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Are we better at choosing spouses or employees?
June 9, 2015 8:00:00 PM EDT   By Mike Russiello
Image of a sign portraying a difficult decision for either hiring or marriage

There are about 55 million new hires(1) and 2 million new marriages(2) every year in the United States. Some succeed, others fail.

What is the success rate for each?

A review of available statistics reveals that somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of all hiring decisions can be classified as poor choices by either the employer or the employee.(3) Similarly, web-available studies show that about 40 percent of US first marriages, and 60 percent of US second marriages end in divorce.(4)

The two success (or failure) rates aren't too different from one another. This seems to indicate we're about as good at picking an employee as we are at selecting a spouse.

Of course, the two aren't exactly the same. Marriages tend to last longer than jobs. The average divorce happens after 8 years of marriage.(4) By comparison, about 46% of new hires leave their job within only one year.(3)  Still, success is success, and a marriage that ends in 8 years is no more a success than a new hire who leaves within a year.

Why is the success rate for both so low?

With broad-brush statistics like what I've quoted above, you can't be sure about the underlying causes. But we can always speculate a bit, and that can be fun.

We've all made mistakes selecting romantic partners. OK, well ... at least many of us have made a few mistakes. Perhaps we made snap assumptions about the other person based on a limited number of observations and other information. We quickly build high expectations, only to learn over time (sometimes but not always, of course) that our assumptions weren't quite right.

The same can be said of hiring expectations. Most new hires start with high expectations on both sides. But, once again, both sides have made snap judgments based on limited observation, study, or information. Sometimes we are right, and other times … well, you know.

But still, why are the success/failure rates so similar? I started by considering how the vetting processes differ on both sides. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Choosing a spouse usually involves a long observation period - typically a year or more. Choosing an employee should take less than a few weeks.
  2. You may test potential spouses in informal ways (will they pick you up at the airport, will they do the dishes), whereas you can test employee aptitude in structured ways. For instance, you can give them formal assessments that measure their analytical thinking and/or communication skills (which is what my company, HR Avatar does).
  3. There are background checks you can conduct on an employee: for instance, you can check references, conduct interviews, conduct background checks, even health checks (if the criteria is related to the job tasks in the case of hiring employees). While highly encouraged for a prospective employee, these checks are suspect if conducted for a potential spouse.

I'm sure there are many other interesting comparisons of these two similar, but different processes, and I hope you'll share some in the comments area of this blog. At the end of the day, there are probably more tools available to hiring managers than would-be romancers. Still, there are lots of things you can do for either decision.

Yet, we seem to repeat the same mistakes with the same frequency. So what's up?

What's the root cause for a poor hire or poor romantic choice?

I know there are many possible theories. However, this is what I think:

The key reason for either hiring or romantic selection decisions failing is that one or both sides doesn't really know what they are looking for. In all cases, it takes time and effort to ascertain what you really want. You can interview a lot of candidates to get a feel for the differences between people. You can study the job or current employees to understand what seems to predetermine success. You can evaluate your "culture" to identify new staff who seem to fit. You can leverage data about the job to make an informed decision. And just as you can conduct a formal job analysis to make a better hire, you can search your soul to try to figure out what kind of person can make you happy as a life partner.

So, if you are facing a hiring decision or a personal relationship decision in the near future, I recommend that you take some time to be sure that both you and the "candidate" have a good understanding of what you're looking for. If you do, you'll have a better sense of the right questions to ask, and the right things to look for. Then, you'll make the right decision, and hopefully you will greatly exceed the odds!

Notes:

(1) http://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.nr0.htm
(2) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/marriage-divorce.htm
(3) http://www.ere.net/2009/10/26/five-ugly-numbers-that-you-cant-ignore-its-time-to-calculate-hiring-failures/
(4) http://www.mckinleyirvin.com/Family-Law-Blog/2012/October/32-Shocking-Divorce-Statistics.aspx

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