Would You Hire an Executive Who Can’t Do Simple Math?
I got a pitch today from an executive recruitment outfit that wanted me to pay to get listings. (Never mind that I’m not in the market for such a job, or that I’d contact employer-paid executive recruiters if I were.) Out of curiosity, I looked at their rates:
Look at the last three. For 90 days, they want $99, but for 180 days, they want $219! In other words, pay more than twice as much for twice the period. Likewise, the 360-day play is a few bucks more than four 90-day plans.
I jokingly ask sometimes in my classes, How many of you went to law school to study math? (I have yet to see a single hand raised.) Still, a) this is trivial math and b) they’re looking for corporate “execs” (or at least senior folks) for whom basic math must be a core competency.
If you’re running a business or a P&L (profit center or cost center) within a business, you need to understand all sorts of cost and profit tradeoffs — and spot errors quickly.
Errors such as this.
If I were still a hiring manager, I wouldn’t hire an applicant who couldn’t spot this error quickly.
I suppose you could make a case that the 90-day plays are auto-renewing, which means they’ll keep charging you $99 each quarter if you don’t cancel, so that with the 180-day plan you’re paying a premium of $21 to ensure that you don’t get billed for an extra period. Sorry, but I don’t think I’d hire (at this level) anyone who couldn’t figure out how to put a reminder on his or her calendar to cancel the program near the end of the 180-day period. $21 is too much of a premium (relative to $198) to pay for this type of insurance.
To be fair, there are, I’m sure, excellent leaders who lack math skills (though this one is kind of obvious). And they often have business managers (under various titles) who handle complex data for them. Nonetheless, they’ll often be in situations where they need to make quick decisions about matters without the ability to study them fully; they need at least an instinct that something is amiss.
I sat in an ethics session a few weeks ago where the following problem was presented: You are the attorney for one party in a deal. At the break, you realize the other party has made a math mistake that will accrue to your benefit, and they have indicated they are unaware of it (“This deal looks pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?”). Your business partner says, “Don’t say anything about it.” What should you do?
I’ve seen this play out in real life as well.
Ethics aside, contract law aside (do you have a contract if the minds aren’t really meeting?), from a purely business standpoint, your business partner in this example is foolish! Assuming you want to do business in the future with this other party, you’d better correct the mistake now. The goodwill you earn will pay off in the long run.1
A little basic math skill goes a long way.
I’m not talking about calculus or even trigonometry or algebra. The ability to do the four basic functions — add, subtract, multiply, and divide — are all that are needed, and you don’t even need to do it accurately. In the example above, it doesn’t matter what the difference between $99 twice and $219 is ($219 – $198 = $21). All that matters is that you recognize the anomaly, that $219 is the opposite of a bargain. You don’t need to ace all the math courses in the law school to figure that out.