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TheStreet Open House

Why You Lost That Job to an Idiot

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Losing a job opportunity is tough enough, but losing a job to a less-qualified candidate is really pouring salt on the wound.

Employers are really turning the screws on you by using bad information and lousy due diligence practices that lead to job offers for unqualified candidates.

"We would like to believe that the people who are making judgments that affect our lives -- where we get hired or what school we are admitted to -- have the wisdom to understand who we are, what we are capable of, what shortcomings aren't our fault," says Don Moore, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "But our research shows people evaluating us have a great deal of trouble considering situational factors or context."

Moore has just completed a thorough look at the poor choices managers make when filling jobs and co-written an academic article on the topic, along with fellow Samuel and Francesco Gino, an associate professor at Harvard Business School. Zachariah S. Sharek, director of strategy and innovation at CivicScience, also contributed.

In the report, Moore cites two mythical job applicants -- John and Dave, who are applying for the same senior management post at Los Angeles International Airport. Both have comparable experience, with John working at an airport in Oakland, Calif., and Dave at San Francisco's.

But the decision-makers at LAX are using faulty logistics in picking their candidate. Moore notes that a crucial factor in the hiring decision process is the number of on-time flight departures under John and Dave's supervision, giving equal weight to the candidates' records.

"SFO is considered to be the more difficult airport to land planes, in part because it has more overcast days and only two of four runways in use," Moore says. "Therefore SFO rates lower in on-time departures, and John from OAK gets the job."

Then there's the issue of graduate school experience. Moore says John and Dave have roughly equal grad school qualifications, but John comes out of a school that reportedly has easier grading systems than Dave does. That affects the hiring decision and leaves Dave out of luck, primarily because his graduate school deployed more stringent GPA-calculation strategies.

"Our results suggested that alumni from institutions with lenient grading had a leg up in admission to grad school, and the reason for that is the admissions decision-makers mistakenly attributed their high grades to high abilities," Moore says.

Employers say they want to leverage situational differences when vetting job candidates, but given the opportunity to do so, they blow it off, Moore says. He calls that a "systematic bias" that often jettisons better candidates.

What can employers do to change that equation? Moore advises asking deeper and better questions among a diversified information pool.

"If you are a hiring manager, ask for more information about other people in the applicant's department and how the person you are considering is better or worse than others in the same situation," Moore says. "If you are an admissions director, ask for class rank."

Job candidates have to step up, too -- they need to "offer more information about their performance," Moore says.

Losing a job to an inferior candidate hurts everyone: the firm, the losing candidate and, yes, the actual job winner, who may be unqualified for the job and eventually shown the door.

And it's up to hiring managers and job-seekers to put a stop to it.

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