Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Separate The Wheat From The Chaff (MY Eng #33)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', and 'darkest before dawn', 'empty vessels make the most noise' and 'birds of a feather flock together'.

Imagine an interview panel. Few previous spots up for grabs. Majority of candidates won't make the cut.

We've all been on either side of the divide - the interviewer, and interviewee. The stakes can be as high as job vacancy or university admission. Or something more routine, like a club membership or assignment presentation.

Regardless the occasion, the problem remains the same. Based on what metric are the candidates assessed on? How to differentiate between the good and truly excellent? How are all candidates to be ranked when there are multiple panels with different interviewers? How are the subjective scores between different interviewers evened out to ensure every candidate is fairly assessed against an objective standard?

Selecting the top candidates out of a large pool of people is never an easy task. There's so much of preparation to be done behind the scenes. Sadly, most selection process is poorly done, leaving both sides unhappy. Deserving candidates missed out due to bad luck, undeserving candidates get selected for a position that they're hopelessly unqualified for.

* * *

It's a delicate skill that few possess - being able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Typically, the role of the assessor falls upon senior members of an organization. Those who have been there, done it. Those who have successfully navigated through grueling interviews themselves in the past. Those who have years of experience of managing juniors.

Not so simple. One's perspective may be coloured by one's own personal experiences. Subjective emotions prevail over objective reasons. Everyone is susceptible to bias - cultural, gender, age, and so on.

What's worse is that many experienced seniors are actually out of depth when judging other people's level of competence. Years of experience counts for little when those years are spent on the same repetitive task without any discernible improvement. What matters more is mileage, not age. A good judge always keep an open mind, and holds little pre-conceived notions about people.

* * *

Ultimately, only a truly objective mind is able to tell the difference between a good and great candidate. Unfortunately, lack of objectivity is what leads to poor judgment of character. Ironically, often times, a bad judge thinks himself as a great judge.

So what's the first step in improving our system of interviewing and assessing candidates? Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. By accepting the cold hard truth that many of us are just not cut out as interviewers. The goal of any organisation is therefore to identify and train a select group of assessors.

The rule is simple - don't let people who are not even a good judge of their own abilities to be the judge of others.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Birds Of A Feather Flock Together (MY Eng #32)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place', and 'darkest before dawn' and 'empty vessels make the most noise'.

Ever seen a sparrow chilling out with an eagle? Or a turkey and chicken being BFFs?

Animals are territorial by nature. They rarely inter-breed. Not even talking about prey and predator out in the wild here. Even domesticated cats and dogs don't get along.

Humans, being sentient creatures, are more naturally more social. We keep pets and tend to well-trimmed gardens. Aside from chomping down meat and vegetable, we're generally quite kind to other living creatures on Earth.

That would make us equally nice to each other as well, yes? Right? RIGHT?

* * *

Alas, humans have our own "feathers" as well. We all don't look alike. There's diversity in our species. We come in different shapes, shades, and sizes. And that makes us tending to flock along with those who share our feathers...

Let's not beat around the bush (another idiom!), shall we? The keywords continue to crop up in the news and social media: discrimination, bias, and a host of words that end with "-ism".

Things are better than before in many places in the world, of course. No one is getting burned on the stake for the way they look and sound. No one is shunned from society simply for swearing piety to a certain deity.

But even in modern societies, lingering primal instincts remain. Natural appearances still create a first impression - the colour of our hair, size of our eyes, accent in our voices, fluency in our language.

* * *

We're taught from young not to judge a book by its cover (another idiom!).

Sadly, that's not how the real world works - even among the most enlightened circles. College admission. Student assessment. Job hiring. There's always a margin of irrationality and unfairness at play. True equality is a pipe's dream.

The sky's the limit for humans. We have reached the stars. Yet, we are still picky on who gets to fly along when we take the skies.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Empty Vessels Make The Most Noise (MY Eng #31)

This is part of a running series about English idioms - less about language, more about life itself. Previously, we covered 'missing the woods for the trees', 'the elephant in the room', 'practising what you preach', blowing hot and cold', 'no smoke without fire', 'one swallow does not make a summer', 'apples and oranges', 'cut to the chase', 'leave no stone unturned', 'that's the way the cookie crumbles', 'can't have your cake and eat it too', 'old is gold', 'putting the cart before the horse', 'mountain out of a molehill', 'pot calling the kettle black', 'bite the bullet', 'go the extra mile', 'silence is golden', 'the devil is in the details', 'sink or swim', 'once bitten twice shy', 'don't count your chickens before they hatch', 'don't put all your eggs into one basket', 'chicken and egg', 'walking on eggshells', 'flogging a dead horse', 'better late than never', 'storm in a teacup', 'between a rock and a hard place' and 'darkest before dawn'.

Ever prepared so hard the day before - burning the midnight night oil and being the early bird to catch the worm - only to be outspoken by a loudmouth at the presentation who gets all the applause?

The loudmouth just read from a sheet of paper furiously filled with unintelligible scrawls scribbled at the eleventh hour. He deftly dodged the assessor's questions and repeated the same slick one-liners. He never even batted an eye when caught out with a blatant error that anyone who's spent a good hour of prep would have avoided.

In contrast, you addressed every concern of the assessor with razor-focused precision. Every brave attempt to dive deeper into the analysis draws even harder questions and repelled by the odd assessor (who obviously did as much prep as Mr. Smooth Operator).

Yet, in the end, Mr. Smooth Operator gets the panel of assessor's vote, advance to the next stage of assessment, and you're left packing your bags and homeward bound.

* * *

The experience happens all too often to my students. I can understand their frustration. Their sense of injustice. Why bother even trying when the competition favours people who look and sound in a certain way? Ultimately, the prize goes to the loudest empty vessels of the world...

I can't describe more details, because most of such frank opinions and bitter confessionals have been divulged to me in confidence. But those know me well, will know what I'm talking about. And those who don't, I'm sure you face the same type of experience in your daily life, whatever your vocation is.

It's a universal problem, really. People are superficial. People are too lazy to think straight. People want to be entertained.

Why does society care more for style over substance? How do we keep out of our emotional bias from rational thinking? What can be done to restore justice for the full vessels of the world?

* * *

I don't have a perfect solution. All I can do is play my role as a fair-minded assessor when duty calls. Sometimes, I will speak up nicely to my fellow peers on why, we as role models, need to be more thoughtful when deciding the fates of young apprentices vying for awards and affirmation.

The rot starts from the top. And the top is where a change has to happen.

We need to be able to better filter mindless noise from soulful music. We need to see pass the veil of ignorance and discover the rough diamonds hidden away behind the dirt and grime. We need to reward substance over style.

Until then, the world will always be mired in mediocrity, and all of us will be trapped in a vicious cycle of idiocy. The youths of today is full of promise. So let not the noises of empty vessels drown out their voices of true reason.