(Sample) Size Matters

If you’ve ever been attacked by a lion (or even if you haven’t), it’s probably reasonable to assume you think all lions are dangerous. This sort of stereotyping or generalizing is a simple survival mechanism. In this case, your small sample size (one grumpy lion) probably tells you a lot about how other lions will behave around you – mostly because to them, you are food.

But in the majority of other situations, stereotyping just isn’t a good idea. Now I’m not talking about the illegal stuff we all know is wrong. I’m talking about the other stuff. The stuff you probably don’t even notice creeping in to your subconscious and impacting your decisions. That’s the stuff we need to understand better.

Take recruiting for example. We are dealing with people, not terrifying animals with sharp claws and pointy teeth. And most people – but not all – don’t think you are food. In my experience (brief though it is), two people with seemingly similar backgrounds can end up being very different. Consequently, making assumptions about them is quite dangerous. Not “man-eating-lion” dangerous, but “wow-I-just-made-a-huge-mistake-and-hosed-myself-in-the-process” dangerous.

You may never be attacked by a real lion, but missing out on game-changing talent because of your ill-informed assumptions certainly will get you eaten by your competition.

And So It Goes….

“People from the [stick whatever you want in here] industry just don’t do well here,” the hiring manager said, almost smugly, when questioned about her opinion that she just wasn’t seeing enough qualified resumes. “I don’t need to talk to them to know that.”

Clearly, this is something I should have already known.

“Really?” I wondered. “If you don’t mind me asking, what are you basing this opinion on?” Of course, I had a hunch I wouldn’t like her answer – but forged ahead anyway.

I’m a glutton for punishment like that.

“We hired a guy last year from the [stick whatever you want in here] industry and he was terrible. He couldn’t adapt and make the change. It’s chaotic here and those people just move too slow. We don’t want anyone else from that industry.”

And just like that, an entire candidate population is doomed.

Size Matters

Lenses. Filters. Stereotypes. Biases. Assumptions. Call it whatever you want. But the wholesale elimination of every candidate from a particular industry (or school, or company, or part of the country, etc.) simply because we “once had a bad experience” is nonsensical. What rational, analytical person would make such an important decision on so little data?

In this case, your (sample) size is woefully inadequate.

Bad experience at a burger joint? I’m never eating burgers again. Cut my finger on a piece of paper? Forget that! All paper is now dangerous. That guy from Yale had no common sense! Everyone from Yale must be equally worthless.

Sounds silly right? But this is what happens when your recruiting philosophy is exclusive – meaning we look first for ways to keep people out.

Resumes give us (literally) a one-dimensional perspective. Not all candidates are created equal – both good and bad. Just as candidates from a particular industry can’t be all bad, they aren’t likely to be all good either. If the other skills and experience are there, wouldn’t it make sense to take a few minutes and invest in a conversation? At a minimum, you confirm your suspicions.

At best, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Thoughts?

 

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