The Psychology of Recruitment
How to Predict Future Job Performance
Will the next hire be a good fit?
Recruitment is a two-sided coin, one side of opportunity and the other of risk. Hiring a new member of your team or finding a trusted freelancer can be like flipping the coin. They may be a perfect fit or they may carry risks. Risks including damage, costs, and loss of time can be hard to recover from.
For a startup, the risks can be fatal, while larger companies face increased expectations to find the best talent. You are searching for a perfect fit, someone to inspire the team, to provide new ideas, to stimulate morale and productivity. But if you hire someone that does not connect with your company, you may need to jump some hurdles along the way. Companies that strategise their recruitment process to predict job performance experience better hiring results.
Throughout this paper, I’ll aid you in understanding how to best predict future performance. Here is a brief outline of what’s to come:
- The importance of prediction
- What are the best predictors of job performance
General Cognitive Ability (GCA)
- An analysis of each predictor
- How best to utilise a predictor of job performance
Is It Possible To Predict Future Job Performance?
Unless you are a soothsayer, the answer to this question may seem like a simple ‘no’, but over the years, researchers have been discovering that job performance can be predicted. Imagine a startup with unlimited resources and without time-constraints, they can afford the risk of making a bad hire and using an indefinite amount of probationary periods. However, the ever-changing business landscape is riddled with constraints that professionals must overcome daily.
Recruitment: A Risky Journey
The journey of finding new talent among a saturated market is a risky investment for every company. If you hire someone that does not perform well, you lose money and time, while your company must restart the recruitment.
The impact of a bad hire is more critical in the early days of a business as you are fighting to survive. Throughout this critical phase, making a bad hire could seriously affect your business. An individual who does not fit well can cause damage to team productivity and morale. That is why trying to predict the success of your recruitment strategy is paramount. However, this is easier said than done, which is why researchers have been studying the concept of performance prediction for years.
Research by Schmidt & Hunter (1998) found that for most jobs, General Cognitive Ability (GCA) is the most important predictor of job and training performance, whereas Salgado’s research (1997) on personality traits states “both predictors [Conscientiousness and Emotional Stability] should be included in a comprehensive job performance model”.
However, clearly defining what you value in the people you hire is just as important. Facebook is a great supporter of values to guide the way they work. Their five core values include; Be Bold, Focus on Impact, Move Fast, Be Open & Build Social Value. Defining a set of values allows you to clearly portray your company ethos, which can help to predict whether a new candidate will suit your team.
Google’s recruitment team uses General Cognitive Ability as a cornerstone of their candidate assessment. In the book Work Rules, Laszlo Bock, former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google introduces the idea of ‘predictive power’. Predictive power aims to explain whether the performance of an individual in an interview or specific task will be replicated as actual on-the-job performance.
The following predictors each carry different benefits and can aid you in understanding the predictive power of each future candidate. Yet this highlights the question; what are the best predictors of job performance?
What Are The Best Predictors Of Job Performance?
To better understand the following predictors, the concept of psychometric testing should be introduced. A psychometric test aims to provide measurable, objective data that can provide a better all-round view of your candidate’s suitability. The Global Assessment Barometer asked 2,776 HR, recruitment and talent practitioners from 14 different countries for their input in 2016. To give you an idea, out of the companies that used psychometric testing they found that;
- 81% expected to make reliable and less risky decisions
(67% in 2010)
- 57% believed that testing can predict future performance
(49% in 2010)
- 94% use psychometric testing during the hiring stage
(77% in 2010)
- 63% use them for employee development activities
(43% in 2010)
Michael Page, a provider of worldwide recruitment services, explains that psychometric testing can measure a number of attributes including intelligence, critical reasoning, motivation and personality profile. This type of testing can provide your recruitment strategy with a highly reliable method for selection, especially when your interview process can be fairly subjective and instinct-reliant.
Psychometrics can be divided into different testing methods that represent some of the most reliable predictors of job performance.
General Cognitive Ability (GCA)
“Research in differential psychology has shown that GCA is related to performances and outcomes in so many areas of life — more than any other variable measured in the social sciences — that it would not be possible for job performance to be an exception to the rule that GCA impacts the entire life-space of individuals” — Frank L. Schmidt (2002).
