Why You Should Give Good Evaluations and Recommendations for Friends

Why don’t we give good reviews freely, even though it’s free?

When filling out faculty evaluations, there are some weird biases students have against giving five star ratings. (There are also some sexist biases, too.)

One biases is the central tendency bias. As Steffen Maier writes for Entrepreneur,

Whenever you have a five or three point scale, raters have a tendency to lump the majority of their [scores] in the middle.

This means we’re more likely to give our professors a middling rating – three for “meets expectations” instead of “greatly exceeds expectations.”

It doesn’t cost the student anything to give a “five star”, “exceeds expectations” rating. These evaluations are anonymous, so there’s no way being generous could harm student raters.

This unwillingness to give good ratings hurt good professors. Adjunct faculty – who often work the hardest to teach well – can have their entire careers harmed by poor reviews. (This is kind of like how a four-star rating on Uber or Amazon cost real people their jobs.)

On the other hand, the professors with tenure – who often put the smallest effort into their teaching – don’t care about evaluations at all. Your scores don’t matter for them.

Why don’t we give high ratings? Aside from central tendency bias, we don’t want to be too generous. We think it might hurt us. (My theory is that this goes back to middle school, when we were taught never to care about something too much.)

So we withhold a generous rating and give maybe three or four instead of a five. Instead of being generous, we act in a harmful way instead – even if we don’t realize it’s harmful.

How Review Biases Hurt Job Seekers

Why am I including this information on the site about job preparation?

Someday, someone will ask you for a recommendation. There will be some hesitancy, for some of you, to give a good recommendation.

Is there anything you lose by giving strong recommendations? Are you going to lose trust from this faceless recruiter? No, of course not, because you don’t really have trust with them to lose. You’ll never speak with this recruiter again after giving your friend’s recommendation. There are no stakes to giving a good review.

If a person isn’t qualified for a job, your little recommendation won’t push them into the wrong position. Other stages in hiring are intended to prevent bad hires. Again, there’s no stakes for you.

Be generous and helpful whenever you can. Remember, it all comes around. There’s nothing to lose, and it could genuinely help or hurt a real person.


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