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Picking Employees from Job Candidates #hr #jobs

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I can tell you that the way I pick candidates to be interviewed is probably wrong, and the way I hire people is probably worse. It’s not that the people I pick are the wrong people for the job, it’s that I pick them based on my gut, rather than based on the metrics. Let me explain???

In the past I’ve always picked the person I liked most; with whom I had a click; who pushed the right buttons. And for years I’ve complained about going on resume keywords, yet used those same keywords to be able to find a global technical match. And I’ve loudly ranted on basing hiring decisions on personality metrics. It seems that I was wrong in most cases, although not completely.

In Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow I was educated that I was going into the hiring process with an unwritten list of traits that I thought were important for the person who was coming into the company. Rather than clearly defining them and creating factual questions which could be scored I allowed gut feeling to influence the overall fitness of the candidate.

Suppose that you need to hire a salesrepresentative for your firm.” says Kahneman “If you are serious about hiring the best possible person for the job, this is what you should do. First, select a few traits that are prerequisites for success in this position (technical proficiency, engaging personality, reliability, and so on). Don???t overdo it???six dimensions is a good number. The traits you choose should be as independent as possible from each other, and you should feel that you can assess them reliably by asking a few factual questions. Next, make a list of those questions for each trait and think about how you will score it, say on a 1???5 scale. You should have an idea of what you will call ‘very weak’ or ‘very strong.’

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Kahneman uses the work from Paul Meehl to implement an interview procedure for the Israeli Defense Forces based on 5 metrics, after the interviewers rebelled he told them ???Carry out the interview exactly as instructed ??? and when you are done, have your wish: close your eyes, try to imagine the recruit as asoldier, and assign him a score on a scale of 1 to 5.??? And he discovered that “intuition adds value even in the justly derided selection interview, but only after a disciplinedcollection of objective information and disciplined scoring of separate traits.

Much like the recent post by Adrianus Warmenhoven on the Dunning-Kruger effect, I believe that much can be won by assuming the current method can be better.

Image source: AttributionNo Derivative WorksSome rights reserved by meahtsingan

Filed under: business, risk Tagged: business, career, cv, HR, jobs, recruitment, resume, work

Written by Daniël W. Crompton (webhat)

May 21, 2012 at 4:47 pm

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Just Finished Reading: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother #books

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I started begging my mother for piano lessons from a very young age, had my mother been a Tiger Mother I would have been a child prodigy. I’d seen Amy Chua in an interview program and had wanted to read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as an instruction manual to raise my child as a music virtuoso. And although the book is not a step-by-step guide to becoming a Tiger Mother I am glad I read it.

The book is an autobiographical view of the way Amy Chua raised her daughters Sophia and Louisa (Lulu) to become straight A students, and focusses mainly on her teaching her children to play the musical instruments of her choice. In the end it devolves into a war of attrition between Amy and Lulu, resulting in a revelation for the Tiger Mother.

One thing I didn’t completely agree with in this book, and as the book Thinking, Fast and Slow shows, is that there is some outcome bias involved. The strategy – praise the good performance and punish the bad performance – seems to work well for Amy, it isn’t a perfect stratagem. It’s all due the regression to the mean. From the result that Amy had with Sophia, and Tiger Mothers seem to have in general, it looks like the stick and carrot work. And by looking at the results from Lulu you can see the regression to the mean.

This was a joyous moment, in which I understood an important truth about the world: because we tend to reward others when they do well and punish them when they do badly, and because there is regression to the mean, it is part of the human condition that we are statistically punished for rewarding others and rewarded for punishing them.
Daniel Kahneman

I’m probably a Tiger Mother, although I’m a Dragon and a father, like Jed I regret not continuing my piano lessons and want to help my children see what the benefits are of perseverance. As a child I can remember being much like Lulu, unlike her I persevered in not practicing. Perhaps I can give my children a different choice, even if it isn’t a choice.

Image source: Amazon

Filed under: algorithm, books, risk Tagged: book, books, chua, kahneman, mean, mother, regression, tiger

Written by Daniël W. Crompton (webhat)

April 27, 2012 at 8:42 am

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It???s the incentive structure, people! Why science reform must come from the granting agencies.

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Reblogged from The File Drawer:

Another day, another New York Times report on bad practice in biomedical science. The growing problems with scientific research are by now well known: Many results in the top journals are cherry picked, methodological weaknesses and other important caveats are often swept under the rug, and a large fraction of findings cannot be replicated. In some rare cases, there is even outright fraud.

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I discussed this same issue in Medicine sometime ago, if it were so that a solution is thought te have been found them the sampling rate should increase. This is a case of search satisfaction – you expected to find something found something so you stop searching rather than finishing your search. While in a larger sample set or more regression to the mean takes place, which means the results come closer to the average..


