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Why Recruiters (sometimes) make bad career choices

When trying to estimate the odds of success by flipping a coin or pulling a card out of a deck, the way most people appraise the odds of success is simple; –  you know the set number of possible outcomes and divide this by your chance of success.

However, when it comes to a situation where the odds of success are less visible, most people abandon the above system in place of memory. When asked to predict the chances of success in a job, most people will think back and remember how many people they know or have heard of being successful in that job.  

This abandonment of looking at the odds in favour of memory can be seen in people’s fears. Most people will worry about being killed by terrorism, swine flu or an aeroplane crashing more than they worry about being killed by a swimming pool. But the swimming pool is far more likely to kill you than the combination of the other three.

It works the other way too. The odds of winning the lottery are infinitesimally small, but people still play because we see a lot of winners in the media. If everybody who lost last weekend’s lottery were to be interviewed for 30 seconds it would take your undivided attention for the next 9.5 years to watch it. If at the end of that you were to be asked if you wanted a lottery ticket, you’d be likely to say ‘no thank you’.

The point is this; things that come more slowly to the mind aren’t necessarily less probable. Recruiters who have worked in an environment that is heavily KPI orientated, unsuccessful or unrewarded will often believe that this is the likely outcome of working as a recruitment consultant for any other business, because they are estimating the odds of success based on a comparison to memory and not to the likelihood of success in the industry or in other businesses.