This is one of the best times of year to live in the Bluegrass! The historic “Run for the Roses”—The Kentucky Derby—is upon us. Every track attendee has a strategy for picking ponies. Some will rely on highly subjective criteria and gut feel. Others have a much more objective strategy based on sophisticated data and statistical odds. Either way, it’s a gamble.
To a human resources manager, this predicament sounds all too familiar. Shy of having a crystal ball, we can’t know with a certainty which prospective employees will be winners, which will fall in the middle of the pack, and which will throw their jockey, bump other riders, and be disqualified! In choosing how to place our bets, we have various tools and strategies at our disposal. Which method(s) you use will determine how much success you have in systematically picking winners.
What’s in a name?
A favorite horse-picking strategy of novice gamblers: “I’m betting on #3 because it has a cool name!” While we may not hire someone because we like their name, the thought process isn’t all that different. I may like a horse’s name because it alludes to my favorite vacation spot, rock star, or adult beverage. In other words, I like it because it resonates with me on a personal level. In an interview, we do the same thing—we look for common ground. And, when we find it, we have a sense of connection with that person and make certain assumptions about them as a result. Doing this is human nature, but is not necessarily the most reliable way to choose a top performing candidate…or horse.
A Horse of a Different Color
Another beloved way to pick a horse: “I bet on the grays!” Like it or not, many studies have shown that this happens in an interviewing context as well—we do make judgments based on appearance. However, we can fall victim to this hiring strategy in a much more subtle way as well. Some personality assessments assign one of four colors (or letter, numbers, etc.) to describe someone’s personality. Deciding that you want a “blue” or a “red” for a given position can be a dangerous proposition. These types of assessments describe one’s preferences in terms of how they tend to go about completing a job; not whether or not they’ll be effective at it. The end result… grays don’t necessarily win any more often than horses of different colors. Assessment that measure constructs with a greater ability to differentiate between top and bottom performers can help you pick winners more often.
Watch and Learn
Favorite strategy #3: “I like that one! He’s feisty!” Before a race, track-goers have the opportunity to observe the horses in the paddock as they’re being saddled and mounted. Some are very compliant. Others give spectators an exciting show! However, do the spunky ones who buck while being saddled and balk when being loaded into the gate win more often? Does their display of energy translate into an independent spirit that can’t be bridled? Or an excitable creature who doesn’t manage their pace well and who will be exhausted by the first turn?
Observing behavior is an important strategy in hiring as well. We observe during an interview. We ask behavioral-based questions. Sometimes we even run candidates through simulated work scenarios. The question is—are we able to make reliable inferences from our observations that accurately predict future behavior? And the answer is… sometimes. Much depends on the skill of the interviewers and, more importantly, the skill of the interviewees!
Look at the Track Record
And now we reach the strategy of the experienced gambler—look at the data. How many times has this horse won? On what kind of track (turf, mud, etc.)? What is the probability that the horse will win today? Of course, we do this as human resources professionals as well. Whenever we check references, we’re asking “what is this employee’s track record?” (think about where that term came from!). Have they been successful before, under similar conditions? Do they have what it takes to become a champion in our organization?
The Best Bet!
Certain types of assessment instruments can help you get additional, objective data to help you calculate the odds that you’re picking a winner. The types of instruments with the highest proven predictive power are intelligence tests, integrity tests, and behavioral tests. The more information you have, the better chance you have of selecting the right candidate, so a multi-measure tool that incorporates these as well as other constructs is ideal. The cost of picking the wrong horses in your $2 exacta box probably will not break your bank or your spirit. The cost of choosing poor (or even mediocre) employees, however, can be astronomical.
Enjoy your Derby, everyone! And, I hope you pick a winner!
About the Author: Whitney Martin is an Assessment Strategist with ProActive Consulting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 336-202-2385 to explore the most effective assessment solutions for your particular organizational objectives.