You’re only as good as the people you hire.
— Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonalds
What happens when the people you hire do not work out? A billion-dollar industry has grown up around helping organizations to find the right job applicant. Unfortunately, much of this industry is based on flawed assumptions, “gut instinct,” and pseudoscience.
Recently, my colleagues and I surveyed 453 human resource practitioners across Canada and the United States to learn about their hiring practices, and what they know about evidence-based hiring practices. There is over a century’s worth of academic research exploring how to find the best person for the job; however, the information is useful only if employers are aware of it and correctly apply it to their hiring practices.
In both countries, we found interviews, résumés, and reference checks were the most common tools used to decide who to hire. It is almost hard to imagine being hired anywhere without submitting a résumé, being interviewed, and providing at least one reference. After all, organizations want to make sure a job applicant will be a good fit, and plenty of research supports these approaches to hiring when used correctly. Unfortunately, we also found most practitioners did not understand how to use these decision aids to get the best results. Further, the hiring tools most supported by research, intelligence tests and integrity tests, were among the least used and least well understood. In addition, a growing body of research has found that interviews, résumés, and reference checks can all produce skewed results in favour of some groups when organizations are careless. As a result, we approach a world of weak and biased hiring practices.
Research has consistently found the most effective hiring practices take as much of the “human element” out of the equation as possible. People are biased and flawed. Whether we like it or not, we can be emotional and irrational. We often make the wrong decisions based on imperfect information and stereotypes. Recruiters often consider themselves the exception, but that is almost never the case. Subjective judgements are the antithesis of effective, objective hiring decisions. So, what does research suggest? Here are a few tips:
Now all of this is not to say that everyone is doing a bad job of hiring. Many organizations offer effective third-party hiring solutions or conduct their own rigorous hiring processes following all of those best practices. Interviews, résumés, and reference checks can be very useful in deciding who to hire, but there are many other approaches to making hiring decisions, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that can add value to the decision-making process. Human behaviour is complex and predicting the future is hard. Anyone who offers a simple, silver-bullet solution for hiring the best job applicant is being dishonest, either to themselves or their clients.
As well as Peter Fisher, Drs. Stephen Risavy, Chet Robie, Cornelius Konig, Neil Christiansen, Robert Tett, and Daniel Simonet also contributed to this research. Parts of this research were published in the journal Personnel Assessment and Decisions and the Journal of Personnel Psychology.
Peter Fisher is a fourth-year PhD Candidate in the Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management Department of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics, working under the supervision of Chet Robie.
Fisher previously completed a Bachelor of Computer Science (University of Waterloo), Bachelor of Business Administration (Wilfrid Laurier University), and a Master of Science degree in Management (Wilfrid Laurier University).
Fisher’s research primarily involves the use of personality assessments in personnel selection as a means of reducing discrimination as a result of biases inherent in many other forms of selection. Fisher is particularly interested in the selection practices of high-tech startups and how to implement research-backed best practices to improve workplace diversity through fair and equitable personnel selection. Fisher is also interested in new developments in the field of human resources management emerging from recent advances in technology and the widespread use of the internet.
Fisher’s research has been supported by multiple awards, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), and has appeared in journals such as the International Journal of Selection and Assessment, Personality and Individual Differences, and Personnel Assessment and Decisions, in addition to various international conferences. Fisher also serves as the webmaster for the Canadian Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology.
Fisher began a tenure-track faculty position in the Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour Department in the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in July 2020.