Also known as the ‘g’ factor, General Cognitive Ability (GCA) is essentially the ability to learn. One of the major values of GCA is the acquisition of job knowledge. People higher in GCA acquire more knowledge and acquire it faster. Google’s recruitment team uses General Cognitive Ability as a cornerstone of their candidate assessment.
Originally proposed by the English psychologist Charles Spearman in 1904, his aim was to quantify human intelligence. You recruiter can use cognitive ability tests to provide a quantifiable factor for your candidates. This single unit shows correlations that performance on one type of cognitive task can be compared to a similar performance on other types of cognitive tasks. You can integrate GCA into your company as a valuable predictor of cognitive ability, and you can choose which type of test is most suitable for your line of work.
Cognitive Ability Tests
A cognitive ability test measures different aspects of cognition. This is because the job of a Python Developer requires a different cognitive ability to that of a Sales Manager. Dependant on your company, you will assess new employees using methods that best suit your ethos. The different aspects of cognition are as follows;
Numerical Reasoning — ranging from mental mathematics to complicated critical reasoning
Verbal Reasoning — evaluates the understanding of English language (grammar, vocabulary, comprehension)
Abstract Reasoning — involves incomplete symbols or diagrams with missing items to assess the ability to draw conclusions based on specific information
Logical Reasoning — aimed to assess critical thinking skills through the understanding of complicated texts
The best GCA assessments combine the measurement of different types of reasonings, also known as cognitive ability test batteries. Most tests are similar in content, yet the format can differ. It is worthwhile to understand how each test works before applying one to your recruitment strategy. A specific test battery may be more suited to your job specifications.
General Aptitude Test — most commonly covers verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, and cognitive ability, this test aims to determine innate ability at a number of levels.
Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM) — also used in educational settings, this test aims to measure abstract reasoning through non-verbal means. The test involves multiple choice questions consisting of visual geometric designs with a missing piece.
Criteria Cognitive Aptitude Test (CCAT) — measures problem-solving, skill learning, and critical thinking abilities. This test consists of 50 questions and has a 15-minute time limit.
Many researchers still disbelieve the importance of GCA to predict job performance due to not knowing any plausible explanation. Think about Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection (1838) — he withheld his theory for 8 years due to fear of rejection. The theory of Natural Selection was almost unbelievable for its time, yet we now consider this theory as the backbone of survival.
Since 1990, meta-analytic reviews have shown that personality measures are useful predictors of job performance. If you think about your current team and their varied personalities, each person provides different benefits to your company. Your team can also be an example of the type of people or personalities you would like to hire. This can be explained by focusing on specific personality traits.
The Five-Factor Model of Personality
Researchers originally developed this model to understand and explain a person’s personality through five separate traits. Psychological research of this kind has since been used to benefit the criminal justice system, the education system, and more recently the recruitment system. The following model can help to show what traits of a person’s personality are relevant for job performance. Your recruiter will look for certain behaviours or traits that can benefit your team. The Five-Factor Model of Personality includes;
(self-esteem, self-efficacy, life satisfaction etc.)
(incentive reward sensitivity, positive emotion, happiness etc.)
(intelligence, creativity, broad-mindedness etc.)
(cooperativeness empathy, sympathy etc.)
(dutifulness, orderliness, discipline etc.)
When recruiting you can test for each personality measure in different ways. One method involves specific behavioural questions during an interview, while an alternative method is to use a personality assessment. You ideally want to measure all aspects of the personality to create a candidate profile.
A candidate profile or personality profile provides an evaluation of an individual’s values and traits which can aid in maximising job performance This can not only help in finding the most suitable person to join the team, but can also improve your current team by understanding what tasks are best suited to which people.
One of the most common types of interview questions are those related to how a candidate behaved in the past. This is because past performance is one of the most accurate factors to predict job performance. Past behaviour is also important within a variety of public and private sectors, ranging from education to the legal system. You can best predict job performance by focusing on records of past behaviour rather than relying on first impressions and gut feelings (e.g. volunteering for responsibilities, involved in challenging tasks, past rewards/promotions).
Lou Adler, CEO and founder of the Adler Group, is a great believer that past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance. More than 40 thousand recruiters and hiring managers have attended his workshops over the past 20 years, and his focus on past behaviour has helped to develop a performance-based hiring system for finding exceptional talent.
