The Moral Molecule

Neuroscience and economic behavior

Fit Matters

Three things science shows can improve employee selection. Read More

Team building

The purveyors of Personality systems, like the MBTI, are dead set against using personality in selecting a job candidate. But I agree with you. When you are building a team, you often have one person on the team that is highly productive, but hard to get along with. So you hire someone that you think will sooth their rough edges. Getting someone to "fit" in the team is exactly what you are advocating in your article. In reality, that is how a lot of jobs are filled.

Wow-- this is the scariest thing I've read in a long time.

I mean, for starters you have openly come out in favor of employers delving ever deeper into the private lives of not just their employees, but their family members, too; to assess their "fit" with corporate culture.
You make it sound considerate and benign-- "Will this person and his or her family be happy in the location for which you are hiring? Will partners and children acclimate easily there?"-- but I do not trust those in an actual position to make hiring decisions to make the most considerate and benign choices in a corporate environment.

Older people, the disabled, and minority races are disproportionately among the ranks of the long-term unemployed. And I attribute this problem directly to "hiring for fit".

Of course we are going to like better those who resemble ourselves-- it's human nature to feel more comfortable around the familiar. And so, thanks to the license we've been given by the fit ethos, most people hired are culturally privileged-- white, mail, young, attractive, and able-bodied.

Worse, the fit ethos has the effect of making everything else a worker brings to the table, including hard work, useless. What good is building your skills, or even showing passion for a certain task; if it's all going to be undone by the subjective decision of a hiring manager? It's very demotivating for learning, or taking charge of one's own life. "Flawed System/Flawed Self" illustrates this quite well, detailing the greater psychological damage American job seekers suffer compared to those in other countries:

In a very insidious way, the fit ethos undermines one of Americans' most cherished values-- the value of self-determination. Clearly, we can no longer work at whatever line of work we want, and can no longer succeed at whatever task we choose given enough hard work. The final decision there is increasingly in the hands of HR and hiring managers who purport o know us better than we know ourselves.

I know the fit ethos is coming with good intentions. But knowing human nature and the history of the job market, there is just too much potential for abuse there.

You're killing Jobs Lucy

Lucy, you have no idea how to run a business. It is the employer's responsibility to look out for the rights of the share holders, who are the owners of the company. In fact, that's the law. They have the responsibility to hire the best workers that are the most efficient. And given the limited information they have, they have to make choices. This author is trying to give businesses an advantage in hiring the best workers. There is nothing wrong with that. I don't care what color they are, or how enabled they are. If they are the best, they will get hired. Get over your social responsibility crap. You're killing companies by trying to shame them into hiring by flipping a coin. That is a recipe for disaster, which is already happening to many companies.

Do all the people at your company look and feel the same?


Then, I'm sorry to say, you do not have a meritocracy. You have a workplace selected on who makes you, or the boss, feel the most comfortable and unthreatened.

Creating a homogeneous workforce based on warm and fuzzy feelings you get when applicants are similar to you, is also a recipe for disaster.

Besides, I'm not sure how many skilled workers would like finding out that they were hired-- and thereby given the opportunity to practice and *become* skilled at their jobs in the first place-- because they played the same sport as the CEO. Or enjoyed binge drinking as much as the head of HR. Or were sexually attractive to the boss (which is increasingly being rationalized as good for bringing in customers and raising workplace morale).

Yes, it got them a foot in the door. But think about how many more skilled workers we could have created if bosses DIDN'T heed the siren call of their subconscious.

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Paul J. Zak is a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA.  His book The Moral Molecule will be published in 2012.


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