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Have you ever been frustrated by the quality of candidates that your company’s hiring assessments turn up? If so, you’re not alone. In 2016, 40 percent of employers worldwide reported difficulty filling open positions.
Let’s think for a moment about the tools businesses are using to assess potential hires. There’s the resume, a 500-year-old document originally conceived by Leonardo da Vinci. These days, around 50 percent of resumes contain embellishments or falsifications and nearly 80 percent contain misleading information.
Then there’s interviews. The unstructured interview, which has been the most widely used candidate selection process for more than a century, has been discredited as a deeply flawed method, though hiring managers still cling to it.
So maybe it’s time for a change. Not for the sake of bucking tradition or being trendy, but to actually improve assessment processes to find better hires.
Is there a better way? Research suggests there is.
Job Tests: The First Defense Against Bad Hires
If resumes and interviews—the foundation of most hiring methodologies—don’t necessarily offer an accurate view of candidates, particularly when it comes to predicting job performance, what does?
The Harvard Business Review points out that the best solution may be the last thing many managers check off their hiring to-do list. Most companies’ hiring processes often go something like: 1) resume reviews, 2) phone interviews, 3) in-person interviews, 4) testing. But that may be backwards in terms of efficiency: research shows that testing as a first screening mechanism can “efficiently weed out the least-suitable applicants, leaving a smaller, better-qualified pool to undergo the more costly personalized aspects of the process.”
One Harvard Business School study found that employers in the service sector who hired based on job test results ended up with employees who stayed on the job longer; managers who favored more subjective evaluations over the test results ended up with hires who were more likely to quit or be fired.
Skill testing or work sample tests that resemble the tasks candidates would be doing on the job have also been shown to be the best predictor of job performance—even compared to traditionally emphasized qualifications like years of work experience or unstructured interview results—as Laszlo Bock (the Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google) explains in his book Work Rules.
Ernst & Young (EY) recently came to a similar conclusion when its UK office conducted an 18-month study of its candidate screening process. The analysis revealed that, while academic records had no correlation to job performance, pre-employment tests that evaluate applicants’ skills and strengths provided “a robust and reliable indicator of a candidate’s potential to succeed in [a] role.”
As a result, EY changed its hiring standards in 2015, removing the degree requirement for applicants applying for positions at its UK office, and implementing a heavier focus on test results. While academic qualifications will still be considered, they will no longer be a barrier to entry for qualified candidates who don’t have higher education credentials on their resumes.
EY’s Managing Partner for Talent, Maggie Stilwell, explained the decision in a press release about the changes:
“Transforming our recruitment process will open up opportunities for talented individuals regardless of their background and . . . . is intended to create a more even and fair playing field for all candidates, giving every applicant the opportunity to prove their abilities.”
The Problem of Human Error in Hiring
You would think that if anyone had a leg up on effective hiring practices, it would be Google. But the tech giant’s head of people operations, Laszlo Bock, said otherwise in an interview with The New York Times.
He explained how Google had conducted a study of tens of thousands of interviews to compare how interviewers had scored candidates during the hiring process with those same candidates’ eventual job performance and found “zero relationship.” In other words, no one’s particularly effective at judging how good of an employee another person will be.
Another New York Times article on bias in hiring puts it more bluntly: “Humans just aren’t that good at hiring."
Hiring Mistake #1: Relying on Intuition
In a 2008 issue of the Industrial and Organizational Psychology journal, Scott Highhouse, a psychology professor at Bowling Green State University, discussed the problem of HR professionals relying too heavily on their own intuition when making hiring decisions.
His article, titled “Stubborn Reliance on Intuition and Subjectivity in Employee Selection,” cites a survey that gauged HR professionals’ opinions on effective methods for assessing potential hires and reveals an interesting conflict.
The individuals surveyed agreed, by a ratio of more than three to one, that job tests were “an effective way to evaluate a candidate’s suitability and that tests that assess specific traits are effective for hiring employees.”
However, despite that admission, the HR professionals also expressed the belief (by the same majority ratio), that informal interviews were a better way to assess suitability than testing—even though research overwhelmingly shows that testing outperforms unstructured interviews by far as a predictor of job performance.
This tendency to rely on gut feelings gleaned from informal interactions with candidates, Highhouse says, makes managers hesitant to take advantage of more analytical (and reliable) hiring approaches.
He even has a name for it: the “myth of selection expertise.” This is when hiring managers convince themselves that they can become (or already are) skilled at intuitively making personal judgments about a candidate’s likelihood of succeeding in a given role.
Unfortunately, belief in this myth can lead to poor hiring decisions, which we’ll see in the next section.
Hiring Mistake #2: Focusing on Personal Preferences
“Fit” has long been emphasized as an important quality to look for in potential hires. How well do they mesh with our current team members? Do they buy into our company culture? Does their background match with our idea of an ideal candidate?
However, all the hype surrounding finding candidates who are personally a “good fit” may actually be interfering with your ability to find the most qualified people for the job.
A 2015 Harvard Business School study titled “Discretion in Hiring” revealed some enlightening findings about what truly contributes to “fit” (which the study terms “match quality”).
