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Archive for June, 2011

I am fascinated with questions of how we know what we know and why we think and act the way we do, topics frequently touched on in the investigations of cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology and neuroscience.  So I was very excited to read an article recently in McKinsey Quarterly that discussed the implications of cognitive biases on business (a recent article only to me).

I can recount a number of anecdotes from my own consulting experience where cognitive bias has interfered with team collaboration and good decision making.  One of my favorites was a particularly contentious and political exchange that really centered on highly fallible recollections. I took great private satisfaction later in being able to produce a teleconference recording vindicating my side of the story, and I was admittedly tempted to send an anonymous copy of The Invisible Gorilla to one of the meeting participants; I resisted the temptation in favor of showing some semblance of social grace.

Much of the thinking I have advanced in the area of why acquisitions fail to deliver value (assuming good target selection) is based, in part, on the interference of cognitive bias.  Put simply, integration teams are too risk averse, succumbing to the cognitive bias called loss aversion.  No one losses their job for preserving the status quo, but status quo won’t position the integrated company to realize the sales growth and cost savings that justified the transaction price.

I don’t think enough business professionals acknowledge the impact of cognitive biases on their own decision making, to their great detriment.  This is much of the premise of the works of Nassim Taleb as well as others.  The fields of behavioral economics and behavioral finance try to incorporate learnings from psychology, although any breakthrough predictive models probably only exist outside academia as the closely held secrets of hedge funds.  Those two areas of inquiry, however, seem more focused on understanding the effects of others decisions rather than learning to correct our own.

There is June HBR article with many valuable techniques for countering cognitive bias, in addition to just employing a more data driven approach to decision making (note: even statistic are subject to confirmation bias).  We’ll never be able to eliminate it, and the real frustration is the inherent difficult in recognizing it in the moment.  Nonetheless, we can cope, and those who do will be at an advantage to their competitors.

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As a young, single professional, I spend a lot of time thinking about my career and dating.  It should be no surprise, then, that I have come to see a lot of parallels between job hunting and dating, particularly online dating.  Recruiters should take notice as well.

In online dating, you fill out a profile presenting a filtered version of yourself (your resume) filled with positive illusion and tailored to (hopefully) attract the attention of the kind of person or persons you would like to date.  You then spend a lot of time browsing through other profiles (job postings) looking for someone that approximates your ideal mate (employer), all the while knowing on some level that (s)he has created a profile with the same positive illusion and ulterior motives as you.

When you are lucky enough to find a good match, you carefully craft a message (cover letter) that shows you’ve read the profile and have something in common that makes you a good match, while still trying to stand out somehow in the cacophony of other messages.  If you succeed, you might exchange numbers, then text or talk on the phone (phone interview) before meeting up for a first date (real interview), usually in some abbreviated format like happy hour drinks.  A few dates later, if all goes well, you (ostensibly) decide to commit to one another in an exclusive relationship and delete your dating profile (you’re hired!).

In both job hunting and online dating, you are trying to learn as much about someone with limited time and imperfect information before making a decision about how good a fit you are for one another.  If it’s going to work, it has to be reciprocal.  You look for shared values and similar expectations from the relationship.  In dating and careers, there are the gold diggers and the people that want to connect on a deeper level.

There is a bit of cat and mouse game to both job hunting and online dating.  You both want to highlight your best attributes and downplay your worst faults, but then you aren’t really painting an accurate picture of yourself.  What’s she hiding?  If he’s so great, why is he on this dating site?  People say they hate games, but still we play them.  Wouldn’t it really be more efficient just to announce our shortcomings so the other person could decide up front whether they want to hire/date you in spite of them?  No one is perfect after all.

New jobs and new relationships always seem to start out with a lot of enthusiasm and optimism that dissipates over time.  Paralleling the decision more people are making to put off marriage or opt for nontraditional family structures, the era of the organization man is giving way to the free agent and creative class.

I am surprised that no one has picked up on these commonalities and built a career site modeled more like a dating site.  The problem with most career sites, for both the recruiters and the job hunters, is the sheer volume.  There are too many resumes for a recruiter to effectively sort through, and it is too easy to get lost in the crowd when you submit a resume, witty cover letter notwithstanding.

What if you had a site that was free for anyone to use, recruiters and job seekers alike, but you could only access a finite number of job postings or applicant resumes per time period without paying and which ones you saw were decided by an algorithm?  Maybe charge a nominal finders fee for matches, say a $5 charge to reveal an applicant’s contact information or $1 to submit your resume.  For a paid account, you could access more postings/applications and actually toggle between the full population and a subset determined by the algorithm.

Build it on Facebook Connect and you can match candidates to openings on a much richer data set than just key word searches (watch out Branched Out!).  Let users create questions with structured answers the same way OkCupid does today to help discover interesting correlations.  Recruiters could attach the questions to their job postings and candidates can pose questions to companies to learn more about what it’s really like to work there.

If Monster wants to stay relevant in the face of competition from LinkedIn, they need to innovate.  A good start might be poaching some of the talent away from over at Match.

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