Software

Weird reasons not to hire someone

You're unlikely to see that exact post on Monster or LinkedIn soon, but companies are doing some crazy things when hiring folks

Wanted: network administrator. Must have five years of experience and powerful handwriting. Must be blood type O and a Capricorn. Low-slanting foreheads preferred. Scorpios and people with hat sizes larger than 7.5 need not apply.

You're unlikely to see that exact post on Monster or LinkedIn soon, but companies are doing some crazy things when hiring folks. And big-data isn't reversing this trend. In fact, it might make things worse.

There are companies in China and Australia that refuse to hire those born under certain zodiac signs, according to this Yahoo report.

The Toronto Sun reported that Xia, a spokeswoman for [a language training company], said that in her experience Scorpios and Virgos are often "feisty and critical." Xia said, "I hired people with those two star signs before, and they either liked quarrelling with colleagues or they could not do the job for long."

I'm a Scorpio, by the way, so I take some personal offense to this, in the same way I'd take offense to being told I look too young to buy beer (with more disbelief and humor than anything else). For the record, I think being feisty is one of my better qualities. I'm working on the critical part.

In Japan, it is common to factor blood type into hiring decisions, Discover magazine reported. Four of the 10 best-selling books there in 2008 discussed "the ways a blood type determines a person's personality." According to one popular book series:

    As are perfectionists and overanxious.
    Bs are cheerful, eccentric, and selfish.
    Os are curious, generous, and stubborn.
    ABs are artsy-fartsy, but totally mysterious and unpredictable.


I checked with Google Translate, but the Japanese don't seem to have a word for "fartsy."

Mashable discussed another hiring technique: graphology, or using handwriting to determine personality. Apparently, folks with writing that slants forward are more outgoing, and those with a backward slant are shy. Mashable didn't mention what it means if you dot your Is with little hearts, but I have a few guesses. A friend of mine named Dan used to write the rest of his name inside a giant D. I suspect hiring managers would have avoided that.

Of course, this type of stuff isn't new. The 19th century phrenologist George Combe hired servants by the bumps on their head. I have the bumpiest head I've ever seen (thankfully, I have not gone bald), so I'm guessing Combe would have hired me just to keep studying me.

All these methods have something in common: They rely on pseudoscience. I don't mean to trample anyone's beliefs, but there's no scientific proof that these fields show anything about job performance. Also, most of these methods focus more on personality than intelligence or skills. And companies have been giving personality tests for decades with no proof that they work. Companies are all seeking an edge in hiring, so they'll use anything -- phrenology, graphology, or even tyromancy (reading the future by watching cheese) -- to gain an edge. They're getting awfully close to using tests like these.

 

If you think this all a bunch of silly superstition, you're right. The problem is that big-data is leading to another round of silly superstitions based on loose affiliation with data. One such statistic is that people who live within 10 minutes of the office are 20 percent likelier to stay at a job at least six months than those who live 45 minutes away. Another one is that Xerox believes its ideal call center candidate uses more than one social network but fewer than four. I wonder if the fact that I never cancelled my Myspace account means I can't work for Xerox.

Let's face it. Hiring needs to be done the hard way -- listening carefully and getting to know the people you are interviewing. But companies will seek shortcuts forever. And as big-data gets bigger and better, maybe someone will find the killer app for hiring, or at least one that will let hiring managers skip the small talk. It certainly would be great if you could count on hiring the right person without having to worry about your intuition or your experience. What would an enterprise give for hiring the right person 100 percent of the time?

What do you think? Are you more than a collection of data or a writing sample? Can a company hire you based on the shape of your head? Would you submit to having your head felt up by a manager if you knew you had the perfect head for the job? Would you hire someone because the data told you this was the right person? Have you ever been denied a job for a silly reason? Tell us below.

About Author

David Wagner is Managing Editor at Enterprise Efficiency

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