I feel sorry for young people today. Throughout my life, I have done many stupid things. But mostly, they only reside in my flawed memory. Today, young people have to suffer what has long been an unfortunate aspect of being a celebrity: the permanent documentation of every silly idea, poorly chosen word, and thoughtless action you ever managed to make concrete. And it has set up a situation that I’ve been bitching about for years. Employers increasingly look at such things as if they provide any information about how good an employee will be.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about, Unstable Weirdos and Business Success. That article dealt with the fact that most brilliant people are generally a little screwy one way or another. There’s a great quote from Michael Clayton, “Come on, Karen. You didn’t hire this guy because of his low-key regularity. You hired him because he’s a killer and because he’s brilliant and because he’s crazy enough to grind away on a case like this for six years without a break.” Karen, of course, does not understand at all and only responds, “We pay for his time.” And in the end, Karen ends up showing she is not up to the task of her own job. Maybe she could have used a little instability.
The point is that employers want brilliant, creative people who are also just stuffed shirts. But it isn’t just when it comes to the “geniuses.” Businesses generally would rather hire stuffed shirts than effective workers. Another example of this comes from an episode of the TV series Taxi. Elaine becomes the secretary for a man in middle management. He has made it in his corporation because basically no one knows he exists; he never says anything. But he has brilliant ideas for the company. Elaine convinces him to make a proposal to the company. And they fire him. Yes, that is a whimsical take on the problem. But the base dynamic is correct: a useless but unchallenging employee is better than a useful and challenging one.
Three researchers at North Carolina State are pushing back against some of this nonsense. They found, for example, the tactic of looking at Facebook pages doesn’t really tell employers what they think it does. Indications of drug and alcohol use do not make for worse or less conscientious workers. The lead author said, “This means companies are eliminating some conscientious job applicants based on erroneous assumptions regarding what social media behavior tells us about the applicants.”
Of course, it won’t matter. American business approaches workers the way that it approaches any other resource. They want consistency and quality assurance. And that means collecting as much data as possible. The fact that most of the data they collect is useless or worse doesn’t matter. A standard technique in the high tech world is to schedule interviews with a long line of people taking up half a day or more. As an interviewee, it feels like they are trying to break you. And in most cases, I think they do just that. The result is that a lot of perfectly good candidates get weeded out and they are limited to only those candidates who put up well with the unreasonable interview process on that day.
As a result of this, I have found throughout my life that I deal best with immigrant employers who generally don’t care how weird I am, just that I can do the job. Really, if it weren’t for our imperialist military doing the bidding of American business, we would be much further along on our economic death spiral. You may be free in America, but you are most certainly not free in American business. Unless by free you mean the freedom to be like everyone else.
H/T: Matt Yglesias