Another Half-Baked Hiring Idea

iStock_000007129991XSmallFor some strange reason, Todd Raphael, the ERE Editor, sent me an article on yet another wacko idea pretending to facilitate hiring. He must think I have an axe to grind against wrong-headed hiring ideas. Imagine that! Well done, Todd. This one ranks right down there with handwriting analysis.

The article cites a lady who specializes in what she calls energy profiling. She claims she or one of her licensees can examine your photograph to determine with perfect accuracy (her words) your personality type. Amazing! And to think all those psychologists who worked their way through graduate school, suffered peer-reviewed research, and spent tons of money pursuing advanced degrees for the last 100 years could have just looked at your photograph! Go figure.

I searched, but aside from watching an engaging streaming video taken in front of some very picturesque mountains, I found little proof that she was qualified to produce legitimate hiring tools. Her PR firm did claim she revolutionized the fashion and beauty industries by sharing her simple beauty/fashion assessments with women around the world; helped women align their physical features in perfect harmony with their clothing, jewelry, hair color and style; and provided pioneering insights on weight, sex & intimacy/relationships, depression, self-esteem, parenting, finances, physical health, and spiritual health. Wow. After all that, I guess hiring was the only field left to master.

I don’t know about you, but I like to see a writer have professional certifications or special education that would convince me they actually knew what they were talking about. You know, the same way we would expect a medical correspondent to actually have practiced medicine, a legal expert to graduate from an accredited law school, or an engineer to a have a legitimate engineering degree. But that’s just me.

She presents, as proof of her work, a collection of streaming video segments and personal testimonials from people claiming her system changed their lives for the better. Sorry, folks, this kind of “proof” is nothing more than personal opinion. If you want to know whether something is fact, you have to produce facts to support your opinion. Unbridled enthusiasm unsupported with expert knowledge is a dangerous thing.

I’m sure she is sincere about what she does. No one would make such wild claims unless they were. Unfortunately, using a photograph system to type people and predict job skills is a shining example of pure nonsense.

Let’s list a few facts prepared by the DOL, published in 1978.

As I claimed before, if you want to see an example of a rare event when the government got it right, read through the 1978 Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures.

Clearly Define What You Want to Measure

The Guidelines suggest it’s a good idea to conduct a professional job analysis before starting any hiring project. A professional job analysis includes talking with employees to learn what they do, talking with managers to learn what’s important, and talking with people who know if the job will change in the future. Since these folks cannot be expected to know about testing, the analyst converts their information into measurable competencies and verifies it with a wide range of job content experts.

You know this step has been missed when people in the hiring chain argue among themselves or complain the recruiter keeps sending them the wrong people. A good job analysis reduces job confusion. BTW… I’ve never yet seen a professional analyst break down a job into this lady’s purported energy types. We must have all missed that class.

Article Continues Below

Step Two

Now that we know what to measure, it’s time to hit the books to choose trustworthy measurement tools. In some cases, this will be structured interview questions, pencil and paper tests, job simulations, realistic job previews, case studies, planning exercises, technical knowledge tests, and so forth. The important thing to remember is that any process used to separate qualified from unqualified applicants, even if it is a yardstick, is a test. I cannot repeat this enough: interviews, resume screens, application blanks, and even specialized recruiting sources are tests!

It would be nice to know the tests you used were accurate.

The DOL says you cannot rely on validity claims made by vendors, marketing literature, third party statements, or any other source. These claims probably have nothing to do with your job. Can you use a test developed for bankers to hire your banker? Only if you can show the two jobs are highly similar. That’s a good thing. Why spend tens of thousands of dollars based on false assurances?


Read up on the Guidelines. I’m sure this won’t be the last time someone will naively try to expand market share. But making a hiring decision based on a person’s photograph is not only bad science; it is completely irresponsible behavior

I can just see the future. “Position open for individual with a well developed root chakra, median energy navel chakra, and a mature third-eye chakra. Candidates with an overactive sacral chakra or an undeveloped heart chakra need not apply. Mature crown chakra’s always welcome.”

