How to hire that works

Just read a very good blog post from Science careers about some of the limitations of current hiring practices. The author correctly points out that too much emphasis on job applicant’s non-job related skills may lead to unintentional exclusion of highly talented individuals from hiring pool.

I totally agree. First of all, despite the multiple criteria employers use to screen the job candidates, only reliable tests that could measure anything with reasonable objectivity are the actual work accomplishments (in prior job positions) or the actual grades received (if evaluating college graduates). Beyond this, everything is like a toss of a coin.

When the employer starts to focus on the social or behavior characteristic of the applicants at the expense of their job skills, one inevitably ends up with workers who spend a considerable amount of time in learning or improving their “office politics” skills rather than learning or advancing the project’s needs. In general, in my view, the conformity to the preexisting work culture becomes the dominant work culture.

This culture of conformity, however, comes at the cost of the quality. People with the talent for any science field are charismatic by nature. It means that they spend a lot of time in sharpening their science skills. In most cases, they are not as polished in their inter-personal skills as their more social colleagues are. Nature rarely produces people with advanced skills in both categories. A cursory overview of biographies of the famous scientists proves this point easily (just see an upcoming movie about enigma code-breaker Alan Turing). The absolute majority of the famous scientists could be characterized as “difficult” employees in a today’s terminology.

So, how to make the best informed decision regarding a science job applicant? I have the following suggestion: the “hard” skills drive science enterprise forward and the “soft” skills maintain the status quo. So, if an employer has any particular scientific or technological issue to solve or new protocol to develop in order to move forward, then one needs to hire an individual with the best record of using the specific “hard” scientific skills. However, if one needs to just continue with the existing protocols, then preference goes to individuals with the “soft” skills.

posted by David Usharauli

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