What Recruiters Can Learn from Moneyball

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Michael Lewis’ 2003 book, Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, chronicles the true story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team, who, despite being at a serious economic disadvantage, were able to compete with a big market powerhouse like the NY Yankees. Their general manager, Billy Beane, made it work by using an analytical and evidence-based approach.

For most of its history, baseball was considered an unfair game. Without a salary cap to create parity, big market teams dominated the competition because they could hook and sign all of the top talent. They had the big bucks, so they fielded the best teams and won consistently.

Everything changed when Beane realized that baseball insiders (scouts, coaches, and general managers) were using an antiquated and ultimately flawed approach of assessing the best talent and the best teams. Despite having access to new, advanced metrics to benchmark talent, they continued to rely on subjective opinion to gauge player ability.

Moneyball was adapted into a film in 2011. In one powerful scene, GM Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, sits in the Athletics war room with his team of scouts and assistants. He proposes a radical new strategy to sign players that the league thinks are washed up or otherwise deficient in some way. Every scout in the room is shocked by his audacity, but he shuts them all down again and again with one phrase: “He gets on base.”

Beane didn’t rely on conjecture to pick the ideal talent. He didn’t let sentiment cloud his judgement and limit his ability to make the right calls. He signed people who could do their job — who could get on base — and he fielded a team that won 103 games, topping the American League West. Despite only having a third of the money as the Yankees to spend on players, the A’s won just as many games in the regular season.

This same kind of efficient, analytical approach employed by Beane can be just as effective for recruiters in business as in baseball. Historically, companies have had a problem assessing the ability of their new hires. New employees are leaving at a higher rate than ever, often because they simply aren’t suited for the role they’ve been asked to fill.

Like the scouts in Moneyball, recruiters rely too heavily on proxies for performance: the college or university you attended, your GPA or letters of recommendation. The problem is exacerbated by subjective tools such as intuition, and flawed systems such as interviews to assess potential hires. Employees aren’t judged properly, they leave, and companies spend thousands of dollars replacing them and funneling new candidates through an antiquated hiring process.

Jason Dana recently wrote a piece for the New York Times where he stressed that job interviews are essentially useless. He makes the core point that “interviewers typically form strong but unwarranted impressions about interviewees, often revealing more about themselves than the candidates.” Recruiters listen to the way that candidates answer questions, and they draw their own, often false conclusions about what the answer says about the person.

To make matters worse, candidates often misrepresent themselves in interviews. They don’t speak truly about themselves; they say what they need to say to get hired. Recruiters believe they can use intuition to suss out these discrepancies, but it’s a subjective, flawed, and often unsuccessful approach.

Unilever has radically changed its hiring practices by ditching time-consuming and costly strategies like visiting college campuses and subjecting candidates to round after round of interviews. Instead, they use algorithms to sort and recommend the best possible candidates from the pool. Unilever has found that with this process, 80% of the people who make it to the final round get a job offer.

Authess uses the same kind of AI-driven, analytical approach to gauge the best possible hires. Rather than relying on intuition, recruiters can authentically assess whether or not their candidates are right for the job. By pre-screening an applicant’s ability to organize information, solve problems, and communicate effectively on an authentic, real-world task, recruiters can ensure that every candidate they consider is capable of handling the demands of the job.

Authentic assessment is affordable, scalable, and has proven to be a better predictor of ability than the traditional, subjective approach. You don’t need the money of the New York Yankees to find, hire, and keep the people who can get on base.

In that same scene where Billy Beane proposes his new strategy to make the Oakland A’s the best possible team they can be, he is confronted by one of his scouts who just can’t believe that this analytical approach could work. Billy only has this to say to him: “Adapt or die.” We have the advanced metrics and the tools to measure an individual’s skills and abilities. It’s time to adapt or face the consequences of sticking to an old and failing model.

If you’d like to see how Authess helps you field the best possible team, request a demo.