Precision Hiring: Replace Bias With Accuracy

Believing that we are less biased than others is a common cognitive bias


The day I looked my hiring bias in the eye still haunts me.


During my interviewer training at Facebook, I’ve learned that the typical interviewer makes a subconscious yes/no decision about a candidate in the first minutes of the interview.


What happens then is astounding:

  • If it’s a yes decision, they focus the entire interview looking for supporting evidence that the candidate is a good hire

  • If it’s a no decision, they spend the entire interview fishing for anything to disqualify the candidate


“That can’t be me,” I thought, and I took note of how terrible other interviewers are.


Then one day, an atypical candidate walked into the room. I have no idea how and why, but I was able to watch, like an outside observer, how my brain was pulling it’s biased tricks. It couldn’t match the candidate with the specific archetype it had constructed, and immediately started fishing for anything to disqualify them.


The moral of this story is not that I’m a terrible person – you already know that. It is that all humans are, and that every single interviewer in your company is acting in this biased way.


Monumental hiring decisions


Every hiring decision is monumental. Here’s why:

  • A high integrity company can only emerge from non-biased hiring decisions

  • A company is nothing more than a machine made of people. A single hire, and therefore a single hiring decision, can make or break a company

  • Great hires create a powerful flywheel effect. They attract other great people, they make your company more successful and therefore more appealing, and they make everyone around them better

  • Bad hires create a dangerous downward spiral. They attract other bad hires, they create fires for others to deal with, and they damage culture and moral

Without a proper hiring system, these monumental decisions are made on the basis of bias and randomness.


Precision hiring is my system for replacing bias with accuracy in your hiring decisions. It consists of 6 simple rules.


Hire for exactly 3 strengths


It’s a fact of human nature, or perhaps probabilistic distribution, that great people have great strengths and great weaknesses. Well rounded people are by definition not extremely great (or extremely bad) at anything.


To produce a great hire, your hiring decision must be based on those strengths that will lead to high performance in the specific role.


How?

  • Ask the hiring manager to write down the 3 top strengths

  • Ensure that everyone in the hiring process read, argue, understand, and sign on those strengths

  • Gear each interview towards explicitly testing for these strengths

Here’s an example from one of our engineering roles:

  • Industry experience with build and cloud deployment processes. Specifically: webpack, AppEngine, relay

  • Ability and experience owning the full scope of a product infrastructure single handedly

  • Can quickly break down complex projects into small chunks and deliver on those exceptionally fast

In the absence of explicit strengths, our mind to will change the criteria to fit the candidate that we like.


Delay your intuition


Is intuition good or evil?


The answer is yes.


Intuition is evil when we apply it too quickly. It will jump to conclusions no matter how little information it has to work with.


But with more information at hand, intuition becomes incredibly useful. It will magically digest all that messy information and spit out solid advice.


You must delay your intuition and It only requires discipline.

  • Be aware of how misleading early intuition can be. Tell to yourself (outloud) to turn it off when you walk into an interview

  • Gear your interview to maximize information gathering and nothing else

  • At the very end of the hiring process, have everyone assess the candidate by scoring them against the 3 strengths. No discussion yet

  • With the score at hand, turn your intuition back on, have a discussion, and make a precise decision

This framework can apply to any monumental decision in your life.


Don’t chat. Simulate


Are you hiring a spokesperson? If the answer is no then why be spending the whole interview speaking?


An interview is a test of how a candidate will perform on the job. The only way to test that is by simulating the real job.


Whatever the job is, there is a way to simulate it:

  • Engineering - Write code to solve a technical problem

  • Product - Run a simulated user interview

  • Sales - Simulate a sales call

  • Marketing - Create a Facebook ad campaign

  • HR - Source candidates

Design the simulation to test for the strengths you’ve outlined.


There’s little to no correlation between saying words and doing a job, unless you’re hiring a spokesman.


Start negative


There are 3 types of hiring decisions

  • Correct decisions

  • False negatives (not hiring a good hire)

  • False positives (hiring a bad hire)

The goal is to always be correct, but even with my fantastic advice you will reach a 80% accuracy rate at best.


What about the remaining 20%? Those would either be good candidates that you pass on or bad candidates that you hire.


The critical thing to internalize is that hiring the wrong person is infinitely worse than passing on a good hire. If it’s not obvious why then think about both scenarios a little more.


Therefore, your true goal in hiring is to eliminate false positives.


This is why you should start negative. Assume by default that you’re not hiring the candidate and that they are not good enough until proven otherwise with flying colors. You want to hire people who spark so bright that it is impossible to not hire them. Fuck yea or no explains this mindset in the context of dating and has made it impossible for me to not marry my wife. It applies to hiring too.


A side benefit of being starting negative is that the high bar will make good candidates crave the role much more.


Enforce a process


A simple process will take the randomness out of your hiring decisions. It is how you maintain consistency across candidates and force good habits that lead to accurate unbiased hiring decisions.


It virtually doesn’t matter what the process is as long as it is consistently followed. For every role, define a process that includes the following:

  • Single hiring manager that manages the process and communication

  • Clearly articulated interview steps with one owner for each

  • Content for each interview step that is geared towards testing one or more strengths

  • Agreed upon place for (detailed!) note taking

Be consistently consistent with your hiring process.


Do not skip the culture test


The 3 pitfalls of hiring for culture-fit are not testing for it, not knowing how to test for it, and ignoring culture misfit because someone is really strong.


The way to avoid all three is by having a dedicated culture interview.


There is no generic advice for culture interviews because culture varies a lot across companies. Testing that someone values speed of execution will be different from testing that they are open minded.


There are no shortcuts here. You need to have a deep understanding of your culture and design ways to test for it explicitly. The stronger and more unique your culture is, the easier it will be.


Here’s a good first version of a culture interview:

  • Write down your values

  • Add some other values

  • Show all the written values to the candidate

  • Have them interpret the values in their own words

  • Have them rank the values based on their own world view

  • Have them share past examples of how they lived up to the top values on the list

This will give you a good idea of a candidate's values relative to your company’s. If it’s a mis-fit, don’t hire.


Conclusion


Hiring is rewarding and unforgiving. A single hire can make or break your company. Your hiring system will most certainly make or break your company.


Precision hiring is my system for replacing bias with accuracy in your hiring decisions. It consists of 6 simple rules.

  • Hire for exactly 3 strengths. Great people have great strengths and great weaknesses. The only accurate way to find them is to optimize your search for specific strengths

  • Delay your intuition. Intuition is evil if applied too early and powerful when applied late. Delay your intuition to the very end of the hiring process

  • Don’t chat. Simulate. Chat interviews negatively impact hiring decisions because talking and doing are fairly independent. Run simulations to test how a candidate will perform doing the actual job

  • Start negative. This is the only way to avoid the monumental cost of hiring the wrong person

  • Enforce a process. Process is your friend when it comes to replacing bias with consistent accuracy

  • Do not skip the culture test. Or bare the consequences


Book a consultation appointment with one of our hiring experts today.