Sunday, December 09, 2007

Sunday dollars+sense: Don't you just hate job interviews?

Halleluiah! The University of Queensland is to scrap the use of interviews to decide who gets into its medical course.

It has done what most such organisations never do and actually conducted research into whether a candidate’s performance at an interview is at all related to their subsequent performance if they are successful.

The answer, according to the head of the school of medicine David Wilkinson quoted in The Australian this week: “All the evidence shows that the interview is useless"...

Other medical schools haven’t caught on, including the new one at the ANU. It is setting itself up for the sort of embarrassment faced by Adelaide University which some years back was found to have rejected students with Tertiary Entrance Scores of 99.9 and family backgrounds in medicine, apparently because its interviewers didn’t like they way they presented.

Adelaide has been charged with using interviews to socially engineer its student mix, ensuring that it is not overwhelmed by the children of doctors or the products of private schools or brainy Chinese and Vietnamese.

But the charges miss a more important point, well known to the only psychologist ever to win a Nobel Prize in Economics, Daniel Kahneman.

It is that even when well-conducted, interviews are usually useless.

Kahneman says any process that relies on human judgment will almost always produce a worse result than one that simply relies on data.

Take stock-picking. Last financial year our super fund managers did better than most. They made us 15 per cent. But the share market itself soared 23 per cent.

We would have been better off had the process been automated.

Kahneman says we would get better results picking candidates for jobs by using almost any objective measure – length of service, academic qualifications, it doesn’t really matter – rather than by subjecting them to interviews.

He says we appear programmed to believe that we are good at picking talent – “delusional optimism” he calls it – and impervious to evidence that suggests we are not.

In the US a few years back one of the poorest baseball teams the Oakland A's decided to ditch the traditional method of picking talent by using scouts - old hands who relied on judgment.

Instead they plugged batting averages and the like into a laptop and offered places based on stats.

They shot from bottom of the league to near the top using players the scouts would have rejected.

In his book Moneyball Michael Lewis describes the players the laptop picked. They were ugly, lanky, fat and old. They never would made it through an interview.