Optimal Stopping

Turns out math can help you find a spouse or hire a good employee. I love science!

There was a great scientist named Kepler – look him up if you don’t know who he is. Anyway – he needed a wife, so he set out to do it systematically. He interviewed a lot of women.  The problem is – how do you know when to stop? He didn’t and missed the opportunity to propose to his 2 best candidates as they had moved on by the time he realized they were his best option. 

So, the question is: Is there an optimal stopping point.  And the answer is – yes. According to the author of this article: http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2014/05/15/312537965/how-to-marry-the-right-girl-a-mathematical-solution  This mathematical strategy called optimal stopping is “a way, not to guarantee success, but to maximize the likelihood of satisfaction.”  Mathematicians apparently claim that this strategy works for most “hiring” decisions.

Here’s how it works. Have a list of candidates. Interview the first 36.8% of the candidates. Then, the first candidate after that that is better than the best of that group – hire them.  What this lets you do is see what the average candidate is like by sampling the first 3rd of your candidates. Then, knowing what the average is like, you are now able to recognize good candidates – who are better than average - when you meet them. This will save you the hassle of having to go through all the rest of the candidates and potentially losing your best candidate during the waiting process. Because really, if someone is better than average, they are probably going to get other offers.

I’m happily married, but I do know that one of the reasons I was able to recognize my hubby as a quality person was because I already understood what other guys were like. And again, will this get you the best candidate? Maybe not. But it will get you a better than average candidate and that’s good odds.

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