Does HR need any more trouble with gaining credibility?


19 Comments on “Another Half-Baked Hiring Idea

  1. OK, sorry for the ‘HR hat’ but wouldn’t making conclusions of a candidates ability to do a job based on the way they look get you into a teensy bit of hot water with some folks called LAWYERS? If an employer said that I wasn’t qualified cause my hair is red or my nose is a bit off center (broken twice, funny stories, but I won’t digress here) I’d be filing a claim only to prove how ridiculous people like this are.

    Have we stooped so low to think that this kind of witchcraft is better than using proven methods?

  2. But WW, I was taught that Looks are the most important thing……next you will be trying to convince people that money can’t buy happiness or that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover……is there no end to your rejection of what everyone knows to be true ?

  3. This reminds me of modern-day phrenology. In the 19th century there was a whole profession of people stating they could tell personality from the shape of the skull. Crazy …

  4. She (and her licensees) might be on to something. After reading about her expertise I glanced in the mirror and saw that I looked Confused, with a shade of Incredulous just around the eyes. Perfect mind/face alignment!

  5. Thank you for your article, Dr. Williams. I agree this is hype, but only slightly more “hypey” than these standard assertions:

    1) People who have graduated from good schools with good GPAs perform their jobs better than those who don’t.

    2) It is more effective to have many rounds of interviews and many interviewers when hiring than just a few rounds and interviewers.

    3) It is better to have someone physically present on site to perform most recruiting functions, even the ones that should be eliminated, automated, or outsourced at considerable savings.

    I fear that the hype will continue as long as there are slick hucksters with high-level connections ready to sell the latest recruiting snake oil panacea to desperate and not-yet insolvent recruiters and their superiors who fail to recognize that in most cases they are futilely “rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic”. However, I look forward to the gradual development and implementation of real-world, empirically-based Generally Accepted Recruiting Practices (GARPs) which will send much of this ilk back under the rocks and into the cesspools from which they came…


    Keith Halperin

  6. I didn’t read the original piece on facial assessment so I may not get the full context here but I think we shouldn’t be over critical of new ideas.

    This one sounds out there. And maybe this is just another way to make money. Unfortunately I also see way too much skepticism on things that are none-traditional in our industry.

    Marketers spend billions to understand how people make buying decisions. I’ve read many books were marketers took huge leaps of faith on totally new ways of thinking. If I wrote a piece on mirror neurons as a way to get people to apply–this may seem totally out there. Apple leveraged this very thing to get people to buy iPods. Retailers do it all the time with manikins and even some by hiring overly chiseled employees to wear and sell the product. I read a book a few years back about non-verbal communication. I will see if I can dig up the name and author if anybody is interested. In the book it talked about a lawyer in Texas that was one of the best jury selectors in the world, and guess what, he used facial expression to make the choices. And who doesn’t have a least a bit of interest in the new hit TV show “Lie to Me.”

    Look—I don’t disagree with you, Dr. Williams, on the application of this in recruiting. I think it’s a huge slippery slope to attempt to do something like this. That being said I don’t think we should go completely overboard to think that there will not be more revolutionary forms of assessment in the future. Let’s face it—government is working on strengthening facial recognition programs to ID terrorists. It won’t be long before these are applied to other areas.

    I can see a day where a customer checks out at a retailer store—a camera snaps their picture (opt in by the customer) and the POS tracks their sale. Next time they walk in facial recognition notices—sends a notification to the sales association who walks up and addresses you by name and already has info on your buying preferences. How long before we see this? What about a website that recognizes your return by some sort of facial image or matching sites that utilize this. Sure—something out of the future—but I would never say never.

    I like when people have crazy ideas—it makes me think. I say let’s be discerning about it’s application and practicality without being close minded to think there will never, ever be an application for this. I think it’s a dangerous way to think. We also need not be so block and tackle as an industry—let’s think way out of the box. It’s more fun that way. And who knows—maybe an idea will come out that revolutionizes how we do things.

  7. Another great ‘debunking’ article Wendell. And some very amusing comments (particularly enjoyed Mike Sullivan’s. Keep up the good work educating on scientific selection.

