What the “Mismatch Problem” Means to HR

mgladwellauthorRecruiting and hiring is difficult.  In fact, it’s so challenging that there exists an entire cottage industry to service HR professionals who are glad to outsource the process.  Regardless of whether it is done in-house, by an outside organization, or some mix of both, no one has quite figured out why it is such a formidable challenge.  Until now, some say. 


If you haven’t heard of him already, Malcolm Gladwell is, quite likely, the smartest man alive.  Certainly in my personal opinion.  A journalist by trade, Gladwell began writing for the New Yorker magazine in 1996.  He’s known, among other reasons, for his two books: “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference,” (2000) and “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” (2005), both of which were number one New York Times bestsellers.  He was also named as one of Time’s Most Influential People in 2005.  And that should come as no surprise to anyone who has read his powerfully insightful books.

At the New Yorker Conference in May of this year, Gladwell was the opening speaker, much to my delight.  He addressed the problem of hiring and why we just don’t seem to be getting it right. Very broadly speaking, he theorizes that no interview process, no personality test, and no skills assessment will ever give us the insight or “human element” that must be present to choose the right candidate.

This idea is based on research he conducted involving recruiting in professional sports.  He details the various ways in which recruiters test athletes to assess every micro-function.  He then describes the horrific inefficiency of that process.  The test results are unreliable and, generally, predictive of nothing.

The only way to really know if the candidate is a true “match” for your organization, he says, is to bring the candidate in, sit him or her down at a desk or behind a register, or on the sales floor, whatever the case may be, and let them give it a shot.  It will matter far more how they perform during that test run than any personality test when it comes to picking the right hires for your business.

Don’t take my word for it, though.  You can watch Malcolm Gladwell’s speech at the New Yorker Conference and see for yourself.  I think the premise is infallible, despite its tendency to fly directly contrary to all modern presumptions about recruitment and hiring.  Of course, I do happen to believe he’s the smartest man alive, so that probably helps with credibility.  Check it out, it’s a fascinating talk.