The beer factor in interviews

Algorithms do not replace personal conversations, this is an experience we make every day in interviews with candidates. The human qualities are at least as important as the professional qualities. We are happy to quote here a plea for the personal conversation from the current Spiegel, 14.02.2017:

Management meets people – the beer factor in the job interview

In order to decide on candidates without prejudice, companies are increasingly turning to algorithms. This solves many problems, but also creates new ones. In the end, many people land on old criteria.

A column by Klaus Werle

When Manfred was still young and had just entered the HR department of a large energy company, his boss, after talking with a candidate, once took him aside and said, “You know, we can lean over CVs and final grades here for a long time but only one thing counts in the end: Would I like to drink a beer with the one who applies here? ”

Manfred was impressed by his supervisor’s ingenious ability to reduce complexity. It took him a few years to realize that the beautiful sentence was anything but original, and on the contrary, the notoriously murmured sentence of old personnel warriors who did not want to spend hours on CVs and final grades.

Nevertheless, as he himself climbed the corporate ladder, he also included the sentence in his standard repertoire. And more, he stuck to it. Manfred, who played tennis pretty well, visited a private college and liked to travel, hired a lot of people who could play tennis and talk about their time in Kuala Lumpur or Montevideo. By the way, with a beer.

This went well for many years, Manfred rose to the personnel manager of a fairly large medium-sized company. One day, the manager told him, “My dear Manfred, I feel your team is not diverse enough.” Manfred nodded thoughtfully. “It’s not an accusation,” continued the CEO, “we all let ourselves be distracted by our prejudices, but now there is a remedy, why not give it a try?”

Manfred nodded again, and a few days later he had arrived in the world of “people analytics”, in which algorithm-based analysis of huge amounts of data support hiring and   advancing personnel. Machines make better decisions, that’s the idea behind it, and this idea has been one of the hottest topics at HR conferences for years. Software companies have knitted out of the algorithms products that are called, for example, “Success Factors” (SAP), “Taleo” (Oracle) or “Workday”. SAP has given the programs a chic headline: “Business beyond bias” – business decisions without prejudice.

The cool brilliance of the non-bias machine

Instead of drinking a beer with the applicant and talking about his sporting preferences, the programs comb through resumes or social network entries, analyze data and texts, and seek patterns. Everything, regardless of gender, origin or sympathy. Totally neutral and incorruptible. A great thing, even Manfred had to admit that. Well, he missed the beer drinking, but he pulled his hat off the cool brilliance with which the non-biased machine filtered out candidates one-by-one.

After a few months, however, a small problem appeared. The freshly hired employees were smart and diverse and the manager was satisfied. But the climate in the department changed, became more professional, but also more solitary. More and more frequently Manfred found himself writing a mail rather than speaking directly to the person concerned.

Manfred interviewed a friend, Professor of Personnel Management. The friend pointed out to him that even algorithms have prejudices – because they are programmed by people who are of course not free of it. “Your problem is different,” said the professor, “it’s the social complexity of human relationships.”

Manfred nodded thoughtfully, though he had no idea what the friend was talking about. “People work most effectively in a team,” the professor said. “It’s not just about the qualification, but also about how the individual employees harmonize with each other.” To solve this is too complex for the programs. “At least, so far Humor, reliability, feelings – all of this is difficult to measure, but it has a huge impact on the workplace climate. And thus the performance of all.

Even at Google, employees have decided to make decisions about promotions again from human managers, even though the algorithm worked well. The simple argument: “People should make people decisions.”

Pah, not much better than drinking the beer, thought Manfred. He kept the programs, but supplemented them with more classic job interviews. In which he was no longer just interested in tennis, but also in other sports. Has worked great since then. Even curling is more exciting than expected, Manfred had to learn. Not to mention the diversity factor.

In this sense, we are pleased that experience, intuition and knowledge of human nature remain important in the digital world as well.

Many greetings

modern heads executive search

Jochen Barringer