  8. You go Wendell! No one takes apart outrageous claims with the same degree of irony and panache. May I suggest you take a look at “Hire Golden” next? But no challenge there.

    More challenging would be a close look at the new crop of “semantic screening” services now emerging. No one tires of seeking the ‘no effort’ solution. Subject great mountains of resumes to artificial intelligence routines that extract the ‘semantic meaning’ (and not, heaven forbid, the literal matches to specific target text strings) and Voila, we have a measure of the fit between the resume (read candidate) and the position.

    But does that predict job performance any better than rating the appearance of streaming videos? What does the data tell us? Darned if I can tell from the vendors.

  9. Stephen,

    Respectfully, the first line of your post really irks me. How can you defend something you haven’t researched? I took the time to read the article, visit the site (but I stopped before I listened to the video, since I would likely have laughed too hard and disturbed my neighbors) and then reread the article before I commented. Is it really possible to defend an opinion when you haven’t looked at the facts?

  10. Stephanie–I read Dr. Wendell’s article–not the original article he commented on. My point was not to make a judgement on whether the original article was a valid practice or not–my point is around how we, as an industry, think about new ideas. Interestng that a comment “irks” you…isn’t this about depate and open dialogue? Why would you be “irked” because we have a difference in opinion and ways of analyzing information?

  11. Stephen you do seem to be advocating a kind of sophistry where all ideas should be equally evaluated, as long as they are “new”. This runs against the Overton Window and certain slippery slope arguments whereby respecting the idea too much is a bad thing to do in itself.

    I think ideas that are unethical or nonsense on their face (literally in this case) should be discarded quickly, at the risk of losing a good one once in a blue moon. The power to discern nonsense and injustice clearly and quickly should be cultivated, not discouraged.

  12. I haven’t read the article which you speak of and too bad there is not a link to see for ourselves; it sounds to me that the subject you speak of is practicing the art of facial reading which is an ancient practice and would naturally be scoffed at by those anchored into realism. Facial reading is an interesting concept and actually practiced in today’s times by lawyers in the jury selection process. I have, actually, in my possession a “how to” book written by an attorney but as a recruiter I would not rely solely on this practice to select a candidate. Of course I am no expert, however, I can make very light assertions about a person and for example the picture of the gentleman posted here I would say he has a lot of interests and is a deep thinker; probably sensitive and has good intuition.

  13. Holly, you are joking, right? Please tell me you are. I am holding my response just in case that’s meant to be funny.

  14. Anyone who thinks interpreting photographs (or other half-baked hiring ideas) is a good predictor of job skills, should read the following:
    They are the two documents that outline best hiring practices(both external and internal).

    Briefly, they recommend a job be professionally analyzed; every hiring tool be tested for validity and reliability; every hiring tool should be based on a rock-solid theory of job performance; and, adverse impact should be continually monitored..

    So, I have a few questions for the unbelievers..
    1) Which part of these best hiring practices do you disagree with?
    2) Given that thousands of scientists have studied personality for over 100 years without agreeing on a common theory, exactly how does examining a personal photograph actually predict job performance?
    3) How would you feel if you applied for a job and after examining your picture, the recruiter concluded that you were unqualified?

    BTW: Anyone who does not believe in the principles outlined in the two citations above, please send to me your photograph accompanied by a cashier’s check for $100. As soon as the check clears, I will send you a one-page, boilerplate prediction of success as a recruiter. But wait! If you include a non-revocable blank authorization of bank transfer, I promise not to share results with anyone else.

  15. Not to cut off Wendell’s revenue stream, but I took the liberty of analyzing the screen aura of each poster and I can tell you that each of you:

    – Is generally happy but has periods of sadness

    – Thinks of yourself as competent but doubts certain parts of yourself

    – Feels bad about some decisions you’ve made in life, but you’re not going to let that stop you

    – Enjoys being around other people but needs time alone as well

    – Enjoys learning new things

    Don’t mean to be sarcastic, just want to point out that the Barnum (Forer) effect is alive and well.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *