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International Practice Forum

Alex Alonso
Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
Mo Wang
University of Florida

 

Offering reliable and valid methods for selecting employees remains a principle contribution made by the I-O profession. The historical thread of our profession has rested squarely on the use of selection instruments to ensure the best person is filling a job (Hunter & Schmidt, 1998). Despite I-O’s myriad contributions in this area, selection-system preferences vary widely from setting to setting. No better example of this exists than when one of the current columnists, Alex Alonso, began working as an organizational development specialist at a large insurance company in North America. While supporting numerous line managers in countless districts across Florida, he came to the realization that, if left to their own devices, managers would use everything from eye color to cognitive ability testing to pick the best candidate for the job. No one made this clearer for him than an agent trying to find the salesperson with the best personality for his opening. This agent’s strategy included using a mood test available on the Internet as part of a marketing poll. Although this type of preference is not common in the domestic setting, it is potentially far more pervasive in other cultures where our profession does not have a standing tradition.

For I-O psychologists working in the North America, personnel selection is a commonly practiced area. However, in other parts of the world, this practice may have just begun to gain popularity among organizations. As such, we are interested in finding out how personnel selection is practiced in countries where traditionally I-O psychology has not had strong presence. Specifically, we are interested in tackling three critical questions:

  • What are the most common methods for personnel selection in other nations?
  • What are the reasons for these preferred methods?
  • What are some strategies I-O practitioners use to further the evidence base in their nations?

Addressing the Questions

We are lucky enough that Eduardo Barros, Felipe Cuadra, and Marcial Ubilla are willing to share with us the current state of personnel selection in Chile. The gap identified by them between evidence-based practices and the dominating personnel selection methods used in Chile seems to apply to a lot of new markets where personnel selection is becoming a popular HR practice, although research evidence from I-O psychology has not been closely tied to such practice. We sincerely hope the content of this column can inspire our international colleagues in terms of dealing with such gaps. In addition, we hope SIOP members who have had experiences in dealing with similar issues join the conversation and contribute to the solution to these issues.

Eduardo Barros is a faculty member of the HR and OB areas at the Business School at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. He is a managing partner of EBM Consulting, based in Santiago, Chile. Eduardo obtained his PhD in I-O psychology from Purdue University and received a bachelor’s degree with a major in organizational psychology from P. Universidad Católica de Chile (Santiago). Eduardo has been teaching, doing research, and consulting in the field of HR and organizational psychology for 16 years. In his consultancy work with EBM, he has worked with some of the major organizations in Chile. He has focused on organizational evaluation processes, including competence management, organizational studies (such as climate), and organizational development. His research interests in HR topics focus on personnel selection and training. In addition, from the organizational behavior side, he has studied the affective processes that influence job performance and, more recently, the individual differences involved in entrepreneurship. 

Felipe Cuadra is an organizational psychologist working as a consultant in Santiago, Chile. In the last 5 years he has worked with a number of Chilean organizations, mainly on projects aimed at the improvement of their HR systems.
Marcial Ubilla G. is a managing partner of EBM Consulting. He received his master’s degree in business economics, University of Asia and the Pacific, Philippines. With 20 years of professional experience, he has worked as an organizational consultant in HR management, strategic planning, commercial strategy design, and program evaluation. From 1994 to 2000, mainly due to his international experience, he served as the director of the Department of Economics at PROCHILE in London and in Manila. In this position, he was responsible for promoting Chilean exports and investments in both markets. He was part of the British Chilean Commerce Board, and he was responsible for the image of Chile in the UK. He also led important technical cooperation projects for the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).

Common Methods for Selection and Reasons for Their Use

Over the last 3 decades, personnel selection in Chile has had a tremendous expansion, and has become a popular destination for many Chilean psychologists. Most medium to large organizations have dedicated teams that deal with recruitment and selection or get support from the many providers that offer these services within the country. The Chilean economy has passed through the recent economic crisis relatively unharmed and has showed sustained growth during the last several years. This context has created a strong demand for qualified employees and for better selection procedures. This pressure, however, has made underlying problems come to the surface. Most of these problems are rooted in the gap between what I-O psychology considers to be evidence-based practices and the dominating methods used in Chile. We will describe data supporting these claims and discuss their implications.
I-O psychology in Chile is a relatively new field, with the first practitioners starting their work the 1970s. However, for at least 3 or 4 decades, most psychologists working in organizations had only clinical training. Only recently, about 15 years ago, some of the major universities in the country started offering master’s programs in I-O. In order to get a job in an HR position or in a consulting firm even today, it is usually enough to have an undergraduate psychology degree. These contexts are central factors in understanding the way personnel selection works Chile.

Barros (2011) conducted a preliminary study that surveyed around 100 Chilean organizations regarding their selection practices and general conceptual approach to personnel selection. The sample was composed of a majority of companies with more than 1,000 employees. The data showed, in congruence with international research, that every organization in the sample used some form of interview. The results also showed a marked emphasis in personality measurement. Figure 1 shows the results for the most frequently used tests in the study.

