Apollo 11: Rocket Science and the Future of Hiring

We are approaching the 40th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission in which the world witnessed the first human to walk on the moon. This event was an historic moment for mankind and one that will live on as one of the most triumphant moments for the human race.

I was recently reading an article in which many of the members of the mission control team were interviewed about the mission and the various roles and tasks they performed. One of the most interesting things was a discussion about the fact that almost all of the mission control team members were very young.

The mission required extensive use of computers and the ability to use computers to do things that had never been done before. Computer science was such a young field, and the moon mission so unique, that there were no persons with any experience doing what needed to be done. In order to accomplish the mission, NASA hired a group of people who had the ability required to work with computers and experience working with computers, no matter what the application. The article did not say what methods were used to determine how hiring decisions were made, but clearly a non-traditional approach was required. We all know the result of the decisions NASA made and we all know that the combination of workers, equipment, and planning resulted in a resounding success — the kind of win any corporation would be proud of!

Even though the Apollo 11 mission happened 40 years ago, it’s ripe with lessons for those of us in the hiring profession. This is especially true when it comes to creating strategies to use assessment in the future of the hiring and the workforce. My thoughts:

  • As has always been the case, the bottom line is that understanding the traits valued for getting the job done and including the scientifically based assessments required to measure them in your hiring process will help ensure you achieve successful performance of your mission.
  • Creating the future may often require taking a leap of faith in someone’s abilities to make a contribution. Testing can help make this leap easier by helping to identify those individuals who possess the raw abilities and characteristics required. A caveat here is that — as with any employment testing situation — time must be taken to identify abilities and characteristics critical to desired outcomes as a first step in the development of the testing program.
  • Training and experience are an excellent way to help mold the raw material that brought to the table. When seeking to do something that has not yet been done using new technologies, training is essential, as is the ability for hands-on learning in which team members can educate one another.
  • Ideas are and will continue to be the currency required for successful progress. Identifying applicants who are creative and possess the proper thinking styles will become increasingly important.
  • Bringing together persons with backgrounds in different areas and asking them to function together as a team will be essential to success. New innovations and progress are increasingly requiring input from those with vastly different backgrounds.
  • Given the above point, it seems logical that an increasing amount of attention be paid to ensuring a harmonious cultural fit between the members of the team. It is often mismatches in work styles and values that cause problems within a team dynamic. There are an increasing number of applications which allow organizations to measure, model, and optimize fit when creating and aligning work teams.

Technology is continuing to make the above points easier for those folks with out a background in testing and assessment. As with almost every other area in our lives, technology is radically changing the landscape. When is the last time you sent a fax? Could you be as efficient without email? We are entering an age of unprecedented accelerated technological advancement. The time horizon for quantum leaps in technology has been shortened to milliseconds when one considers the grand scheme of things. The computing power and things needed to put a man on the moon 40 years ago can probably be duplicated by several laptops now.

Article Continues Below

The things we are going to see in our lifetime are going to blow our minds. This statement will be true for those of us in the general business of hiring, and those of us who specifically concentrate on assessment. Virtual simulations of entire jobs, human interactions, and interactions between humans and machines are going to be the future of hiring. I have just started to see some of the first steps in this direction. What I have seen and learned so far is that it is going to require a diverse set of perspectives to create the hiring tools of the future. Folks in the testing and recruitment industries are going to need to team up with persons in other, seemingly unrelated industries in order to make it happen.

I am currently working on putting together a consortium that represents key stakeholders from the assessment and gaming industries as well as persons from other areas yet to be defined. I am just at the concepting stages at this point, so I encourage interested parties to post here if you want to talk about this idea.

Dr. Charles Handler is a thought leader, analyst, and practitioner in the talent assessment and human capital space. Throughout his career Dr. Handler has specialized in developing effective, legally defensible employee selection systems. 

Since 2001 Dr. Handler has served as the president and founder of Rocket-Hire, a vendor neutral consultancy dedicated to creating and driving innovation in talent assessment.  Dr. Handler has helped companies such as Intuit, Wells Fargo, KPMG, Scotia Bank, Hilton Worldwide, and Humana to design, implement, and measure impactful employee selection processes.

Through his prolific writing for media outlets such as ERE.net, his work as a pre-hire assessment analyst for Bersin by Deloitte, and worldwide public speaking, Dr. Handler is a highly visible futurist and evangelist for the talent assessment space. Throughout his career, Dr. Handler has been on the forefront of innovation in the talent assessment space, applying his sound foundation in psychometrics to helping drive innovation in assessments through the use of gaming, social media, big data, and other advanced technologies.