The Adler Group now prides itself as the originator of performance-based hiring, which includes the use of performance profiles rather than job descriptions. A performance profile describes what the person needs to achieve, rather than what skills are required. This helps to clarify initial expectations and attract the most capable talent. Your recruiter can use a performance-based recruitment strategy to achieve great results.
Even before meeting a candidate face-to-face, it is possible to start assessing them for past performance by carefully analysing their CV. To do so, you should focus on things like;
Growth rate of previous teams
Past behaviour can be more relevant than other things that recruiters usually look for, like qualifications and job titles. Instead, you can create a profile for each candidate that is based on past behaviour. Asking behavioural questions and encouraging candidates to be specific provides the best insight into their past behaviour.
Analysis of General Cognitive Ability
For most jobs, General Cognitive Ability (GCA) is the most important trait determinant of job and training performance. The importance of GCA as a valid predictor of job performance for your recruitment strategy is paramount. The validity of this predictor was tested by Hunter & Hunter (1984) who created a meta-analysis of over 400 studies for supervisor ratings of overall job performance. The results are as follows;
- .57 for high-complexity jobs (about 17% of U.S. jobs)
- .51 for medium-complexity jobs (63% of U.S. jobs)
- .38 for low-complexity jobs
You should consider the relevance of cognitive ability tests based on the complexity of the job, as not all jobs are equally suited to cognitive assessment. Yet the recruitment of medium to high complexity jobs can benefit greatly.
“In my opinion, it would. From many points of view, it would be better if GCA were less important — If specific aptitude theory fit reality, then a larger percentage of people could be high on both predicted and actual job performance” (Frank L. Schmidt, 2002)
Concerns of General Cognitive Ability
The main problem of using GCA as the sole method for predicting future performance is that half of all people are by definition below average in GCA. In this case, the majority of people are then at a disadvantage, which leads to important issues. You would not want to repel or dismiss a talented individual because of a flawed recruitment system, therefore understanding these concerns can create alternative methods to use GCA.
By using GCA assessment as the sole predictor of job performance, you might be inadvertently excluding profiles of your talent pool that could bring more diversity to your organisation. The more commonly excluded profiles include women and ethnic groups. “[Minorities] score lower on average than majority group members”, which invariably leads to lower job selection rates. The adverse impact against certain profiles, in spite of being able to predict job performance, is difficult to avoid. Yet there are ways you can combat these issues.
One of the most important solutions to predict future job performance is combining different predictors. This concept is paramount to achieve the best results because no method is perfect. For example, GCA as a sole method for prediction can create disadvantages, but if you can implement a personality assessment it can help to counter any bias or exclusion.
To successfully integrate GCA into your recruitment process, starting with some controlled trials can help to design the most relevant method for your company. Your recruitment team will then be able to understand the most effective strategies to predict job performance. For example, including valid non-cognitive measures, like abstract reasoning, in the selection process can reduce differences in hiring rates.
Another way you can combat these concerns is the use of “culture-fair” tests of intelligence. Culture-fair tests minimize the emphasis on verbally-based test items, requiring no explicit use of language or reading. Greater emphasis is placed on visuospatial or abstract reasoning and the assumption is that profile exclusion will be eliminated because factors relating to ethnocentric experiences have been removed from the test. A reduction in adverse impact provides your hiring process with an unbiased and fairer strategy whereby you can attract and hire a diverse range of talent.
Analysis of Personality
Personality as a predictor of job performance is generally divided into five personality dimensions. This allows the concept of an individual’s personality to be measured. One of the best options for your company to do so is the use of a reliable personality assessment. A good quality personality assessment combines a variety of personality dimensions. But you will need to define what kind of personality profile best suits your team. No personality profile is better than the other, yet there are profiles more suitable for different teams and roles.
The Five-Factor Model of Personality
Each factor of this model of personality represents a different dimension of an individual’s personality. Some candidates you meet may be higher in Openness, while others may be higher in Extraversion, therefore understanding the relevance of each measure is critical for an efficient recruitment strategy.
