Biggest Trap In Hiring

By: Robin McKay

There is considerable evidence that psychological profiling improves employee retention and productivity. However, most organisations don't add psychological profiling to their selection or development process because they think it's too expensive, or only suitable for high-level positions.

Aligning a candidate's attitude, personality and mental ability to the job is a must for ANY position - and wouldn't an investment of as little as $45 dollars be worth it to get the right person the first time?

Why are so many hiring managers resistant to psychological profiling and other more objective sources of data? Many times it's a lack of understanding, but in most cases it is because our expectations, preconceptions, and prior beliefs pretty much always influence our interpretation of new information.

Experiments conducted over and over again by social psychologists have shown that we see what we expect to see and conclude what we expect to conclude. In other words, we place heavy reliance on 'mental short cuts'.

Tom Gilovich, a psychologist at Cornell University, writes: "Information that is consistent with our pre-existing beliefs is often accepted at face value, whereas evidence that contradicts them is critically scrutinised and discounted."

So when we see and interview a job applicant who we 'like' and 'feel' they meet a large number of our pre-existing conditions for employment, we have already hired him/her in our minds. This is also why reference checking is discountable; it's usually done as a final thought with negative feedback explained away as manageable or trainable.

Here's a situation I see often - we present a hiring manager with scientific evidence from a psychological test that their 'winning' candidate does NOT clearly possess the innate personality traits and mental ability to be successful in the position. The manager then supports his/her own preconceived ideas by explaining that the test was incorrect or the candidate must have had a bad test day.

When we have a preconceived positive acceptance of the candidate, we tend to find excuses to downplay the test results because we have already made a decision to hire. On the other hand, if the person did not meet our initial pre-existing conditions for employment, we would have an easy time accepting that the psychological test results were accurate.

There are countless examples of how we deceive ourselves in the process of interviewing and screening candidates. We tend to ask leading questions to elicit the responses we want ("You have made presentations to senior management, haven't you?"). We ask referees the same kinds of leading questions.

It's not that we don't examine information critically. In fact, experiments have shown that we look at all the evidence quite carefully, but we subtly massage it to make it support our preconceived ideas or wishes. If evidence seems to be against our desire, we find excuses for why the information is bad, or we lower it in our priorities for making a decision.

We do just the opposite for favourable information. We will find data to validate our choices later on. If a person is successful on the job we will tend to attribute that to our superior selection skills ("I can pick em"), but if the new employee were to fail we will find other reasons for their failure always attributed to the said employee. Actually, we were the ones that failed, not the employee. We simple picked a person who did not 'fit' the job.

Managers and recruiters are experts at the art of "scapegoating" their poor hiring decisions. In fact, what is most interesting is how often someone removed from the hiring process predicts the end result well before it happens because they can see things more clearly and do not suffer preconceptions. Usually these people are our team here at AssessSystems, or a person in the organisation who had little, or no influence over the hiring manager's decision (I can see many HR Managers nodding their heads now!).

The bottom line is that unstructured, one-on-one interviews are very poor tools for selecting people for specific jobs. It is almost impossible to apply objectivity to the interview process, particularly if the interview is totally unstructured. With that in mind, here are three things you can do to make yourself more effective as a hiring manager.

1. The first step to a better solution is awareness. While we cannot prevent our preconceptions from clouding our judgment, we can apply corrective measures. We can develop criteria for jobs that are based on competencies, not on vague personal traits based on gut feel (they have clean shoes so they must be organised!). We can apply the scientific method to the recruiting process, just as we do to most other aspects of manufacturing, production, and research and development. I highly recommend you read the book, How We Know What Isn't So, by Thomas Gilovich. It is easy to read and is an eye-opener on how easily we are duped and misled by seemingly objective evidence as well as our own human nature.

2. We can remind ourselves that superficial and circumstantial evidence may be very wrong. Every court of law has developed elaborate rules of evidence to ensure that they see an accurate and well-rounded view of a situation as possible. Yet even with all of those rules and procedures, innocent people still get convicted.

3. We can use more objective tools, such as psychological testing of personality, attitudes and mental abilities. We can refine and hone these tools until they are excellent at predicting success (we call this benchmarking). Many of our clients have built strong "success profiles" to test incoming applicants against the job role.

Numerous researchers have pointed out the need to gather a variety of data about a candidate. Managers generally settle for a CV and unstructured interview. This combination only measures job knowledge, experience and skill - what a person knows - what they can do. This is observable and trainable.

Who this person is also vitally important, will they do the job? This is driven by the candidate's innate personality, attitudes and mental ability. You cannot get this information from the interview or CV. Many mangers think they can, it's called "gut feel", a dangerous way to make a hiring decision. Psychological profiling is the only scientific way to gain this information.

In most cases managers' hire on what a person knows, but will always terminate (or have problems) on who they are! Even though none of us will ever achieve perfect objectivity, taking a serious look at ways to make your screening and selection as objective and as predictive as possible can at least get you a lot closer to hiring the right person first time.

Human Resources
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