Random Scribbles: Finding the right person

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

A recent article in The Atlantic caught my eye, about the use of personal data to assess job candidates or promote workers. I don’t want to appear to be beating a dead horse, but I want to highlight some of the article’s points because they reinforce some of the things I’ve said previously. Specifically, the piece rounds out the discussion by analyzing one of the more inscrutable areas of employment: the hiring process.

First, it points to the same Gallup research that I’ve mentioned that finds a low level of job engagement, using it as evidence of poor hiring practices and “the abysmal status quo.”

Second, it provides evidence for what many have found to be true, that hiring is based on “clubby, insular thinking” that “involves a level of dysfunction that should be inconceivable in an economy as sophisticated as ours.” It’s the world not of equal opportunity and being whatever you desire, but rather the one of secret handshakes and knowing the right people.

Finally, this little gem: “According to a national survey by the Employment Law Alliance a few years ago, most American workers don’t believe attractive people in their firms are hired or promoted more frequently than unattractive people, but the evidence shows that they are, overwhelmingly so.” [emphasis added]

I’m not too hip on the idea of data crunchers using my personal information to determine my future. But the prevailing situation has not served me well, nor many of my peers. Since college, I’ve thought that hiring should be based on merit, not on whether you are good-looking, appear to be confident, or share leisure interests with your boss. So maybe a more objective approach using “big data” will rectify some of the hiring mistakes made in recent memory.

As a final note, the article mentions efforts at Microsoft to reduce employee attrition. Once the vulnerable workers are identified, Microsoft takes a number of steps, including…wait for it…the assignment of mentors.



  1. SALT

    There are hundreds of unscrupulous things employers do despite all of the equal opportunity laws. ‘Looks’ for a company with a strong public interface is absolutely a consideration. When I worked at The BodyShop more than a decade ago it was part of our contract to wear at least three of their make-up products every day to sell, sell, sell. It’s all about age, appearance, gender, size in so many industries. And for women, employers consider whether they’re about to take maternity leave to have more human beings (considered a negative in our current era on Earth). Crikey, imagine having to support women having more human beings ? I think the IT industry is one of the few which doesn’t give a darn as long as people can make them money. These days even finance, politics and being a chef can all come down to looks and charisma ! So, what it really shows is a bizarre devaluation across society.

    • Matthew Taylor

      I agree that looks are important to certain jobs, like a receptionist or sales. But I think the unconscious bias extends way beyond that. It’s Homecoming King and Queen all over again.
      And yes, women bear the brunt, but men too suffer these or similar indignities.
      I would’ve thought we’d made more progress by now.
      Thanks as always for your comments.

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