The Psychology of Recruitment

How to Predict Future Job Performance

Will the next hire be a good fit?

  • What are the best predictors of job performance
  • 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.

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;

  • 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)

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).

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

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;

Personality Dimensions

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;

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Past Behaviour

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).

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;

  • .51 for medium-complexity jobs (63% of U.S. jobs)
  • .38 for low-complexity jobs

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.

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.

  • Extraversion was a valid predictor for police occupations
  • Openness and Agreeableness were valid predictors for training proficiency

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.

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.

  • “How have you best benefited your team in the past?”
  • “What ideas have you shared in the past to improve your work environment?


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.

Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash

No method to predict job performance is perfect, so if you find a candidate with a great personality profile, it is worth it to give them a chance to progress to an interview even if they also score high on GCA. That’s why a combination of methods and adjustment to the type of role you’re are recruiting for is recommended.

Psychology of Stuff

Interesting thoughts at the intersection of technology, psychology, and business

Guy Thornbury-Phillips

Written by

Content Writer • Copywriter • Journalist

Psychology of Stuff

Interesting thoughts at the intersection of technology, psychology, and business

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