When I hear how hiring managers are screening and evaluating candidates, I sometimes think back on a young woman I once met who was single and lonely. She told me she was looking for a serious relationship and then shared how she evaluated the men she met. She checked out their shoes. If they had fashionable, expensive shoes that were properly shined, she would go out with them. If not, not.

I think that is one of the worst criteria for selecting a potential mate that I have ever heard of. What do the shoes tell you? That the guy has money and spends it on shoes? That looking spiffy is important to him? I can assure you that neither trait is predictive of a long and happy marriage. 

This was the first thing that came to mind when I read a recent article by Jessica Liebman, the executive managing editor of Business Insider, who eliminates job candidates from consideration if they don’t send a thank-you email after the job interview.

Screening and evaluating candidates for all the wrong reasons

Don’t get me wrong — I am a stickler for etiquette, and for thank-you notes in particular. I think they demonstrate consideration for the other person’s time and attention, gratitude, and poise, which are all desirable qualities. But they are not the key success factors for every position in a company. They are nice-to-haves, but not always have-to-haves. 

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I can think of many situations in which I would much rather have an employee spending his/her time and attention on other tasks that are more important than writing thank-you notes.

These kinds of shallow, inappropriate methods for screening candidates are common, both in our personal lives and in business. Not only do they fail to select the best people, but in the business world they can get you into legal trouble. Numerous job candidates have sued companies because they were disqualified from a job by an irrelevant screening process — and they have often won. 

Finding better criteria for screening job applicants

As some of you know, I am very excited about the potential of people analytics — the use of readily available quantitative data to select and develop candidate selection criteria. When used appropriately, people analytics enables hiring managers to identify qualities that have predicted success for specific roles in the past and then search for those qualities in potential hires. 

Unless you’re hiring for a customer service role, a people analytics program is unlikely to select candidates on the basis of their thank-you-note-writing practices. 

At the same time, people analytics is not the total solution to good hiring practices. At a people analytics conference a couple of years ago, I was surprised to hear tech company leaders talk about the limitations of people analytics and the importance of continuing to employ “human wisdom.” 

I heartily agree. But let’s be sure we’re using human wisdom and not human biases. To learn more about how to audit your hiring process and adopt people analytics, contact me at ggolden@gailgoldenconsulting.com.  

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