In hiring situations where managers were able to base their decisions on either job test results or personal discretion, the study found that “job testing substantially improves the match quality of hired workers.” On the other hand, when managers gave more weight to their personal feelings about a candidate, overruling the test results, these decisions were strongly correlated with worse hiring outcomes.
Not only did the managers who made more subjective decisions end up with high turnover rates among their hires, but the research suggests that their decisions to override the test results were more likely to be due to bias or poor judgment than superior information.
The researchers behind the study concluded that their “findings suggest that firms could improve both match quality and worker productivity by placing more weight on the recommendations of the job test.”
So rather than relying on managers’ good vibes about a candidate, it seems to be a better bet to balance out interviewers’ opinions with some objective evaluations.
The Danger of First Impressions in Interviewing
It’s said that first impressions are what really count in interviews—that those first few minutes (or even seconds, according to one study) predict how the remainder of the interview will go. The problem is, this “sizing up” period is usually based on qualities that are irrelevant to the candidate’s ability to do the job (such as appearance, handshake, demeanor, speaking voice, etc.).
Once that snap judgment is made, it can determine the whole outcome as interviewers unconsciously look for confirmation of their initial impression rather than trying to make a fair assessment. This is known as confirmation bias.
Hiring Mistake #3: Fixating on Irrelevant Information or Qualities
A 2013 study published in the Judgment and Decision Making journal dug deeper into how interviewers can make flawed judgments. It found that unstructured interviews are plagued by two problems, termed “sense-making” and “dilution.”
Sense-making is the tendency of interviewers to interpret candidates’ answers according to their own preconceived notions about the individual, weaving both relevant and irrelevant information into their own (often false) narrative about the candidate.
The study demonstrated this by having a candidate give interviewers random answers throughout an interview. Afterwards, the interviewers were still confident that they had made an accurate assessment of the candidate—when they had really “made sense” of a series of nonsensical answers.
Dilution happens when valuable information about candidates is diluted by an abundance of other information—and most interviewers do a poor job of sorting the important from the irrelevant.
The Fix: Using Objective Assessments
More businesses are starting to recognize the flaws of traditional hiring methods and supplementing or prefacing the interviewing stage with more objective measures, like skill testing or work samples.
Some companies, particularly those in high-skill industries such as technology and design, are turning to solutions like those offered by GapJumpers. GapJumpers is a software company that creates tests that employers can give candidates for technical positions that resemble what they would be doing on the job.
To reduce the possibility of bias, employers only see the test results at first, with no biographical information or resumes attached. Applicants’ names and resumes are revealed only once a candidate has been selected to move on to an interview.
GapJumper’s founder, Kedar Iyer, developed this system to address a problem he kept running into as an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley: talented programmers and developers were getting passed over for jobs because managers were too focused on cherry-picking candidates from only the most elite schools or who had the most impressive resume details.
The Risk of Focusing on Credentials vs. Ability
Interviews aside, resumes have their own issues when it comes to accurately and fairly evaluating candidates. Resumes are all about who has the best credentials—but do credentials really matter, if potential hires don’t have the skills they’ll need to succeed on the job?
When businesses are competing for the best talent, they can’t afford to overlook any qualified candidates. And as Ernst & Young discovered, there’s more to candidates than how they look on paper. A degree from a top university doesn’t necessarily translate to being an effective employee.
Research supports this conclusion. Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School told The Atlantic, “There is a long literature in psychology showing that job performance and college grades are poorly related. It is remarkable how frequently companies rely on hiring criteria for which there is no evidence of it working.”
What does work, according to Anthony Phillips and other business leaders, is testing applicants’ skills early in the hiring process. Phillips, the CEO of coding bootcamp Hack Reactor, claims he doesn’t look at resumes and instead focuses on gauging candidates’ ability to perform the core tasks of their job:
“We very much challenge the value of credentials in general, and we promote the value of ability. . . . You need to find the thing you actually need people to do, get them to do it, and figure out relatively who’s doing the better job. That’s the person you hire.”
While no hiring assessment category—whether it be interviewing, resumes, or testing—can magically reveal the perfect candidate, research suggests that some methods are more valid for predicting job performance than others.
Like Google and Ernst & Young, you could analyze your business data to find out how effective your own hiring processes are, or try out a “blind” evaluation process for potential hires in GapJumpers style. Even if you’re confident in your hiring capabilities, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look—who knows how your workforce could improve as a result?
Inside Crossover's Hiring Process
Here at Crossover, we’re proud to build teams of the top 1% technical talent for our clients. How do we find only the best of the best talent worldwide? You may have guessed by now—skills testing is an important part of our approach.
We’re strong believers in the value of giving candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. The tests, both technical and written, can be custom-tailored to clients’ requirements to encourage great employer-employee matches. The result? Businesses get teams of highly qualified, thoroughly vetted tech talent that have the skills needed to add value from day one. No more wondering if a candidate’s performance will measure up to their resume or interview results—you’ll already know.
Interested in learning more?