Dr. Handler holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Louisiana State University.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/drcharleshandler






8 Comments on “Apollo 11: Rocket Science and the Future of Hiring

  1. Nice analogy; we are indeed at the start of something great in the field of assessment. My only concern is that as technology brings us new ideas and tools to use, we will eagerly embrace them without considering the time tested principles of good assessment: job analysis, validation, and defensibility. Here’s to hoping that the two fields can grow together, and the result will be better, faster hires!

  2. I read this article a couple times thinking that perhaps my first impression was off. Perhaps I should simply delete the email that hit my inbox and move on. Then again, the article was marketed and emailed to me, so upon deliberation, I would be remiss to not comment whatsoever.

    To compare our very first manned mission to land on the moon to employee assessment technology borders on comic absurdity. I understand the reference to the evolution of computers and science, but comparing employee assessments to landing on the moon?

    I’m an Executive Recruiter, but I’m not comparing making a successful hire to a lunar mission. I do admit feeling like Neil Armstrong sometimes, though 🙂 (“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”)

    Ultimately, you can’t teach machines human intuition. Sure, you can program in logic and teach a machine to learn . . . but you can’t replace the human component.

    At the end of the day, employee assessments are nothing more than a small piece of the deliberation process. Why? Because it’s the hiring authority that holds ultimate responsibility for the performance of the hire, and that’s how it should be. Show me someone who blames a bad hire on an employee assessment (“The machine told me to do it”), and I’ll show you someone who is on their way out the door.

    Let’s come back to Earth – it’s more fun down here 🙂

  3. Hey Charles,
    Great article, and I’d love to be a part of the consortium. I have a feeling we have a lot more to learn from the game developers than they do from us, e.g. we need to figure out how to score these things based on job-related KSAOs rather than body count 😉 SIGGRAPH 2009 would be an interesting place to start/meet (and it is in your backyard this year), or we could get something going virtually. Like the great Apollo 11 team, some sort of project-focused aspect of this would help us explore real possibilities.
    Mike Fetzer

  4. Greetings Charles,
    Sorry I missed you at SIOP this year. I was in and out fairly quickly. I have previously suggested that the online gaming player data already could be scored for short term memory, which McDaniels has shown is a strong correlate of GMA (and thus job performance) but causes 50% of the adverse impact of traditional GMA measures. I am interested, so keep me informed.
    Tom Janz

  5. The Gaming industry would be a terrific place to go for all types of reasons – not to mention that assessments that use game like technologies and GUI’s would be very compelling indeed to a large segment of the 85 million strong Net Generation that are begining to dominate the work force. We have been thinking up ideas for game type online assessment and learning programs for the last several months – and you have inspired us Charles to see if we can incorporate them somehow in the Clean Journey – thanks!

  6. Being involved in both recruiting and consulting for staffing companies and start-ups in the HR space it is becoming more obvious to me that assessments are growing in importance in the hiring process. There are many innovative applications out there that if employed properly arm a recruiter with a much deeper understanding of the true attributes of a candidate in both skill and behavioral areas. I think the Appollo analogy may be a bit lofty but it will change the way we screen, evaluate and present candidates. Your article is certainly timely and I would be very interested in participating in any discussion group on the topic.

  7. I think the Apollo program is a great historic lens- it may turn out to be the moment of zenith for the United States, because the conditions that led up to it are (hopefully) unlikely to be repeated; cold wars against global enemies following the worldwide destruction of a giant real war.

    We are a pale shadow of ourselves these days, now having to go back to Apollo technology because we dont have the means to do a new shuttle system or the wisdom to know that manned spaceflight beyond orbit is probably a big waste of money.

    I also think that understanding the business of spaceflight is a good thing because it involves smart people doing difficult things with high stakes. Even so, mistakes happen (like putting orbiter down the stack rather that at the top, costing two missions so far) and things change (rocket engines are far cheaper now, so an orbiter itself could be far lighter and cheaper if designed today) just like they do for everyone in business.

    As far as assessment goes, one word: simulation. Apollo could not have worked without extensive simulations of everything from the vehicles and their dynamics to underwater practice with wrenches and shovels.

  8. Charles,
    Sorry we missed you in New Orleans this year – Restaurant August was excellent just as you said. I’d be interested in participating in the consortium you’re considering. Keep us in the loop.
    Mike Hudy
    Shaker Consulting Group

Leave a Comment

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