Hiring Lessons from the NFL Draft

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Last night, the 2018 National Football League Draft began.  During this annual event, each team selects the most talented college football players to add to its roster for the coming year. Unfortunately, picking players is incredibly challenging.   Are some teams consistently better than others at selecting players?  Wharton Professor Cade Massey has studied the draft for years, and he finds that talent selection is much like beating the market with regard to financial investing – i.e. it is very difficult to do. He concludes, “Some teams have great years, other teams have bad years – and it matters. But those differences aren’t persistent year-to-year, which tells me that they are chance driven. Something between 95 and 100 percent – I’m not exaggerating – of team differences in the draft is driven by chance.”
What can companies learn about talent selection from the NFL draft? Massey offers a very useful recommenation about enhancing the quality of the draft selection process. His advice has important implications for the hiring process in any company:

NFL teams have dozens of scouts and a complicated method of getting multiple looks at their prospects. Even marginal prospects are seen by more than one scout, and the top guys might be evaluated by a dozen different people. In some teams a scout will know the previous scouts’ opinions before forming his or her own while other teams keep scouts blind to previous evaluations. This is a key difference.
People are impressionable. When they are exposed to other’s opinions before forming their own, they tend to anchor on the existing view. More generally, the “wisdom of the crowd” depends on the independence of the respective opinions within the crowd. Yet that independence is easily compromised, in many ways—anchoring, of course, but also common backgrounds, training, friends, etc. You may think you’re getting 5-6 opinions when effectively you’re getting only 1.5! 
A good hiring process explicitly pushes against these compromising factors: Don’t let people talk to each other or see other’s opinions before providing their own, expose the candidate to judges in different ways and at different points in time, and bring people with different perspectives into the process. More independence is often the biggest improvement an organization can easily make in their hiring process.


Consider your own hiring practices in your organization?  Have you created and maintained independence during the evaluation by multiple interviewers?  If not, you might consider “keeping your judges apart” as Massey suggests.  

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