Regarding the prevalent approach to selection used by the organizations, 65% reported that they use competency models “to a high degree” or more. In fact, most organizations indicated that they assess competencies through interviews; however, they do not structure them systematically. Hough and Dilchert (2010) in a recent review chapter stated, “Personality measurement is almost synonymous with standardized self-report questionnaires” (p. 301); in the Chilean case the last part should be replaced by “projective tests.” None of the personality tests (or technique in the case of graphology) showed in Figure 1 have enough evidence to support their use. This particular scenario is spiced up by the interesting case of the most popular instrument: the Lüscher Color Test. In this test, the respondents must pick their favorite color between a series of paired cards. The pattern of color choice is supposed to predict personality traits. The scarce research, mostly done within the field of clinical psychology, on this test shows that it does not meet any of its promises (Holmes, Buchannan, Dungan, & Reed, 1986; Holmes, Wurtz, Waln, Dungan, & Joseph, 1984). Needless to say, to our knowledge, there is no research showing any sort of validity in work settings. In addition, anecdotal evidence collected by us (e.g., try Google Trends and search “Lüscher”) suggests that this test, along with other popular personality tests in the country (like the Zulliger) are used virtually only in Chile. Interestingly enough, Chilean I-O practitioners seem not to care much!
These strong preferences for personality measures that lack validity evidence and the unawareness of predictors with demonstrated validity, such as cognitive ability tests, are probably just examples of a phenomenon that is already familiar to TIP readers. Ryan and Tippins (2004) did a great job describing the large gap between the evidence available on recruitment and selection and the knowledge actually applied by practitioners. More recently, Highhouse (2008) wrote about the roots of intuition-based decisions in the selection arena. According to these authors, the situation in Chile might reflect a shortage of expertise in the field (i.e., few I-O masters or PhDs) and serious lack of standards for the practice of personnel selection.

Strategies for Change

The popularity of competency models might indicate a change towards the search for the most qualified applicants instead of searching mental pathology that is implied in the type of tests preferred in Chile today. However, so far the application of competency modeling is plagued by subjective measurement and conceptual disagreement. Beyond these technical issues, we are concerned about their undesired consequences; assessment tools seriously lacking validity expose the hiring process to unfair discrimination.

The situation depicted above is not completely gloomy, though. In consulting, we have observed that some organizations are becoming aware of these issues and are demanding higher quality selection practices. We had the opportunity to help many Chilean organizations develop and evaluate evidence-based selection methods, facing initial resistance from both managers and practitioners. However, in the long run, the better results of these methods have been perceived as improvements. The academic experience of one of the authors also indicates that the practitioners pursuing formal training in the area are uncomfortable with the status quo and are open to an evidence-based approach to selection.

The solutions to these issues involve many stakeholders and potentially a different legislation. We believe that our academic and applied work, and that of a few others with a similar perspective, can make meaningful contributions. We are excited to be a part of this movement in Chile and would love to hear from the SIOP members who had experiences in dealing with similar scenarios in the past.

Table 1 provides a summary of best practices highlighted by Eduardo, Felipe, and Marcial. Please use this as a cheat sheet for your own work.

Table 1


Overcoming Reckless Selection Practices From a Chilean Perspective
Build awareness in your potential client and organizational operations base.
Explore the concept of meaningful contributions. The key to adoption is demonstrating utility and return on investment from using evidence-based selection (ROI).
Counteract intuition-based decisions with evidence-based decisions.
Augment rather than dismiss. Building buy-in for validated selection measures should go hand-in-hand with the use of clinically-based assessments.
Evoke multiple perspectives by incorporating numerous stakeholders in any selection system development effort.


See you next time!

We leave you with this parting thought: “When hiring key employees, there are only two qualities to look for: judgment and taste. Almost everything else can be bought by the yard.” These words from John W. Gardner underscore the importance of selecting the right employees, while mocking the potentially arbitrary reasons for selecting employees. Sharing lessons learned from all cultures is the key to improving best practices. Until next time, chau, zaijian, and adios!

WE NEEDYOUR INPUT!

We are calling upon you, the global I-O community, to reach out and give us your thoughts on the next topic: employee engagement strategies. Tell us (a) how engagement is conceptualized in your country and (b) what organizations do in your country to increase employee engagement. Give us your insights from lessons learned in your practice. Please keep your summary under 500 words. Our goal is to compare organizational engagement practices around the world. Please send your contributions to us at mo.wang@warrington.ufl.edu or alexander.alonso@shrm.org. We are always looking for insights from contributors.

References

Barros, E. (2011). Problemas y desafíos de la selección de personas en Chile. Administración y Economía UC, 70, 16–21.
Gardner, J. W. (——). A quote on employee selection and management. Retrieved from http://www.leadershipnow.com/managementquotes.html.
Highhouse, S. (2008). Stubborn reliance on intuition and subjectivity in employee selection. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 1, 333–342.
Holmes, C., Wurtz, P., Waln, R., Dungan, D., & Joseph, C. (1984) Relationship between the Lüscher Color Test and the MMPI. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 40, 126–128.
Holmes. C., Buchannan, D., Dungan, D., & Reed, T. (1986) The Barnum Effect in Lüscher Color Test interpretation. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 42, 133–136.
Hough, L., & Dilchert, S. (2010). Personality: Its measurement and validity for employee selection. In J. L.. Farr and N. T. Tippins (Eds.), Handbook of employee selection (pp. 299–320). New York, NY: Routledge.
Ryan, A. M., & Tippins, N. T. (2004). Attracting and selecting: What psychological research tells us. Human Resource Management, 43, 305–318. doi:10.1002/hrm.20026
Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124(2), 262–274.