Why job interviews are totally useless

 

In 1979, the Medical School of the University of Texas at Houston was required by the state legislature to increase the size of its incoming class by 50 students. Those students that the university took in late in the season had been initially admitted, but hadn’t made the cut after their interviews.

Those late comers, in the end, turned out to be as good as the select batch the university had admitted preferentially. The interview had distorted results.

In a piece for the New York Times, Jason Dana, an assistant professor of management and marketing at the Yale School of Management, exposes how utterly irrelevant this type of interviews are. Most definitely, they are not predictive of future outcome.

Lots of things may influence a job interview. Imagine you get in late because of unexpected commute problems. Or you’ve really got the right set of skills to do the job but you are shy. Or the interviewers are in a bad mood for whatever reasons.

Research that Dana and his colleagues did definitely buried the myth that interviews matter. A group of students were asked to predict their peers’ performance for the following semester based on an interview, course schedule and previous grades. Another group was asked to make its estimate based only on the students’ grades, with no interview. The latter set of forecasters made more accurate predictions.

As Dana says it, it was even worse. The interviewers were free to ask random questions and their interviewees had also been required to provide random answers. In other words, they were both free to lie to each other. Yet interviewers bought the lies.

The lessons are three:

  1. We tend to turn “any information into a coherent narrative.”
  2. We are supremely confident in our ability to glean useful information from a conversation.
  3. Both previous premises are not necessarily true. When hiring, trust the candidate’s track record or have faith in them (or not).

In any case, the interview will probably not add any value to the hiring process. At worst, it may considerably contribute to future disappointments.

 

Don’t blame algorithms for public relations disasters

 At least one of recent corporate publicity disasters has been blamed on algorithms. Even very little informed people by now know that this set of calculations are now ruling growing aspects of our lives. Companies that make the world go round —anything from healthcare companies to investment firms— employ this computerized processes for vital decisions.

So did United, catastrophically. It was apparently an algorithm that chose the passengers to bump on the flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky. After the computer issued its suggestion, the airline followed suit. As one of the passengers refused to disembark, the airline followed protocol. Law enforcement pulled the hapless passenger forcibly, bloodying him while dragging him down the plane’s aisle.

While it’s true that algorithms are playing a greater role in many fields, it’s still their human masters who make the calls. In United’s case, algorithms didn’t really matter. The airline could have chosen the passengers to bump tossing a coin. In any case, the heartless computer didn’t instruct security staff to behave like thugs and break the man’s nose.

The bigger story is when algorithms begin taking decisions that humans will not be able to override. It may cause anything from a nuisance —like a missed flight— to life-or-death matters in the field of healthcare. What if computers were to decide complicated medical cases, like unconscious patients on life-support? Would an algorithm estimate that the odds of survival versus healthcare costs would not be worth continued hospitalization, and pull the plug? It’s an extreme, unlikely case. But we should not let that happen.

For everything else, there are public relations specialists. Preferably, companies should let their PR departments or agents develop a preventive strategy. That should spare them an algorithm-induced mess or two. But if it does happen, don’t blame the computer. Call your PR people.

How online shoppers are turning malls into zombies

The web is transforming retail in a manner perhaps not seen since the Industrial Revolution. In just a couple of decades, Amazon and smaller e-commerce companies are grabbing a bigger slice of the market.

This is especially true of the United States. Elsewhere, change proceeds at a slower speed, but it is inexorable. It will come, mostly thanks to declining costs of smartphones.

Make no mistake. Americans are still massively making their purchases at physical stores. In the last quarter of 2016, reports the New York Times, “Americans spent $102.7 billion in online sales, which was 8.3 percent of the overall total of $1.24 trillion in retail sales.”

A lot of that money, the paper says, was spent at strip malls, a uniquely American shopping complex of separate shops aligned along parking lots, with everything from barber shops to fashionable restaurants. Yet those are disappearing, too.

The reason is that they were often an outgrowth of large malls that are taking a hit from online retail. Why would anyone drive for miles if you can order from your phone? As that consumer traffic dies, so do the commercial hives they were feeding.

And as the Times’ report showed, this has led to ‘zombie’ malls, with operating escalators and the lights on, with shuttered shops and empty corridors. Your writer was misled by a photo on the article. At first glance, it looked like a prison, with a large, two floor central hall flanked by cells with bars. Only a more careful look revealed it was a ‘zombie’ mall.

Just like nature, the ecosystem in an economy develops in unpredictable manners. Some big malls and employers —including huge online retailers, like Amazon— promote economic activity around them, with small shops popping up under their shadow. Other large stores wither all other types of commercial life in their vicinity. In all cases, once the planet disappears, so do the satellites that were spinning around them.