Your gut is a bad judge of talent

Your gut is a bad judge of talent: My current company is rapidly growing.  3 years ago, we were only 800 people, and now we are close to 2,000 with plans to add 500 more people in 2019.  This rapid growth means that HR and managers are constantly busy recruiting and selecting people to join us. 

Unfortunately, too many managers (and even some HR) are never trained in recruiting, interviewing, and selection skills.  This lack of skill leads to many managers regurgitating ineffective questions or placing emphasis on unimportant candidate characteristics.  And then when it comes to decision time, they trust their gut about how they felt about the candidates.  But your gut is crap judge of talent, and there are decades of research that prove it.

In 1998, a meta-analysis of over 85 years of research was conducted to assess the effective of 19 different recruitment and assessment techniques.  The 3 worst predictors of candidates’ job performance are actually very common practices.  Interviews without a clear structure or using behavioral interviewing questions predict only 14% of an employee’s future performance.  While placing an emphasis on reference checks or years of work experience only account for 7% and 3% respectively.

On the flip side, the best assessment technique is to have the candidate perform a work sample test (29%), which makes sense because the best predictor of future performance is to see if they can actually do the job.  Tied for second place is conducting a structured behaviorally based interview (26%) and testing the candidate’s general cognitive ability (26%).

Unfortunately, these 3 assessment techniques are very rarely used, at least not in the structured way that they need to be used.  And it’s always for a variety of reasons.  “The job is too complex to create a work sample test.”  “We don’t believe in doing intelligence tests.”  “I need to see where the interview goes.  I don’t want to follow some script.”

But having worked in HR for over a decade, I think these are just BS excuses.  It doesn’t matter if you are in a multinational or startup, you can apply these techniques in a simple and pragmatic manner. 


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32381172 – problem – idea – solution

Work sample test – You don’t have to create an ultra-elaborate “in-box exercise” or an in-depth case study.  All you have to do is identify a common problem scenario that the person will face, write up a brief description of that scenario, and then give them 10-15 minutes to prepare the plan on how they would address it. 

Ideally make it a real scenario, not some creative logic tests like the ones associated with tech companies (i.e. imagine I shrank you down to the size of a nickel and put you in a blender.  How would you escape?).  Discussing their plan for your real life scenario will give you great insights on how they think, how they address problems, and what kind of solutions they would bring to your team.


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Structured Behavioral Interviews – A structured interview basically asks candidates the same set of questions, thereby ensuring you are able to compare apples with apples.  Each question needs to fit clear criteria to confirm it is following the behaviorally based methodology.   

But don’t worry, these criteria are not that hard to follow.  Basically, you always want to be asking candidates to describe situations in their past that are relevant for the job requirements.  Instead of asking “How do you deal with angry customers”, ask them “Tell me about a time in your past where you dealt with an angry customer.”  The reason the second type of questions is better is that people are more likely to give a rosy colored view in a hypothetical situation, as opposed to a real-life past situation where they tend to be more honest.


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General cognitive ability – One of the easiest ways to measure general cognitive ability is to run an intelligence test.  I recommend the Wonderlic test as it has been around a long time, and proven extremely reliable.  If you want to try it out, here is a sample test

But if you don’t want to have your candidates take a test, you can still test general cognitive ability in your interviews.  I recommend leveraging your structured interview questions to assess how the candidates solve hard problems in real life, how they learn when faced with something unknown, and how they analyze multiple sources of data at once.


These techniques are not only the strongest predictors of performance, but once they are demystified, they are actually quite easy to implement.  And ideally, you aren’t limiting yourself to just one.  The best selection processes are the ones that combine a work sample test with a behavioral interview and a general cognitive test.

So there should be no excuse for you.  If you are a hiring manager, you can implement some of these techniques easily in your process just by modifying the interview questions you ask.  And if you are an HR manager or Recruitment professional, these techniques are things you should be able to easily train your managers to do.  If you really think about it, hiring great talent is one of the greatest responsibilities for managers and HR.  So why not make sure that you are selecting the cream of the cream by using the best techniques out there?

Your gut is a bad judge of talent

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