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', '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.

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