Written by Daniël W. Crompton (webhat)

April 24, 2012 at 5:00 pm

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Peer assessment and the Dunning-Kruger effect #hr #management

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What about it?

Whilst having discussions on a ???thinkers??? board that I infrequently-frequently visit, someone mentioned the Dunning-Kruger effect in relation to specific politicians.

So I looked it up and something started to dawn on me.

Of late I have seen quite a number of companies adapting the ???Google method??? of peer assessment when it comes to hiring new personnel, but for some reason those companies were having rather a decline in technical competence instead of getting the increased benefit of adding more ???brainpower???.

As I understand it, and as related to my own observations in the peer assessments, the problem lies here in points 2 and 3 of the hypothesis put forth by Kruger and Dunning:

2) Fail to recognize genuine skill in others;

Oftentimes the higher skilled candidate is being dismissed because ???he talks about weird things and can???t communicate properly??? or variations thereof.

Now what I have seen Human Resources do is not recognizing this problem but rather projecting a form of ???insecurity??? on the assessing employee ???He may be afraid of his position???, whereupon they start complementing and ???securing??? the assessing employee. It would go too far too add Pavlovian conditioning to this story, but it may not be too far from it.

3) Fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;

Dunning has drawn an analogy to someone having an impairment, but I think a much clearer and less insulting explanation can be given by the concepts of Flatland (when read without the Victorian context, that is).

What does that mean for the business?

As for the origin of the inadeqacies, I leave that for the respective physicians and psychologists, but there are a few common mistakes companies make that help in attenuating this effect within their ranks.

The HR departments are not sitting at the table when the peer assessments take place

This has the effect of ???ganging up??? on a potential candidate; remember that the assessing employees will subconsciously defend their comfort zone, so no fresh blood that dares to challenge even the group of ???old hands??? will ever be given a good mark.

And in technology, zealotism is stronger than in religion. Mention the wrong editor somewhere and you are classed ???unqualified???. Mention that you do not have a fascist adherence to Linux/MacOS/Windows/Anythingatall and you are classed ???incompetent???.

The way to remedy this is to have a properly prepared (as in read up, albeit cursorily, on the subject matter) HR staff sit at the table and support the candidate in matters of confidence and to ???call off the hounds??? when needed. Also, the HR staff should ask questions like ???why is this editor thing important in our company???? so as to prevent the technology policies becoming the pre-conditions for a personal playground of the techs.

Sitting personnel has gotten to the position on merits of ???employment years??? and ???being there first??? or ???helping to set it up???

Often, because ???in the land of the blind, one-eye is king???, a manager or ???chief??? of a technical department is someone that has been a long time in a company. This is a tradition that stems from the old ???Foreman??? habit; a senior gets to lead his peers because he knows very well what the work entails and he knows the peers very well.

But in ICT, I really have to say this, a lot of technically competent people have problems when interacting with the rest of the world. I will even go so far as to say that some of these people are in ICT because of their Rainman-like qualities; they simply are prone to defend against anything that threatens the world they have created in their own mind.

This can be remedied by not giving them decision powers. They should have all the execution powers, or put differently; they should be allowed to decide on ???how??? to do things, but never ???what??? to do.

Here then comes a gray area; it is sometimes hard to see when it is a ???how??? and when it is a ???what???. But there???s a good rule of thumb for it (this is just a marker, not a hard fact): if it involves anyone outside of the inhouse technical crew, treat it as a ???what???. All activities done by that technical crew can be treated as ???how???.

Obviously it never is going to be that simple, but think of this as having a race-horse pulling a gurney; the horse pretty well knows how to run by itself and given practice it even knows how to turn etc. But because the jockey has more information (i.e. the strategy, the strength and endurance of the competition) and has the ability to make judgements on that information (i.e. if the others are conserving energy, if the other horses are at their peak, when to fully go all-out) it must always be the jockey who is in control.

The horse can do things the jockey can not, but the jockey can do things the horse can not. And if the horse decides that it knows the course better than the jockey, the race will be lost most of the time.

The horse does not see it???s inadequacy in decision making, because it can outrun that little jockey even on a bad day???

And now what?

Well, just because they know more about technology and about the work they do, that does not mean they know more about healthy and proper assessment procedures.

When assessing new personnel, have the tech department set up a kind of exam with a scoring method. That way they can ask anything they want and open questions can be scored ???double blind??? if wanted (although simply anonymous is usually good enough).

This test can then be sent to an outside consultant or other tech company to verify both the validity of questions and the standard answers.

You can have candidates (give them fair warning though that you are going to do this) take this test and have it objectively scored. This makes for an up-to-date questioning and it also gives the candidate the possibility to defend his/her answers against the scoring because it can be done fully in writing. Sometimes that will yield that the candidate is overqualified for a certain setting. But that leaves the candidates dignity in place and gives the tech department a chance to work on themselves.

