Category Archives: Education

The Information Problem & Interviews (Or, Maybe We Should Just Go Home)

The information problem is a concept taught in introductory economics (and perhaps in other guises in other disciplines). The information problem is the situation in which the parties involved in a transaction do not have equal information.

I have always framed job interviews as an attempted solution to the information problem. Interestingly, most guides to hacking an interview consist of tips on how to best the other party in the transaction – that is, most guides tell us exactly how to answer exactly which questions. If the idea of the interview is to find accurate information for both parties, then guides telling you to “never say you are a perfectionist” are actually just making the whole situation worse.

As a solution to the information problem, the job interview leaves much to be desired. It suffers from a number of serious problems – probably too many for me to list so I will focus on a few that strike me.

If the main goal of an interview is to get to the bottom of the interviewee’s disposition and qualifications and for the interviewee to figure out if they actually want the job, then asking your interviewee canned questions cannot be a particularly good method, can it? We say the interviewers want to learn more about a candidate, and yet they simply present one half of a semi-improvisational script and wait for the interviewee to provide the other half. There is little to induce a candidate to answer the question, “How do you deal with failure?” with anything other than a carefully planned answer based on all the expert advise one can muster, perhaps with a little personality thrown in to make it believable. Essentially, the canned questions (even the infamous Google, “How many ping pong balls can fit on a plane?”) test only one’s knowledge of “acceptable” responses.

The power dynamic in an interview has always seemed wrong to me. Perhaps that is because I am in a perpetual state of I-Have-To-Pay-My-Student-Loans. How can you expect to figure out a candidate when you force them to dress up in clothing that most people rarely wear, put them in a room with people who have virtually nothing on the line (while the candidate on the other hand likely has a fair amount on the line), and play at interrogating them? I am sure you have heard of stories where police garnered confessions from suspects after questionable interrogation techniques only to later discover indisputable evidence that the suspect was innocent. Popular knowledge has that it’s the suspect’s desire to rest or be left alone that results in them telling the police what they want to hear. I cannot help but be reminded of this. Interviews make the interviewee desperate to please – at what cost to the truth?

The power dynamic is related, though perhaps not the same as, one more issue I take with interviews. Do you remember the kids in high school that told you they didn’t do well on standardized test? Maybe they got test anxiety or the form of a standardized test boggled their brain, but you knew without a doubt they were intelligent, capable students? I think the same thing goes for interviews. Not everyone performs well or displays their attributes well at an interview, even if they are the perfect candidate for the job. Like over-weighting of test scores in a college admissions process will result in rejecting many students with tremendous potential, so does over-use and over-emphasis of the job interview result in rejecting potentially great job candidates.

At last we come to my favorite – the “networking” problem. I have had my fair share of interviews in my rather short life. I have rarely seen a candidate get the job who didn’t already have a connection with the hiring managers or interviewers. From networking with alumni to networking with past co-workers and so on, we are unduly impressed by interviewees knowing people we know. Worse, those interviewees have ridiculous advantages – Ms. Doe will be impressed if you mention having read this book or Mr. Xue will be impressed if you mention that you love Malcolm Gladwell. People call this “research,” but I think that is unfair to the word research as it seems to imply anyone can find out that information. Frankly, the fact that we give jobs to people because they know people we like is disheartening at best.

You can tell me it’s all about “fit” if you’d like, but as far as I can tell the job interview is simply a return to the popularity contest that new college students think they are leaving behind in high school. The difference seems to be the level of ease – try to become more popular in high school and one might stand a chance, try to get a foot in the white collar door with a network of blue collar acquaintances and perhaps one should just go home.

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Sentence Challenge of the day (SCOTD): What is missing?

Maybe I’m crazy, but there seems to be something important missing from this sentence. Anyone care to dissect it with me?

However, I do know from traveling to some other states and reviewing their best practices (Florida, Kansas, Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan) through the Successful School Program Initiative to develop systems to integrate not only an effective curriculum to help students achieve at all levels throughout their academic careers, but to engage the parents and community in that endeavor to ensure their success outside of the classroom through innovative programs and sustainable efforts that had measurable outcomes both in and out of the classroom.

Particularly ironic and amusing is the sentence’s origin: part of a conversation on reading and writing education.

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#14 Great Public Schools

I managed to get 13 challenge posts (one is embedded in the Sandy post) in before completely dropping the ball. I worked 51 hours last week. This week I’ve worked two 10 hour days and one 8 so far. I dropped the ball on my challenge because I spend most of my day in front of the glowing computer screen, it’s not exactly my idea of a good way to relax to come home and sit with a computer on my lap.

I was lucky to grow up in Minnesota. Particularly in Bloomington, MN. Bloomington today is quite diverse, although while I was growing up it was probably less so ethnically speaking. I grew up surrounded by people of different religions, political opinions, origins, ethnicity, and so on. I attended public school in a state ranked 2nd in the nation.

It wasn’t until my brother and I moved away from Minnesota for college (he went to Colorado and I went to Pennsylvania) that I realized Minnesota’s public schools, or, more specifically, Bloomington public schools are fantastic. I’m not talking about test scores or anything measurable, just the general sense of education and critical thinking skills you get from people around you. I am very much relying on anecdotal evidence, but then I’m not asking you to extrapolate from this blog post, am I?

I take for granted the fantastic opportunities that were available to me in Bloomington’s schools to learn. I was particularly determined to get the greatest value possible from my public school education, and I certainly got it. I also take for granted the caliber of education offered to every student in Bloomington (not that they all took advantage).

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Law School: If you mislead people, it looks like a good idea.

To anyone who has ever questioned their decision to not attend law school:

I have some suggested reading, particularly if you are a part of the Millennial generation like me. People used to tell me all the time growing up that I should be a lawyer, and I considered law school very briefly. The further I got into economics, though, the more I realized that wouldn’t be the best idea. (If you are in law school, you’ll probably be happier if you stop reading now. Med school students, on the other hand, might wish to continue for the amusement.)

First, there’s this satire of a recent op/ed on law schools. Believe it or not, the satire can be read before the actual piece without much (if any) loss of amusement factor.

Then of course you likely wish to read the original piece.

If you prefer debunking to satire, your options are many. There’s Salon and a site called Above The Law for starters.

I, for one, enjoyed the scathing responses immensely because the original op/ed is indeed full of misleading statements and half-truths. There’s probably a way to defend attending law school, but this is not it.

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