Predicting Success on the Job

Posted by Bob Corlett on October 8, 2014

It’s easy to think of recruiting as a simple transaction with a clear end result -- hire someone. But the hiring process should go much deeper than predictably making good hires. It should also lead to long-term employee productivity and retention -- which can only occur when candidates "fit in" and know what results are expected of them.

So how can the hiring process best predict success on the job?

Candidate Selection

Many recruiting processes are designed to quickly find "ideal resumes," chock-full of the right keywords. Unfortunately, one of the least effective ways to predict long-term performance is by selecting the best looking profiles from a stack of resumes. A great looking resume sometimes hides an ineffective candidate, an unimpressive resume sometimes masks a great candidate, and no resume can forecast performance on the job.

  • Resumes will not tell you if someone is a team player or a credit-grabber.
  • Resumes will not tell you if someone will fit in your culture.
  • Resumes will not tell you if the person learns quickly, handles ambiguity well, or any of the myriad of other factors that go into job performance.

Resumes do not (and more importantly, cannot) demonstrate any cultural fit factors. At best, a resume might indicate that a person has worked in a similar environment to yours. So any recruiting method primarily focused on resumes places far too much emphasis on what resumes do emphasize as points of comparison (i.e. education, years of experience). Unfortunately, these are two of the poorest predictors of success on the job. When you limit yourself to the factors visible on a resume, you are almost certainly overlooking highly qualified and non-traditional candidates.

Suggested improvement:

Cast a wider net that supplements what you can learn from a resume. We recommend having a substantive phone conversation with at least 24 candidates before moving forward into face-to-face interviews -- it complements the information you can find on a resume, and provides some insight into the cultural fit factors that are ultimately better predictors of long-term success.

Interview Process

To successfully fill your organization with top performers (and then retain them), you also need to reduce the risk that any factors other than competence enter into your hiring decision. For example, appearances can be profoundly deceiving. Research shows that people often form a first impression in a tenth of a second -- and then stick to it.

Suggested improvements:

Don’t assume that impressive degrees and credentials translate into top performance on the job. Dig deeper. Reflect on the desired business impact you hope to achieve from hiring someone. Then, when you talk to people, see if they share an interest in achieving that same business impact. It makes interviewing easier, because you can look at the kinds of work they are doing, the kinds of problems they are solving, and you can hear how they think about the work.

Be careful how you judge passion in the interview. Far too many people interview well, but perform poorly on the job. Research shows that candidates who appear to be passionate and charming in the interview (i.e., the extroverts) are often outperformed by their more introverted counterparts once they actually get into the weeds of the job.

Be careful when forming your first impressions. Properly structured telephone interviews allow you to focus on the most important factors of job performance without being distracted by appearances. You are more likely to prioritize substance over style, and form your first impressions based on what a candidate has achieved, not how they look.

Go beyond talking. Talking with candidates in-depth about the problems they like to solve and understanding how they think are good first steps, but talking about work is not the same as doing work. Ultimately, one of the best predictors of how someone will perform on the job is to give them an actual job-related task. Work-sample testing provides hiring managers the ability to observe actual job performance before making a hiring decision. It also gives the candidate a window into what will be expected of them.


These small improvements to your hiring process will help to better predict long-term employee success, and reduce your risk of hiring the wrong person.


Topics: Hiring Managers