First-In, First-Hired: Yay or Nay?

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Job interviews have been going on since, well, forever. I suppose when feudal lords ruled the lands, you got the job of being a peasant by not dying, but since then, it’s involved a job interview.

And, it must be time for a change. Some companies are starting a first to apply, first to be hired program, something that’s also referred to as open hiring. I don’t know what to think.

Greystone Bakery started this practice in its distribution center in North Carolina by asking job candidates only three questions: “Are you authorized to work in the U.S.? Can you stand for up to eight hours? And can you lift over 50 pounds?”

The results? Turnover dropped by 60 percent. That’s not a typo. 60 percent reduction in turnover. What started out as a thing to help people, turned into huge cost-savings for the company. Greyston’s CEO said, “At the heart of it, Greyston’s mission is to impact people facing barriers to employment,” which explains the program. But, they benefit from the reduction in turnover.

why first-in first-hired can be an option
These are people with, for instance, a criminal history, limited qualifications, and low or no job skills.
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Other companies are adopting this practice, including The Body Shop, and are also lowering high turnover costs considerably.

But, at the heart of it, I worry that something is wrong with this practice where being first in line is what gets you the job.

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Then I think about the ridiculous questions that we ask people in job interviews and how we make carefully thought out decisions and lean toward this practice of first-come-first-hired.

For instance, “Where you see yourself in five years?” or “What’s your greatest weakness?” Or even worse, when managers like to prove how smart and hip they are by asking off-the-wall questions like, “If you could have dinner with one person, living or dead, who would it be?”

How are hiring managers judging these questions? Do you get more points if you say you’d prefer to have dinner with your beloved Grandmother than you do if you pick a famous dead person? Does Socrates merit more points than Marilyn Monroe? Does it depend on the job?

And I think a better question than where do you see yourself in five years is, what have you done in the last five years to get to where you are today? Because, honestly, you can have goals, and then life happens, and things change. How did you react to those changes? What specific steps did you take to advance your career or stabilize your life path? 

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Job interviews alone won’t guarantee a perfect employee. We have our own biases -unconscious and conscious. We have HR Tech going crazy trying to produce a solution to this and end up with products like HireVue that purport to be able to divine all sorts of things about you by using algorithms to interpret your facial expressions. 

Nathan Mondragon, HireVue’s chief industrial-organizational psychologist, said a “30-minute HireVue assessment includes half a dozen questions but can yield up to 500,000 data points, all of which become ingredients in the person’s calculated score.”

Five hundred thousand data points are utterly ridiculous. And if they are looking at that many data points, I imagine if you sneeze, you could, quite literally, blow the interview. This doesn’t even begin to address all sorts of illegal considerations wrapped up in such an analysis.

I once met with the CEO of another company that was looking to do the same thing – use artificial intelligence to evaluate recorded interviews. I asked him, “How do you account for differences in cultures and backgrounds?” He assured me that people from all cultures had the same expressions for honesty, et cetera. I said to him, “Look, I’m an American woman, and you’re a Pakistani man sitting in a cafe in Switzerland. You can’t possibly believe that those three cultures are close enough to expect us to have the same facial expressions for everything.”

He held his ground. I bought his coffee, and that was the end of that. 

I didn’t even begin to address the issues of the autism spectrum or facial tics or trying to answer questions in your second or third language.

Artificial intelligence isn’t perfect and hasn’t solved the problems that hiring managers had. Everything and everyone is biased. (Boy, that sounds depressing!) But, at least when it’s humans making the decisions, you have ten different hiring managers for ten different jobs, each with various flaws. When you turn it over to the computer, the computer has the same flaws. (Even Amazon, with its unlimited cash, couldn’t make an unbiased hiring algorithm.)

Why first-in-first-hired as an option
So…what if vacant job opportunities were opened up to more job seekers?
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So, back to first-in-first-hired. It seems like we stink at hiring generally, despite a ton of recruiting strategies to choose from. We make bad decisions. We make biased decisions. 

But, there are problems with this type of hiring too. The most obvious is the background check. The Body Shop, which is switching to this method of hiring, runs retail establishments. Do you want people with theft convictions working with your cash register? 

Then again, most people who steal don’t get caught, so hiring someone after a careful interview and background check doesn’t guarantee honest and upright employees. Neither does checking references. Unless you’re going to conduct a top-secret-security level reference checking, you’re going to be taking the word of people you’ve never met and about whom you know nothing. If I say, “John was a delight to work with!” How do you know that I’m not his best friend? If I say “John was a terrible employee!” how do you know I wasn’t a terrible manager?

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And these jobs are mostly entry-level, which means people don’t have any work experience. Perhaps you’re speaking with teachers. Maybe you’re talking with their neighbor. It doesn’t tell you anything anyway.

So, this is a lot of words to say; I think the first-in, first-hired approach is worth a try. The United States primarily has at-will employment, so if the person doesn’t work out, you can always terminate. Other countries will want to check their probationary period laws, to reduce the chance of getting stuck with a slacker. But, overall, if the performance of these other companies is any indication, you’ll do better with hiring this way than with your careful interviews.

And frankly, no one cares what your biggest weakness is, as long as it’s not showing up late to work. And as for five-year dreams? Mine is -well, ask me in five years what I’ve accomplished and how I got there. You’ll be impressed.

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