Companies that are doing it wrong, you might learn some things from “Blink”

The book, Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, talks about decisions made from our unconscious and the negative or positive consequences such decisions produce. Some may call them split decisions or acting without thinking; Gladwell calls this phenomenon “the power of thinking without thinking.” The point is that whether we know it or not, there are decisions we make based on what little knowledge we have of a situation. 

Two specific examples in the book stand out for me. The first one: four policemen in Brooklyn, New York, shoot an innocent man because of their instinctive reaction to a sketchy situation. This is a sad occurrence as a result of not knowing enough about the situation, relying completely on “blink.”

The second and most poignant story Gladwell tells is about how the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra hires a talented Italian trombonist player. The search committee, striving for total objectivity, sets up a screen so the auditioning musicians cannot be seen. They hire the best trombonist they hear. To their chagrin, the musician they choose as the best player is a woman.

The consequence of this instance of “blink” is hiring the best trombonist for their orchestra—a far cry from unloading 42 bullets into an enclosed entryway and killing a man because he was reaching for his wallet. Nonetheless, they are devastated to find that the winner is a woman.

This second instance of “blink” makes me wonder is this is a viable practice all employers who are hiring jobseekers for positions should practice. What the Munich Philharmonic accomplished was to prove that total objectivity yields the best result, albeit not what they wanted in terms of gender. Perhaps employers continue to use ineffective ways of hiring people because they make their decisions based on biases, or…they’re given the opportunity to think.

Following the practice of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra would most likely preclude employers from discriminating against various populations, including the disabled; minorities; woman; one of the hardest hit populations, the older workers; and other groups. In other words, the most qualified candidates would be hired the majority of the time. But there could be some drawbacks for employers who, for instance, are trying to get a viable “fit.”

How would employers emulate the success of the Munich Philharmonic?  To safeguard against preventing them from discriminating against the aforementioned populations, they would have to abide by the following rigid steps:

Step One. Conduct telephone interviews to determine minimum technical requirements met and salary expectations are in synch with their budget. The telephone interview remains pure and objective to this day. Next a face-to-face interview would be scheduled if the two issues are ironed out.

Step Two. Candidates, like the musicians who auditioned for the Munich Philharmonic, would enter the interview location unseen and unheard. Interviewers would not see their bodies and faces—it’s a well-known fact that the “blink” phenomenon has played a role in determining a person’s perceived greatness. (Ex. The notorious President Warren Harding, explained by Gladwell in Blink, was elected, in part, because of his physical stature.)

Step Three. Interviewers will literally conduct all interviews with a twelve-foot screen separating them and the job candidates. All candidates would be equipped with a voice scrambling device, thus disguising their gender, ethnicity, age, or vocal disability.

Step Four. There would be no trick/illegal questions asked to determine candidates’ isms. Questions like these would be forbidden:

  • “What country are you from?”
  • “When did you graduate from college?”
  • “Do you favor the current President, or the opposing party?”
  • “Who is the breadwinner in your house?”
  • “Do you require any special accommodations?”

Interviewers may ask questions that are neutral and reveal the candidates’ required skills and experience. These could include any technically related questions, behavioral-based questions, and questions that get to the applicant’s personality fit.

Step Five. Once the interviewers’ decision is made, based on objective, unbiased questions; it is final. Had the interviewers hoped for someone in his/her 30’s; tough. If they wanted someone who was a man, or woman; too bad. Tough cookies if they wanted someone as healthy as a horse but ended up with someone in a wheelchair—install a ramp.

What are some possible drawbacks of this approach to interviewing? Interviewers would not see the candidates’ body language and visa-versa. Interviewers would have to rely on the content of the candidates’ answers to ensure overall fit, including technical, transferable, and personality skills. Further, candidates would not be allowed to see the companies’ facilities in order to maintain total anonymity. The personal nature of the interview would be eliminated.

The likelihood of employers conducting this kind of interview is very slim at best. Employers have a right to hire who they want. But to “blink” and not be given time to think, would eliminate some of what’s wrong with the interview system. Let’s look at the Munich Philharmonic’s example of objective hiring as something that’s attainable in a theoretical way. Lord knows too many qualified people are slipping through the cracks.

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