Broken Personnel Selection

As my gazillion readers will be the first to confirm, I am pretty tough on personnel selection systems currently employed by many organizations (3 = a gazillion, right?). My critiques are so consistent that I occasionally wonder if I am employing too negative an approach to these discussions and I also begin to worry that perhaps my own, less than positive, experiences have unfairly influenced my assessment of this business practice.

Thankfully, this latest post from HR Tests suggests I am not alone in my dim view of the most common selection practices. Also, it sets my mind that I have not yet lost my marbles, at least where professional matters are concerned. Here are a few highlights from the article, but I strongly encourage any HR professionals that accidentally wander onto my blog to read the original post.

1)      “Selection is typically terrible with good being the exception”

2)      “Most other employers don’t the skill to differentiate the good from the bad as both look the same when confronted with nearly identical glossy brochures and slick websites” Here the “other employers” refers to smaller organizations and those without the capacity to engage in large-scale validation studies.

3)      “Interviews alone are better than nothing but not much better – candidates are typically better at deceiving the interviewer than the interviewer is at revealing the candidate.”

4)      “The system we have right now can’t even be described as being broken. That implies it once worked or could be fixed. Though ideally we could do good selection, typically, it is next to useless, right up there with graphology, which about a fifth of professional recruiters still use during their selection process.”

5)      “Sales and marketing works, even if the product doesn’t.” referring to the sale of selection services.

6)      “The unstructured job interview has a lot of “truthiness” to it.” Referring to why people still use unstructured interviews. Bonus points to the author for using the term “truthiness.”

Seriously, go read the article. It is a fascinating read, assuming you are at all interested in personnel selection.


~ by George Guajardo on October 12, 2010.

5 Responses to “Broken Personnel Selection”

  1. Frankly, I think that many of the small businesses that do succeed only do so because they were lucky enough to have generally high quality applicants to choose from in the first place. Hiring at random still gives you good hires if almost everyone you could have hired would have done fine anyway.

    • Richard, this is an interesting line of thought. I never really considered how selection works in small businesses. If I were pressed to venture a guess, I suspect the “average” candidate will probably do a decent job. Given that the odds of randomly selecting a candidate near the mean, I think small businesses will likely do ok. Of course, a really bad candidate might have a devastating effect on small businesses. In fact, now that I think about it, it may be the case that many small businesses are ill equipped to handle particularly good candidates, given the disproportional influence owners have on the success of the organization.

      Of course, this is anecdotal and I will be the first to admit my exposure to small businesses is not as diverse as it could be. Does your experience lead you to a different conclusion?

      • I’m afraid I was basing that only on statistical reasoning and a hunch. Small business research is really tricky – the organizational sciences are really primarily targeted at big businesses with thousands of employees, because large samples is where randomness can be modeled effectively.

        But yes, I agree that a particularly good or bad employee has a great deal more potential to affect operations in a small business versus a large one. That’s really what I mean by “luck.” If they get a very good employee, they won’t know how to engage that employee (retain them), but if they get a bad employee, they may derail the whole company. If they get a lot of middling employees, everything will probably be fine – but appropriate management and good selection would have made things so much better.

  2. I appreciate your frustration regarding personnel selection as in most cases is indeed a little better than random chance. Utility analysis indicates that the difference between an average employee and someone at the 85 percentile is worth many tens of thousands of dollars per year. Random chance means you only get the average and only if you are a large organization (i.e., law of large numbers). Small businesses might be stuck with an awful employee who drives them out of business.

    Most frustrating thing is that we could fix all this relatively easily. We have the capacity to build a selection system that could put trillions of dollars more into the economy, reduce unemployment, increase job satisfaction, and even improve immigration (i.e., select immigrants with aptitudes needed). It just needs to be implemented and yet few seem interested in the topic.

    • I agree with you on all points. That it is so unnecessarily is perhaps the biggest shame of all. Most of the time, I/O psychologists are pretty hard on themselves about this. The thinking I hear most often is that it is a failure of outreach on our part and than if only we did more to “get the word out” selection practices would improve. While I agree we could be doing more on that front, I’m not sure we can realistically change the hearts and minds of HR and management people by ourselves. We need to sell ourselves to those groups, both academics and practitioners and make a solid business case for it.

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