Friday, May 05, 2006

The Art of Thin-Slicing

One of the books that I'm currently reading is Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I'm not done with it yet, but so far it's been interesting...especially when one thinks of how it affects one's profession.

For me, I've obviously thought about how snap judgements affect the talent acquisition (aka recruiting) realm. And it got me to thinking...I wonder how many recruiters out there are successful at "thin-slicing" candidates (read the synopsis of Blink in the link above if you have no idea what "thin-slicing" is).

If you take what's said in the book to be generally true, it means that in the first moments of interacting with a candidate a recruiter makes their decision on whether this person is going through to the next round or not. The kicker, as Gladwell explains, is that this decision is most often times done subconsciously in the brain.

As a result, if you don't understand how to correctly thin-slice your subconscious, you might end up making some costly decisions along the passing on a candidate because you make the assumption that based on their clothing, they wouldn't be able to be an all-star consultant in your firm.

Reading through this book, I realize that when it comes to recruiting, these snap judgements are one of the most costly decisions a professional can make for an organization. You make the right decision,'ve selected an all-star that will add millions to the bottom line. If you screw up...well, either you hire a person who ends up leaving after a short while (and not really contributing that much) or get a person who costs you millions because he/she is an ineffective manager who drives away all your good talent.

One of my rants has (and still is) always been that not enough organizations have sat down and defined what talent is. As a result, when they clamor for talented people, the recruiters who go out and look for this "talent" have no idea what exactly they are looking for. They might have a general understanding. But is that enough to successfully thin-slice? What makes an all-star an all-star at their organization? Has anyone bothered to define this? If not, how do you know what to look for when people walk in to interview with your organization?

My sense is that an overwhelming majority of recruiters are relying on their past experience to help them make their snap judgements. There's nothing really wrong with this approach, especially if the recruiter has been at the organization long enough. The only problem lies in the fact that sometimes organizations decide to create new positions. Or hire new recruiters. Or re-align divisions. When it comes to issues like this, my question is: can we still rely on the gut instincts of recruiters when the rules of the game change (read: the recruiter has never had any experience with this type of profile/organization before)?

While most in the recruiting profession will defend their judgements, I don't think organizations would be comforted with the fact that the only thing lying between them and irrelevance is "gut instinct." With the War for Talent in full force, organizations are going to want to quantify more and more of the recruiting (and not just recruiting...but HR in general) process. The most logical step (to me, at least) in this whole progression is going to be quantifying how talent looks like in an organization.

So then the question becomes: is there any way to create an interview process that helps recruiters successfully thin-slice their thoughts on candidates? Perhaps designing such a process would minimize the margin for error during the recruiting process.

Or should the question be even more basic than that: how many recruiters even know how to thin-slice their thoughts? If the answer is "not many," perhaps we have a much more fundamental issue on our hands here. It's an issue that I'll have to think about another time though...

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