Two things happened this week that prompted me to write this particular blog:

  1.  I watched a YouTube clip of author Malcolm Gladwell where he made an interesting point about the selection process at elite universities.
  2. interview-reduced2An acquaintance of mine described his recent experience while applying for a position at a global consulting firm.  He uploaded his CV on to the web site and then had to complete a personality-profiling test.  Two minutes later, he received a computer generated email saying his application would proceed no further because his personality did not match the entrance criteria.  How bizarre – he is one of the few people I have met who has the elusive x-factor!

Malcolm Gladwell believes that the way in which people are selected to attend top-notch universities and business schools is nonsensical.  His premise applies to the selection process at many companies as well.

The criteria on which you are judged to become part of a university, company or team are often very different to the factors that will make you good at the particular discipline or task for which you are being selected.

For example, when a university such as Harvard selects people, their pool of applicants have very similar profiles and matching entrance criteria.  The selectors somehow believe that they can accurately distinguish people on the basis of those entrance criteria.  IQ, as an example, is only effective to a point.  Once you are smart enough, any increases in IQ are no longer an accurate predictor of your future performance.

Entrance criteria are different from excellence criteria.  In a company, the job specification may say the company requires a person with a master’s degree, 10 years experience or a certain personality profile.  These entrance criteria are no guarantee of excellent performance.  10 years experience in a particular role does not necessarily mean you were good at that role – maybe you spent 10 years perpetuating mediocrity.  There is a misunderstanding because often the people with the right criteria are not necessarily right for the job.  If you play basketball, you have to be tall.  This does not mean you will be good at basketball.  Being a certain height is simply an entrance criterion. 

The same principle applies to my friend and the personality test.  He failed to meet a certain entry criterion but it overlooked his excellent potential.  There are certain jobs where there is very little that you can learn about the candidates beforehand that will predict how they will do once they are hired. 

Sometimes the gatekeeper tools throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Instead of closing the gate so early on, maybe companies should keep it as wide open as possible.  Perhaps they should stop trying to figure out the ‘perfect’ match to the job specification and consider ‘good’ matches instead.  Maybe companies shouldn’t raise hiring standards in order to pick the ‘right’ talent – perhaps they should lower them.  As Gladwell says, ‘There is no point in raising standards if standards don’t track what we care about.’

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