Dear Colleagues

One of the concerns I always have when interviewing a stream of people for a job is the impact each of them have on the final decision you make. Or in deciding on the best project when confronted by a list of potential candidates.

Two psychologists, Uri Simonsohn and Francesca Gino, have noted that we are rather poor in using background information in coming to an individual decision. A good example is that of a judge concerned about appearing soft on crime; she would be more likely to send someone to prison if she had already sentenced five other (earlier) defendants to far more lenient sentences that day.

The Interview Situation
How does this work in an interview situation. Well, it has been proven that if you initially interview a number of stronger candidates for an engineering job (for example); you are likely to believe that the next candidate must be a ‘weaker one’.

This problem doesn’t only apply to interviewing people but also in deciding on projects and individual items.

A possible strategy to deal with this
A suggested approach is to assign a rating or score based on what you feel each one is worth without worrying at this initial stage on who  is in the ‘pass’ or ‘accepted’ category. You tell yourself that you are merely considering a short list  and not a final list. If you find your short list is considerably more than what you were originally targetting; then create a completely new set of criteria (but which are still useful) and apply this to the short list. Arrive at a ranked list in this way and select the top ten or whatever number you are targetting.

The concept is that in going directly from the general to the specific is always liable to bias. This approach described above enables you to avoid this situation.

Thanks to the Economist and Drs Uri Simonsohn and Francesca Gino for detailing this interesting and useful research.

An interesting comment from Olin Miller: To be absolutely certain about something, one must know everything, or nothing about it.

Yours in engineering learning