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Rubrics and Hiring

This is going to be brief and somewhat non-technical.  I want to take a little time to talk about hiring.  There comes a time in every company where it is necessary to hire on help and you need to go beyond your immediate circle of friends/peers/cronies.

At this point, the people who are coming to you in the form of a resume and a cover letter are strangers whose references, if they have any, are also coming from strangers.  References are funny as well, because of the inherent conflict of interest present.  I'm not sure how much I trust references except as a litmus test that other filters are working well.

When looking over resumes, the first thing I do is have a mental note of what skills an ideal candidate needs and what experience as well.  I do not consider the two to be the same nor do I think they are fully orthogonal.  Given that, a stack of resumes can be rank ordered.  If I'm faced with a really big stack, I build a formal rubric.

Rubrics are tools most often used in the classroom.  I used to work as a teacher (a fascinating interlude between technical jobs) and went in pretty much blind to the mechanics.  I found that I was writing challenging tests that really pushed my students to show me not just what they've memorized, but how to apply it and synthesize new things.  This is great, but it also makes tests or assignments that are can be hard to grade.  If a test takes 10 minutes to grade and you have 60 tests, that tells you how late you're staying up that night.  When you create a rubric, it makes it possible to cut down the time needed to grade and to make your grading far more fair.  In the ideal world, students get the rubric when they get the assignment, letting them focus their attention on what is important.

We learn from experience, and the value of having a solid rubric makes the process of filtering resumes way easier.   We are in the process of building a student internship program and when I was faced with a stack of a couple hundred resumes, I had that same sinking feeling when I had a big stack of papers.  With the rubric, it takes between 30 seconds to 2 minutes to sort a resume.

Now we have interviews coming up with the top grades in the resumes.  We have roughly 30 minutes per interview.  Now, when I interview a single person for a job as part of a larger part, I have a few questions for which the answer may take up to 30 minutes.  I can't afford that within these constraints, so what do I do?  I make a set of questions and a rubric and estimate how long it will take to ask and answer the questions, allowing enough time for the interview process to still be human.  After all, the candidate isn't the only salesperson at the table--you're selling your company.

What makes a good rubric?
  1. Fair - the grading should favor those who deserve to succeed
  2. Concise - the rubric should be brief and it should be portable to any other grader without needing a lot of specialized knowledge
  3. Applicable/Accurate - the rubric should measure something that's important.  If I give a test on quantum mechanics, I should probably not measure handwriting.

Hey - check it out, I just made a meta-rubric (a rubric for grading rubrics)!
Published Tuesday, March 07, 2006 10:37 PM by Steve Hawley


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