Hiring: False negatives in the bigcorp

I’ve written a couple of times about why I don’t believe in the “No False Positives” view of hiring. Among other reasons,

o I work in an area (doc classification) where we make precision/recall (false-positive vs false negative) tradeoffs all the time, and I know that there is _always_ a tradeoff

o I believe that many of the ways to reduce your risk of hiring someone you shouldn’t have hired will increase the conventionality of your hiring. You’re more likely to miss a great but unusual person.

o Some of the very companies that promulgate the no-false-positives idea have made some pretty stupid hires IMHO 😉

But most importantly,

o Since your positive mistakes (bad hires) stick around, but your negative mistakes (people you should have hired) disappear, it’s much harder to learn from the negative mistakes. So it’s natural to come to believe that only positive mistakes matter.

Unless, of course, you work for a bigcorp like I do ….

Last week I was at a two-day meeting of everyone at my company who is using machine-learning techniques. At one particular presentation, I found myself thinking “This is a really good talk! good stuff…. who is this guy? familiar name … where do I know that name? Oh, right! that’s the guy we passed on three years ago!” This isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened, either.

Depending on how your bigcorp does hiring, it’s possible that some people you reject will find a place elsewhere in the same company, and you can get just a little visibility into how your “rejects” do. When the reject turns out to be a rockstar, it’s worth reminiscing for just a moment about why you passed, and (if you were sure) why you were so sure….

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One Response to Hiring: False negatives in the bigcorp

  1. lisa says:

    well put. great companies foster a diversity of thought. for specialists, i can see how there would be a tendency for precision over recall. however, much can be gained from hiring from outside of one’s comfort zone (someone who was not indoctrinated in the same theories and bay area school as his/her manager).

    i also wonder if there is a hubris/ ‘no false positive hiring policy’ correlation.

    pride goeth before a fall!

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