Pure Danger Tech


The “mismatch problem” in hiring

28 Jun 2008

Really great video here from Malcolm Gladwell about the mismatch problem in hiring. Specifically, many professions use various hiring criteria (draft combines in professional sports, certification in teaching, etc) to obtain some objective data for deciding which people to hire.

Malcolm goes through a bunch of examples (sports, teachers, lawyers, pilots, police, politics) and gives examples of the many cases where quality in the profession has no correlation to the yardsticks used in hiring. He calls this the mismatch problem.

We fool ourselves into thinking that this objective data has predictive power even despite extensive evidence that it does not. He also mentions that the mismatch problem increases with the complexity of the job.

I can’t help but think about the mismatch problem in the context of hiring software developers since it’s something I’ve been involved with for many years. Hiring is always a struggle as it’s so hard to know whether the people you find will be a good fit for the job. Development obviously has to do with writing code but there’s so much more to it than that – you need skills in requirements gathering, design, planning, prioritization, assimilating new code bases, testing, documenting, writing, etc. Any one of these is difficult to assess in an interview.

Here in St. Louis, many of the bigger corporate shops now “hire” primarily through consulting copmanies. They bring people on as consultants and if they’re good they ultimately make them a permanent contract offer. This is a nifty sidestep to the mismatch problem as you review the employee’s actual performance in the job before making them an offer. And if they’re no good, it’s far easier to sever the relationship.

I must confess I don’t know the answer. Interviewing is tough and it’s hard to judge whether your rapidly formed impression has any correlation to the candidates actual future performance. Live coding may help you form your impression, but even that is no certainty given the multitude of other things a developer needs to do these days. What are your best tips for finding people?