Interviews Are the 3rd (Really 9th) Best Way to Select People
Update: For now, we have kept the blog below the same, but wanted to share an updated version of the study. A 2016 working paper added another 20 years of more recent study data, as well as reworking the analysis, weighing how effective various methods are in different ways, such as the complexity of the jobs evaluated.
Skilled researchers pored through 85 years of scientific literature to identify which employee selection methods were the best predictors of job performance. 85 years of research, distilled down into one set of findings.So of the 19 methods studied, which ones were the best?
- Structured interviews came in 3rd.
- The far more common unstructured interviews came in a dismal 9th---see: "So You Think You Can Interview?"
- Reference checks came in 13th.
- Years of job experience came in 14th.
- Years of education came in 16th.
So...correct me if I'm wrong here, but that list covers just about all the methods most employers use when making a hiring decision.
OK, so this research goes a long way toward explaining why there are so many hiring mistakes, but I bet it leaves you wondering just what those researchers found to be the best predictors of job performance...
The best predictors of job performance were being smart, (General Mental Ability---such as IQ) and doing well on work sample tests (see: "Talking About Work vs. Doing Work In the Interview.") Actually employers who used a combination of two good methods improved their hiring accuracy even further.
So, in 85 years of research, one finding is crystal clear:
Most traditional methods of selecting employees are terrible at predicting job performance.
But the fun really begins when you evaluate the entire recruiting and hiring cycle in light of these findings:
- You reduce your chances of making a good hiring decision when you emphasize (the nearly irrelevant) years of experience in your job description and employment advertising. That (arbitrarily) limits who you will even consider in your pool of candidates.
- Then, when you dip into that already limited pool of candidates to select people for an interview, you further reduce your chances of making a good hiring decision when you rely on the resumes alone in selecting who to interview. Just what, exactly, can you learn from a resume beyond education and years of work experience? Less than you think, yet surveys show that years of experience is one of the most common factors executives use in evaluating candidates.
- So, before you have even had your first interview, before you have spoken one word to your potential future employee---your entire recruiting process and hiring sequence conspired against you by using two of the least reliable indicators of actual job performance to select who you will speak with. And then of course, most managers compound the error by "winging it" with an unstructured interview. Hey, if that's the combination of hiring methods you are using, maybe you should save the trouble and just rely on handwriting analysis instead (it was ranked 18th).
So what exactly can you do to improve the accuracy of your hiring decisions? Well, I don't know what you can do in your company culture, but I can share the approach we have taken on hundreds of searches for dozens of clients. No, we don't use IQ tests and no we're not perfect, but 90% of our placements are thriving on the job after 18 months. (When you get a lot of repeat business and offer a really long performance guarantee you tend to track these things very carefully).
Our Results-Based Hiring Process® does not emphasize education or job experience during the outreach, recruiting and selection process. We purposefully cast a wide net with telephone interviews to avoid any hint of resume bias---we intentionally want to talk with "out of the box" candidates. After we winnow the candidate pool based on the behaviors and competencies that will actually drive business results, we then provide hiring managers with several useful kinds of structure. We develop targeted behavioral interview questions and detailed candidate evaluation forms for each position. We help our clients manage who should be involved in the interview sequence, and suggest how it should best be structured, and we encourage our clients to integrate rigorous work sample tests into the interview process.
And yes, we still check references---because even if reference checking is only 13th on that list, it still has some correlation to job performance, and I just flat refuse to use handwriting analysis.
Ultimately, very little of what is written in either the job description or the resume helps either party understand each other, or helps to predict who will be successful on the job. In this very first step of the hiring process -- posting a job ad and reviewing resumes -- there is already a frustrating breakdown in communication.
To learn how to write more effective job postings, read How to Write Job Descriptions that Attract Top Performers. Or, if you prefer your research and information to be more attractively formatted, just download the document below.
Disclaimer: This advice is primarily for professional hiring in a large metropolitan area. Our perspective is shaped by our work in a retained executive search firm, conducting searches for CEO and senior staff positions. We've completed over 600 searches for associations and other nonprofits in major metropolitan areas like Washington DC, New York, and Chicago, but not all of our advice will be relevant if you are interviewing for other types of positions in other job markets.