Salgado carried out a meta-analysis in 1997 using only European studies which concluded the following;
- Emotional Stability and Conscientiousness were valid predictors of job performance and can generalise their validity across occupations
- Extraversion was a valid predictor for police occupations
- Openness and Agreeableness were valid predictors for training proficiency
The superiority of Conscientiousness and Emotional Stability as the best or most valid predictors of job performance is also replicated in various similar studies. J. Hogan & B. Holland state “The most robust Big Five predictors of subjective performance criteria (e.g., overall job-performance ratings) are Emotional Stability and Conscientiousness”. Candidates who seem calm, self-confident, and resilient (Emotional Stability) or dependable and disciplined (Conscientiousness) will generally be evaluated more positively.
Which Personality Measure Is Most Relevant?
The relevance of each personality measure is dependant on your type of work, company culture, and current team. For example, conscientiousness may be more useful in more routine-driven roles. Therefore this personality trait may not be as useful for more creative roles or thought-provoking tasks. This information is highly beneficial for specific role budgeting and successful hiring decisions. Dependant on your company and the type of work, you can focus on specific dimensions of a candidate’s personality to receive the best predictions.
In comparison to General Cognitive Ability, personality dimensions show minimal group differences. This can provide your selection process with a valid source of information without adverse impact. However, some of the best recruitment strategies come from the combination of both predictors.
“The goal of our interview process is to predict how candidates will perform once they join the team. We achieve that goal by doing what the science says: combining behavioral and situational structured interviews with assessments of cognitive ability, conscientiousness, and leadership” — Laszlo Bock, former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google
Analysis of Past Behaviour
Interestingly, past behaviour is the only predictor whereby the predictor and the criterion are the same. General Cognitive Ability and personality dimensions touch on more psychometric methods of prediction, whereas past behaviour can directly relate to future performance. However, your company will need to be careful when using past behaviour as a predictor.
Behaviour is Not The Same as Performance
Lou Adler, CEO of The Adler Group, makes an interesting point that “past performance doing similar work in a similar situation does predict future performance”. In this case, you will need to consider the past behaviour of each candidate more specifically. If a talented individual has a very positive background in a previous role, this may not correlate to positive future performance. This prediction would be dependant on their previous role(s) and responsibilities. Therefore, behaviour is not the same as performance, and is driven largely by external circumstances.
Whereas GCA and personality dimensions can be easily assessed during the screening stage, the best time to assess for past behaviour is during a face-to-face interview. This method allows you to have a clear vision of the candidates’ reactions to the questions and how they respond to them.
Behavioural or open-ended questions help to elicit certain behaviours that the candidate has exercised in the past. And by creating behavioural questions that are relevant to the way your company functions, you can determine whether that candidate is going to be a good performer.
- “Tell me about a time you had to deal with a stressful situation”
- “How have you best benefited your team in the past?”
- “What ideas have you shared in the past to improve your work environment?
All of the above are examples of good behavioural questions as they stimulate the candidate into being specific about their past behaviour. It can also be beneficial for your recruitment team to ask follow-up probing questions. These types of questions should tap into specific details of the candidates memory, allowing you to find out relevant information about their past behaviour. By doing so, you will encourage the candidate to be more specific, which can also help to filter out the truth from the lies.
Recruiting is a risky business, especially if you are starting out. But you can mitigate the risks by predicting future job performance. There are many ways to do so but these three predictors are recommended: General Cognitive Ability, Personality Dimensions, & Past Behaviour.
Each predictor provides varied benefits, but to achieve the best results, a combination of GCA, Personality, and Past Behaviour is the way to go. None of these methods alone is perfect, yet together they create a reliable recruitment strategy.
General Cognitive Ability is an assessment of intelligence and reasoning. A quality cognitive test includes a variety of different areas (numerical, verbal, abstract, logic) to create a profile for each candidate. Your company should consider the relevance of cognitive ability tests based on the complexity of the job. However, GCA assessment can create inadvertent profile exclusion when used on its own, which is why the combination of different predictors is so important.
To best use a Personality Assessment, recruiters should clearly understand their current team profile. There are no better or worse personalities, but an individual could be better suited for different roles and teams. However, a new hire that does not fit into your team can influence the performance and morale on a wide-scale.
While GCA and Personality can be assessed during the screening stage, it is during a face-to-face interview that you should evaluate a candidate for past behaviour. Using appropriate behavioural questions and analysing their answers and behaviours provides the best insight into their past behaviour.