Wednesday, November 10, 2010

An Inside Look at Your Skills

Imagine this scenario: You are being interviewed for a job, and after the usual questions about where you see yourself in five years and what your biggest weakness is, you are given a referral slip and told to report to a hospital for an MRI scan of your brain. The results of the scan will determine whether or not you get the job. What’s at issue is not your health; they’re not looking for a tumor or aneurism. Instead, they’re looking at the condition of your brain in order to decide whether you have the abilities and temperament to do the job.

This may seem bizarre, but it appears to be the logical consequence of some recent research. One study (PDF), by a team at the University of California, Irvine, found significant correlations between the shape of the gray matter in people’s brains and the scores those same people received on a battery of tests that are sometimes used in vocational guidance to measure work-related competencies. (The test battery was developed by the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation.) Another team of researchers, at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, used brain scans to identify people’s tendencies toward career-damaging psychological states. One of these researchers predicted that brain scans will become routine in job interviews within five years.

I’m very skeptical about such claims. The research of both teams was able to predict only a small number of factors related to work. Human beings are more than the sum of our parts, especially in social situations such as work. It’s unlikely that in our lifetimes brain scans will be able to predict how a person will perform in the detailed aspects of an actual work environment.

On the other hand, it’s only fair to note that the traditional job interview also does not have a very good track record. What does the interviewer really learn by asking you what kind of car you consider yourself to be? (An article in Psychology Today demolishes this and other wacky interview questions.)

In fairness, I should add that bad interviewing is a two-way street. Most job-seekers probably concentrate excessively on responding to the interviewer’s questions and thus forget to ask important questions that would get at the suitability of the job. Why not ask where the interviewer sees the company in five years? CareerBuilder has several suggestions for questions such as this.

Who knows, maybe in Holland they really will be scanning job recruits’ brains five years from now. In Europe, handwriting analysis is already widely used in hiring decisions.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps someday we'll see a book titled Best Jobs for Your Brain.