The HR staff can assess the social qualities and all other properties after a candidate has gotten through the test.

I sometimes hear that ???it is hard getting good personnel???, but I do not think so. I think it is hard breaking down the little kingdoms that have come to be and that in an open and social world, there really should be no place for them anymore.

This article is a guest written article, and was originally posted here.

Image source: AttributionNo Derivative WorksSome rights reserved by Sebastian Fritzon

Filed under: business, risk, science Tagged: HR, management

Written by Daniël W. Crompton (webhat)

April 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm

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Just Finished Watching: Tripping The Rift #series

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A good friend of mine told me about Tripping the Rift, and highly recommended it. Word of Mouth is not the way I usually get my recommendations, although I get many recommendations that way. Most times somebody will give me something based on their experience, or will pass it on to me after they have done reading or watching it.

Tripping the Rift is an adult cartoon, with a story line similar to Firefly. A band of space privateer/smugglers who constantly get into trouble with the leaders of the “good” Confederation and “evil” Dark Clown Empire. Chode – a horny purple alien – causes most of the trouble, which ends up being resolved by him and his misfit crew: teenage lizard, sex android, gay robot, and an ugly cow/hippocentaur. Nothing is sacred, which makes it all the funnier.

It is fun light viewing, and definitely not suitable for children. It probably won’t make you smarter.

Image source: title screenshot

Filed under: television Tagged: firefly, rift, serenity, series, television, tripping

Written by Daniël W. Crompton (webhat)

April 23, 2012 at 11:27 am

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Just Finished Reading: The House of Silk #sherlock #holmes #books

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Like Anthony Horowitz I’ve always liked Sherlock Holmes, perhaps it is because my mother joked that I was related to the sleuth. Or because I visited 221B Baker Street as a child. In any case I am much enamored with the genius of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and as have been disappointed with many other tributes to the creator. And I was shocked whet James Randi revealed in his book that Doyle was a firm believer in the fairies of Cottingley Glen.

The House of Silk is an enthralling book, filled with the subterfuge which can be expected from a Holmes tale. It combines two overlapping stories and can be placed in the middle of the canonical Holmes series. It touches on subjects which, although they would not be out of place in Victorian Britain, might not be expected in a Holmes story. Standing on its own the novel is good, and seems well researched. As an amateur nitpicker I would have loved to find a inconsistency or glaring error, and didn’t. :)

It certainly can be called a good Holmes novel.

Image source: Amazon

Filed under: books Tagged: book, books, detective, holmes, sherlock

Written by Daniël W. Crompton (webhat)

April 20, 2012 at 11:12 am

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What is wrong with ICT?

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A day ago I read PHP: A fractal of bad design, and it made me sit down and think about writing this entry, of which the kernel has been gestating for quite a long time.

I see this a lot; pro???s ranting about an aspect of our ???craft??? that has gone totally pear-shaped; programmers complaining about the languages or the quality of code they are asked to fix and/or maintain, systems administrators that just can not believe the insanity that is brought down on them because of either laziness of the in-house personnel or management-made bylaws.

Cryptographic specialists (even mildly spoken ones like Bruce Schneier), hackers nee security specialists, software designers??? the whole palette of people that actually are proficient in their work gripe and complain.

The outages in service, security issues, privacy issues, performance issues, safety hazards with SCADA??? we are accepting third-world standards here.

I could blame the hardware (???it is all off-the shelf commodity stuff they are using nowadays???), but that would not be correct; the stock hardware now is more reliable than a lot of specialized iron from 20 years ago.

I could blame the programming languages (???if you use tools as an analogy, then Perl is like a pair of pliers designed by H.R. Giger???), but, even though the languages make up for a goodly chunk of problems, it is not correct; whilst not elegant or correct or proper, most issues arising from the use of a specific programming language can be fixed by taking a bit of time and duct-taping on other software that takes care of these specific problems (heck, that is actually what is going on all the time).

I could blame the emerging economies??? developers (???Indian and Chinese developers make such bad quality software???), but that would not be proper and it would actually be very incorrect; nobody pays them to take time and study to learn the correct ways. They do not have the luxury of our educational and social security, so they need to earn money right off the bat. And on top of that they get paid ridiculously low wages. If you want to work with Asian devs, make part of the assignment that they study and finish courses. Or teach them yourself.

I could blame the consumers or end-users (???software has become a commodity product; a disposable item???), and while that may have some merit, analogous to the consumer buying Fairtrade goods or ecologically friendly items, it is not the main cause of the problems. The consumer does just that: consume.

So??? who can we blame?

Well, how about the guys making the decisions, for one?

In my opinion, it is the management that needs to scratch behind it???s collective ear about the current state of IT.

