Gut Check: How Well Do You Hire?

How Well Do You Hire?Header Image based on correlational data from Hunter & Hunter, 1984

How well do you hire?

What can you measure precisely in a hiring scenario? A gut feeling you have after a face-to-face interview?  Probably not.  You can attribute weighting to questions and rank them, and you could also do that with resumes and application blanks (e.g., bio-data, or the information from an application actually works pretty well in certain cases), but when we talk about “scientific” measurement, we mean precise, consistent measures that hold up to the scrutiny of empirical evidence.

So in the case of making a hiring decision, we now have a solid base (over 100 years) of scientific research methodology that is applied to the world of work in the discipline of I-O Psychology. And depending on what information we can glean from a job’s requirements, we are able to use a wide variety of statistical tools to make predictions about future job performance before even meeting a candidate!


This is all possible due to the work done over the last century in the areas of industrial-organizational psychology, human relations, organizational behavior, psychometrics, and other areas of applied social science research.

Here we have a fundamental assumption that has been the result of scholarly research in these areas:

Personality attributes are relatively stable in people over time, despite training.  And because these differences can be measured somewhat consistently with psychometric instruments, we can accurately tease apart differences between people.

How does this assumption fit into an actual hiring scenario?

A popular analogy is the iceberg. What we see from the candidate, such as their resume or behavioral performance during an interview, is directly under their control. The tip of the iceberg if you will…

The resume is created by them, with highlights of the most impressive experience and accomplishments they “want” you to see. The interview is a performance that can be practiced and is usually highly anticipated, even to the extent of searching interview questions on sites like Glassdoor.  Additionally, this anticipation can actually lead to false negatives in hiring decisions if candidates “psych themselves out”.

But what is REALLY lurking underneath the water? What attributes does your candidate have that aren’t directly observable?

Pre-employment assessments aimed at measuring cognitive ability, personality, integrity, decision-making, attitudinal preferences, and emotional intelligence are a great way to capture additional information about your candidates.

Now you might be asking yourself, what about candidates who try to fake a “good” response?

Positive self-presentation and “faking” (socially desirable responding) are never completely avoidable, however, modern technology coupled with psychometric checks in the instruments limit the ability of candidates to truly game these assessments.

Also, and not to be mistaken as a negative: Candidates who are able to identify “what a question is truly asking” in an assessment and respond accordingly are demonstrating an aspect of social competence – a great measure of emotional intelligence!

Assessment Doesn’t End After a Hiring Decision

Finally, and some might argue MOST importantly, think about how you will evaluate the effectiveness of the assessment program you implement.

It goes back to how you choose an assessment, i.e., what predictors of job performance are you focused on? What metrics are you looking to see change after implementation? The list can be extensive: turnover/retention, manager performance ratings, cost/hire, manager opinion feedback, increased sales/revenue, increased profits, validation studies, employee absenteeism/withdrawal, counterproductive behaviors, training and development, etc.

Data collected from pre-employment assessments are very useful. You can use it to better understand the implicit determinants of job performance, to create standards for selection, for employee training and development, and for succession planning.

Assessment data also allows you to see the ROI of your assessment process. If you’re not seeing some correlation between the scores of your hired employees and job performance, turnover, manager evaluations, or so on – you may not be using the right configuration, or you may need to look at other selection tools embedded within your interviewing process.

Know the Laws Beforehand or Consult a Pro

So here comes some legal info, with a disclaimer that I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice.

It is imperative for those of you who are thinking about or currently using any type of pre-employment testing to observe and understand the applicable laws.

Psychological and Behavioral testing falls under the purview of the EEOC, and they have research psychologists that solely focus on compliance to Title VII.

Title VII:

Permits employment tests as long as they are not “designed, intended or used to discriminate because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”

Title I of ADA:

Prohibits private employers and state and local governments from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities on the basis of their disabilities.

ADEA – Age Discrimination in Employment Act:

Prohibits discrimination based on age (40 and over) with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment. Under the ADEA, covered employers may not select individuals for hiring, promotion, or reductions in force in a way that unlawfully discriminates on the basis of age.

