Job hunting? Prepare to have your numbers crunched

A solid résumé. A firm handshake. Those are the real keys to winning a job, right?

Not necessarily, says Ernest Forman, coauthor of "Decision by Objectives: How to Convince Others That You Are Right."

In his book, Dr. Forman lays out a decisionmaking process that combines quantitative and qualitative factors to arrive at the best possible outcome.

"Hiring is very personal and there are many factors involved," Forman says. "Our process helps people organize those factors, evaluate how important they are, and evaluate the alternatives."

The method, called the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP), was developed in the 1970s by Thomas Satay, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Forman came upon it during a sabbatical from teaching management science at George Washington University.

What matters most

According to Forman, AHP works well because it breaks decisionmaking down into parts. Factors involved in the decision - creativity, managerial experience, loyalty, etc. - are agreed upon and ranked in order of importance for a given job. The candidates are matched up against this weighted criteria.

Candidate A may be seen as twice as loyal as B, but B is considered to be three times as creative as A. If loyalty is determined to be more important, AHP would give the job to Candidate A.

"The process can be complicated," Forman says of the program he has used to help such clients as Ford, IBM, and the US Army, "but it helps simplify the hiring overall."

Some of the nearly 5,000 organizations using AHP agree.

"Implementing AHP gave our project teams a greater ability to effectively focus [on] the critical areas we needed to address," says Dzung Le, a truck-reliability specialist at Ford Motor Company. "We were able to quickly determine what factors were most important to us and why."

Keeping the human touch

Though AHP is intended to maintain objectivity in a given decision, Forman says that there is still room for human interaction.

"Hard data is fine," he says, "but even hard data requires an subjective interpretation.

"We do not want the computer to make the decision for us.... There are too many subjective factors involved," Forman says.

Most employment experts seem to agree. "Many companies use assessment tools to narrow the field in order to save their HR departments time and money," says Eric Lochen of Manpower Inc., the staffing giant. "However, I am not willing to say that a computer can solely select a candidate."

Particularly in cases of senior management hiring, in which candidates quite often have to be sold on the job, it takes a delicate human hand to seal the deal.

"Convincing an employed executive to take another job takes the personal approach," says David Morris, head of the executive-placement firm Seedling Group. "And that is what we do."

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