Why Thomas Edison’s Unusual Hiring Practice May Actually Be Genius…

Creative Recruitment | Insight & Opinion | Recruitment Advice

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Thomas Edison, the legendary inventor behind sound recorders, motion picture devices, and of course, the light bulb, is also credited with a lesser-known but unconventional recruitment method that involves a visit to a local restaurant and a bowl of soup. Allow us to explain…

Job interviews are often seen as the primary method for assessing a candidate’s suitability for a vacant position. However, the traditional model of asking questions and relying on references often fails to accurately identify the best candidates for the job. This is where the unconventional hiring technique of famed inventor Thomas Edison comes in.

According to an article on Medium by the historian Andrew Martin, Edison would invite job candidates out for a meal and then order soup for the table. The catch? He wanted to see if the applicants added salt and pepper before tasting the soup or if they waited until they tasted it before seasoning.

While this technique might seem outlandish by modern standards and a far cry from the job interview presentation ideas of today, it does align with research that suggests traditional job interviews are not an effective way of identifying the best candidate for a job. In fact, numerous studies have shown that interviews as they are typically conducted are often biased and fail to accurately assess a candidate’s true abilities.

The Problem with Traditional Job Interviews

One study conducted by the University of Toledo found that interviewers often make decisions based on their first impression of a candidate, with subsequent information being used to justify that initial impression. This can lead to candidates who are confident and charismatic but lack the necessary skills and experience being hired over more qualified candidates.

Another study published in the Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology found that interviewers often ask the wrong questions, focusing on irrelevant information such as personal preferences and hobbies rather than job-related skills and experiences.

These findings highlight the limitations of traditional job interviews and the need for new and innovative ways of assessing candidates’ suitability for a job. One such approach is to use real-world, job-related tasks to evaluate candidates. This might include trial assignments, sample work projects, or domain-specific tests that allow candidates to demonstrate their skills and abilities in a practical setting.

Why Edison Chose Soup to Test Candidates

By assessing a candidate’s ability to solve real problems, hiring managers can gain a better understanding of their true abilities and what they can bring to the job. This approach also helps to level the playing field, ensuring that candidates are evaluated based on their skills and experiences rather than their ability to perform well in a traditional job interview.

The importance of observing candidates in action to truly understand their abilities and potential is a key takeaway from Edison’s soup test. While this particular technique might not be practical in today’s business environment, it does highlight the value of alternative methods of evaluating candidates. The interview techniques employed by Dropbox and Google are modern day alternatives.

Ultimately, the best way to identify the right candidate for a job is by designing a hiring process that goes beyond traditional interviews and allows candidates to demonstrate their skills in a real-world setting. This might include a combination of methods such as behavioral interviews, psychometric testing, and job-related tasks.

What Can We Learn from Edison’s Soup Test?

In conclusion, while Edison’s soup test might seem eccentric by today’s standards, it does highlight the limitations of traditional job interviews and the need for new and innovative ways of assessing candidates’ suitability for a job. By adopting alternative methods of evaluation, hiring managers can gain a better understanding of a candidate’s true abilities and potential, ultimately leading to better hiring decisions and more successful outcomes for both the candidate and the company.