POLL: Are you aware of the 1978 Uniform Guidelines of Employee Selection Procedures?

  1. a) Yes, completely aware
  2. b) I’ve heard of it, but I honestly don’t know what it is
  3. c) I’ve never heard of this before

So, for those of you who are unaware, consulting an I/O Psychologist to assist with your assessments means having a professional who understands (or at least who should understand) the 1978 Guidelines, and how to ensure your organization’s pre-hire assessment process is compliant.  The Uniform Guidelines serve as technical guidance for determining and demonstrating evidence that pre-employment tests are in compliance with EEOC, and deal with aspects of test utility, validity, and adverse impact. 

A “Validity for Dummies” Primer

3 Ways to Show Validity – Content Validity, Criterion-related Validity, and Construct Validity

  1. Content = Panel of Subject Matter Experts evaluate content for level of consensus
  2. Criterion-related = Test scores tied to performance in practical applications
  3. Construct = Similar to criterion-related but tied to related (convergent) or unrelated (discriminant) “phenomena”

Obviously, there are many concerns with the use of assessments when it comes to legal defensibility. This is why assessment professionals must stay current with changes in the field, and have very thorough training in advanced research methods, statistical analysis, and the law…not to mention the theoretical and historical underpinnings of applied psychology!

Having an informed professional to guide your organization through these issues is critical, though, as with most legal issues, ultimate responsibility will lie with the employer.  In other words, if you don’t currently have an I/O on staff and it doesn’t make sense to hire a professional on a full-time basis, the best option may be to seek out assessment vendors and/or experienced consultants.

PsyMetrics Assessments

PsyMetrics provides you with an individualized feedback report of your candidate’s results, including information explaining the psychological and behavioral constructs being assessed, specific characteristics of each candidate’s strengths based on their results, the true amount of candidness in your candidates’ responses (i.e., how much they are responding in a socially desirable manner), as well as follow-up interview questions and management strategies.

PsyMetrics’ assessment library consists of various skills tests, as well as behavioral and cognitive ability assessments that have been validated to predict on-the-job performance. The comprehensive catalog allows employers to mix and match depending on exactly what characteristics they are looking for in their candidates. These assessments have been validated against on-the-job performance and are fully integrated into other Applicant Tracking and HR Information System solutions.

Some Final Thoughts

Here are some great questions to ask during the vetting process… taken directly from the SIOP website:

1.What does the test measure?

2.What research and process was used to develop the test?

3.What experience and/or education do you have that qualifies you to develop and/or sell this test?

4.What evidence do you have related to the reliability of this test?

5.What evidence do you have related to the validity of this test?

6.What evidence do you have that demonstrates the lack of bias or discrimination of your test?

7.What data do you have that will help me interpret test scores in my organization?

So when speaking to vendors, make sure you ask these questions. And more importantly, make sure they have answers!

Knowledgeable and experienced test publishers typically welcome a client’s detailed interest in their product.  Test publishers and vendors also want to provide whatever information is necessary to help an organization make a good decision.

Human Capital “thought leader” and HR guru, Josh Bersin said it best in a 2011 article: “Assessments and I/O Psychology are really like a secret weapon for HR departments.  When well understood and used, assessments can double or triple the quality of hire for high-volume hiring processes.  When used well for leadership and executive roles, assessments can have a huge impact on the hit-rate of leadership development.”

However, when organizations jump into a program without thoughtful planning and consideration for what competencies lead to successful employees, what assessments tools provide objective information about how candidates differ in these competencies, and what criteria they will use to evaluate the program- they are risking legal action being taken, wasting resources for an ineffective and confounding process, and harming their brand by creating an unenjoyable candidate experience.  So, things can go horribly wrong!

And since the market is quite scientific and technical, many companies still do not fully understand how and why to use assessments – so there is still a lot of “snake oil” out there!

For more information, or for a demo of how PsyMetrics assessments work, please feel free to reach out!


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