First, they know something about theoretically nicely crafted project management schemes (like SCRUM, Agile, Six Sigma), and think that if you just follow all that nicely, you eventually get somewhere. The reason these project management methods are popular is because it allows everyone to just shout ???hut hut??? and be off and ???do something???.
Planning for the current crop of managers means ???resource planning???, ???deadlines??? and ???deliverables???. The latter being no more than ???Functional Specifications??? ???Technical Design??? and ???Data Model???.

Let me take these things apart:

An FS nowadays is a least-effort product because neither the ???customer??? (sometimes an internal department), nor the ???supplier??? wants to do a lot of work on it; it is not ???something you can see being worked on??? (oh yeah, I get back to this one later), it becomes a totally obsolete and forgotten document the moment it is ???delivered???, unless legal actions ensue at a later stage.

The TD is writing down what the customer says it must be (???we support framework X on O.S. Y using hardware Z???). That is in no way a technical design. A technical design should always start out with full freedom of choice and be made to really solve all issues arising from the FS. Then, and only then, you can add restraints one by one and carefully take care of all artefacts of these restraints.

The DM is something that keeps amazing me; for some reason it is almost always like a mapping of a relational database. Why? I guess it is because companies like Oracle or the ubiquitous MySQL screwed the minds of people into thinking that ???Entity Relation Diagrams??? are the only way to look at data. This also makes for one of the most common performance problems; all that following relations and extra tables.
I have seen queries that completely kill all possible caching just because the design was hellbent on using relations in a database. Here is a newsflash for those developers/software designers: sometimes it is computationally cheaper to do the bookkeeping yourself and let the data-model be nothing more than a key-value store.
But the managers can read ERD???s and they look more interesting than: id->Blob

Second, they need to see that something is worked on (told you I would get back to it). This makes for really weird constructions. A good software design starts at the O.S. level, builds up from that and since most of the work is (hopefully) done ???underwater??? it would stand to reason that you would build solid foundations, then add the plumbing and finally do the decorating and window-dressing.
Not so with the current ICT managers??? they want you to hang up some curtains quite soon, so you need to add a scaffolding for a window and then kind of build the house around the curtains (after all, as soon as the curtains hang, you need to spend an inordinate amount of time hanging them ???just right???, because the ???customer??? can not wait until you are done with the rest of the house).
This is because they do not understand ICT, but still want to act as if they are ???managing IT???. The only thing they actually manage is to ???not being fired???.

A good software design, whether it is a website, SCADA or communications, has the interface (the curtains, the GUI, the Look ???n Feel) separated from the engine; the thing that makes it work.

That is a requirement managers really should add to every requirement document: if you remove the interface, will it still work. If the answer is along the lines of ???but the AJAX call?????? or ???the widget does??????, go start forming a lynch-mob, because the person giving that answer is just trying to cover up his murder.

Finally (I could add lots more, but this is enough to get the idea across), an ICT manager needs to be proficient in ICT. That is kind of obvious, you might say.
Well, it is obvious that this should be so, but it seldom is.
A lot of ICT policy is rather because some of the engineers, admins, coders take an interest in matters above and beyond the call of duty, rather than an ICT manager becoming interested and making a point out of doing something.

Take for instance my previous entry on SPF, DKIM and DMARC; you will see that mostly the admins understand why this is a good thing and maybe they will implement it. Or an ICT manager read that blog, but then, because he is out of his depth, asks an overworked admin who tells him that is a load of bullcrap, so they won???t implement it. But very seldom will you see an ICT manager understanding the issue at hand, take time to see what the impact is in his company and then start taking appropriate actions.

In my 15+ years that I managed IT-de
partments, both small and quite large, I have made it a point to always manage at least one (usually not too important) server and contribute to the companies codebase once in a while.

Not because I wanted to show off my 1337 m@d skillz, but because I needed to know what the health of my department was, how external items influenced workflow and also to be able to understand my techs (and not to be hoodwinked by nonsense) and make them understand that my decisions came from real knowledge and experience, and not a 2-week management technique course with a shiny certificate at the end.


My take on what is wrong with ICT is that management has lost the skills to manage ICT, obviously with the exception of you, who are reading this article (the fact that you even made it to this disclaimer qualifies you more than you might think).

To remedy that, I would say that ICT managers need to write at least one useful program every 6 months and administrate at least one system (it can be a workstation for all I care, as long as the thinking process involves planning and encountering the issues).

There is even an underlying scientifically proven principle to my method; people need to ???internalize??? experiences to really incorporate them into thought-processes. Otherwise they build up analogies and models inside their head that are nothing but ???cargo cult management???.

It is time to kick out the phlogiston in ICT management and get some real fire going on again.

This article is a guest written article, and was originally posted here.

Image source: AttributionNo Derivative WorksSome rights reserved by Sebastian Fritzon

Filed under: business, programming, risk, technology Tagged: ict, management

Written by Daniël W. Crompton (webhat)

April 17, 2012 at 11:57 am

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