not to give this person a job offer.

'Seems' is an interesting word.  It's a great way to kick off an investigation, but a lousy way to conclude one.

Here's what EHRL said (in part):
That said, unless you were in on the hiring discussions you can't know for sure that this happened. Why did they bring her in for an interview if they weren't going to hire her, based on her relative? That makes absolutely no sense. If they refused to interview her, the relationship could have been behind that, but have you checked the unemployment rates lately? Honestly, if I had 300 candidate resumes (not unusual lately) and one was the sister of the psychopath we had to fire two years ago, I wouldn't put her as my top choice unless her qualifications were so phenomenally above the other 299 people.

And that's my point right there: Yeah, it's possible that her relationship hurt her, but there are so many people for each available job that it's not likely the only reason.
Makes a lot of sense (as is to be expected from EHRL).  However, I do not think EHRL went quite far enough.  Sometimes, your personal and familial relationships are sufficient cause for not receiving a job offer (or in a situation I've seen, losing your job).  It is completely, utterly, 100% unfair to the candidate.

But it'd be completely, utterly, 100% unfair to those doing the hiring to force them to be blind to everything but a person's resume.

There's an old trope about, well, pretty much everything, but it gets applied to recruiting from time to time: recruiting isn't a science; it's an art.  Unfortunately, that's wrong.  It's neither; recruiting is, at times, mathematics.   It's risk/reward; it's balancing probabilities; it's playing the odds.  It's constructing an intangible metric that will maximize the probability that you will produce successful hires.  You can't do that by merely going through a checklist.

When constructing a team, ability, skills and experience are only part of the calculus.  One must take into account the dynamics of the working environment.  You've got to figure out if this new person will be a fit.  Employees do not always function rationally.  Their emotions guide them, and their productivity can be affected by endogenous and exogenous variables, tangible or not.  If an employee's relative holds a grudge against the company, it's not preposterous to imagine it could have a negative impact on the employee's productivity.  Further, it's not preposterous to think it could have a negative impact on the mood of the team, detracting from the productivity of the team as a whole.

Certainly, there's no guarantee that such an outcome would occur, but 'there's no guarantee that I will destroy the culture of your office' or 'it's possible that I won't be a huge distraction at work'  are not valid reasons to hire anyone.  As EHRL eludes to in her post, with two satisfactory candidates of similar experience and ability, why take the one that could become the office cancer.

As I mentioned, I have known people in this type of situation.  It sucks; it really does.  Judged solely through the eyes of the jilted candidate (who knows that she'd be a great employee and that there'd be no taint from a disgruntled relative) this is an egregious wrong.  However, if we take away the certainty of it - and the hiring process is riddled with uncertainties - no longer does the hiring manager seem like such an ogre.  If we step back, we see that the manager is just a person trying to deal with the imperfections of life.

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