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The Science of Hiring

Science-Based Hiring Assessments Can Help Ensure Productive Appointments
By Clif Boutelle, SIOP Public Relations
Rahm Emanuel has some key appointments to make in his new administration when he becomes Chicago’s mayor in May. Although politics and previous experience will be important, there are other personnel selection considerations that can, and perhaps should, be factored into important hiring decisions.

Industrial-organizational psychologists are the experts at knowing what goes into making effective hiring decisions. In fact, they have developed scientifically proven methods for choosing the best candidates and avoiding the pitfalls of making the wrong choices.
“Effective selection of new employees begins with consistent use of a competency-based assessment process,” said Jay Janovics, director of Optimization Services at SHLPreVisor, a UK-based firm that provides preemployment screening and assessment testing for thousands of organizations throughout the country and world.
“Industrial-organizational psychologists identify the most essential competencies for successful performance—such as “creating and innovating” or “persuading and influencing”—in a given job.  Then, these competencies are measured in a systematic way using methods like personality inventories, skills tests, role plays, and interviews,” said Jankovics, whose office is in Elgin, IL.
Interviews are a key component in the hiring process, says Wendell Williams, founder and managing director of Scientific Selection, an Atlanta-based consulting firm specializing in hiring and interviewing practices.
Although many managers who conduct numerous interviews say they are apt judges of character and abilities, “the truth is that many of them are the weak links in the hiring chain because they do not know how to conduct the kind of interviews that reveal a candidate’s suitability for a specific job,” Williams said.
Too many hiring managers rely on gut instincts to determine if a candidate is right for the job, a practice that has no place in effective recruiting and hiring,” added Williams.
In addition to interviews there are other types of assessments that can be used to determine specific job skills. For example, the ability to effectively motivate employees might be evaluated using a simulation in which someone plays the role of a difficult employee, with trained raters at hand to observe and evaluate the job candidate’s performance.
The primary benefit of effective selection is improved job performance, says Janovics.  “Many organizations have found that systematically selecting salespeople improves sales revenue; that identifying and hiring the highest potential customer service job candidates enhances quality, efficiency, and customer service; that hiring managerial candidates with the most relevant skills and abilities results in more effective leaders,” he added.
David W. Arnold, general counsel at Wonderlic, a nationally known testing and consulting firm in Vernon Hills, said that “testing and assessment bring objectivity to the hiring process.”
One of the consequences of a poor hiring decision is damaged morale as co-workers and subordinates learn that the new hire is not capable of performing the job. So, an ineffective hire at the top has a real impact on the rank and file and can lead to poor relationships that affect the overall performance of the organization.
“At best, hiring mistakes result in poor job performance, turnover, and unfair work burdens on the rest of a team or work group.  At worst, they can lead to catastrophic errors that cost the organization a lot of money, unethical decisions that cost the organization customers or clients, or dangerous behavior that results in negligent hiring lawsuits,” said Janovics.
The negative consequences resulting from a hiring mistake are greater with top-level hires. “In particular, senior-level managers and executives are in a position to wreak tremendous havoc within the organization. Incompetent or unethical behavior at this level can impact hundreds or thousands of employees,” Janovics said.
And just because the candidate has been successful in a previous job doesn’t mean he or she will be successful in another job. A thorough assessment is needed to determine if the person is right for the position, say I-O psychologists.
Perhaps, they say, Mayor Daley’s appointment of Jodi Weis as police superintendent may have turned out differently if he had been hired utilizing a process that included objective assessments. Instead the appointment created a great deal of animosity with the rank and file police officers.
I-O psychologists, through their research and practice, understand workplace behavior and can provide the analyses and information needed to help businesses improve employee performance and make better decisions regarding their human capital.
Although I-O psychologists do most of their work with companies and other organizations, they concede that scientific hiring often is not practiced in the political arena.
The competencies for high-level positions include decision making, strategic thinking, planning and organizing, and leadership. “Unfortunately, there is little indication that these abilities are considered when political appointments are made,” Janovics said. He also points out that using standardized selection processes lessens the opportunity for a personal favorite to be unilaterally appointed.
In sum, there is a great deal of evidence that if companies and organizations go about hiring talent based upon an analysis of the job and assessing the skills and abilities of candidates to perform the job, they greatly increase the chances of hiring productive and competent employees.