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The Best And Worst Predictors Of Job Performance

Asavari Sharma

May 10, 2022

As everyone knows, the key to any business succeeding is having the right people in the right jobs. At the same time, the annual turnover rate in the US economy is 57.3%. Clearly, people are not settling into the jobs they are getting the first time around.

A big part of this is the fact that companies keep following the same hiring plan every season without stopping to check whether the strategy is really attracting the best talent.

HR must modify their hiring game plan so as to reflect accurate predictors of job performance. Here, we offer a solid guide to help you redesign your resume screening checklist and interview processes, identify suitable candidates faster and save yourself thousands of dollars every year.

What are the best and worst predictors of job performance?

To round off our discussion, here are some key predictors we have identified as the best - and the worst - indicators of how someone will do:

Worst Predictors

1. First impression

Popular culture and traditional hiring beliefs have driven home the notion that ‘first impression is the last impression.’ Still, in reality, impressions have very little to do with how the candidate would actually do on the job.

According to Dr. Daniel Kahneman, gut instinct can only be relied upon if candidates are in a predictable environment, the manager has extensive experience with hiring, and the candidate gets immediate feedback on their performance.

However, no matter how experienced a hiring manager is, the interview room is much less predictable than one might think. Feedback is typically given only weeks or months after the candidate has settled into the role. Therefore, when evaluating candidates for selection, it is much better to go with concrete data.

2. Similarities in personality

It has been repeatedly documented that interviewers are more likely to hire people who resemble themselves, whether in terms of where they grew up or shared interests. This is especially likely if recruiters are not using another unbiased metric, such as skill test performance.

Not only does this unfairly exclude talented people who may not have anything in common with the interviewer, but it also hurts the team. The best teams, after all, are the ones that comprise diverse talents, skills, and perspectives.

3. Brain teasers or trick questions

These are often used in interviews to test on-the-spot thinking or analytical ability. However, given that they tend to have little to no relation to the actual job requirements, a candidate’s responses to these are rarely indicative of their suitability.

Moreover, these questions tend to favor quick thinking over more measured decisions, which is the opposite of what most business-critical tasks will call for.

4. School grades

Unless the candidate you are recruiting has newly graduated from college, grades rarely reflect job competency. This is because people mature over time and may switch careers, which means their BA grades do not indicate who they are now.

It is essential to look at more than just the GPA among fresh graduates. For instance, a B+ grade in a program that is known to be tough could indicate hard work and effort more than A+ grades at a less competitive school. And the final decision should indeed be based on more factors than grades alone.

Best Predictors

1. Cognitive ability

This has been consistently demonstrated to be one of the best predictors of job performance across industries.

Cognitive ability can be tested in various ways depending on the job requirements, including verbal reasoning, logical reasoning, numerical ability, analytical ability, and computational skills.

Companies can offer shorter tests for more generalist roles and longer ones for more senior roles with high specialization.

2. Conscientiousness and emotional stability

These are measured by the Big Five Personality Skills test and are excellent predictors of how someone will do on the job.

While conscientiousness measures how dutiful and hardworking someone is and the sincerity with which they approach tasks, emotional stability measures how well someone can handle failures or setbacks and deal with negative emotions.

Given that any job will come with setbacks and require constructive criticism on the go, managers naturally prefer employees who can take criticism well and learn from it.

3. Creative problem-solving

Candidates who can think creatively will be able to approach problems in unconventional ways and thus reach more efficient and/or interesting solutions than if they had gone by the book.

This is an asset in jobs that require an original approach to each new project. Tests that involve sample job scenarios can evaluate the candidate’s problem-solving ability. It is vital, in this context, to assess their approach and process as much as the solution they arrive at.

4. Growth mindset

This is another predictor that works well across all job types and industries. Candidates with a growth mindset believe that they are capable of change for the better and willing to make the efforts to cultivate that change.

They are the ones who will invest in learning and development to pick up new skills and deepen their subject matter expertise, making them valuable assets for your team. You can assess whether someone has a growth mindset by asking them about their learning and personal growth journey so far.

5. Active learning

This involves using the knowledge acquired through active listening to execute real-life tasks more effectively. Candidates with solid learning agility will constantly stay on top of new processes and knowledge resources, which is especially useful in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. You can ask candidates about the learning environments they have been part of and how they applied their knowledge to various tasks.

6. Track record of performance

It is important to note here that past performance does not have to be restricted to similar job roles or academic projects.

How candidates perform in internships, sports, cultural activities, or even personal situations can be valuable indicators of their ability to multitask, think clearly, and handle complex decisions.

Identify items on their resume that could potentially reflect those abilities and ask about them during the interview.

Why are traditional recruiting systems flawed?

Over the last few decades, research has shown that the traditional selection process of resume screening followed by an unstructured interview has an abysmal success rate when it comes to predicting job performance.

Resume checks, in particular, have been proven to be inadequate, especially the emphasis on factors like years of experience or educational background. Clearly, the system needs to change, and we outline here some concrete reasons why your current recruitment tactics may not be attracting the best long-term candidates:

1. Roles are not defined properly.

Job descriptions are often written in a jargon-y fashion and fail to fully capture the kind of person the company is looking for, which leads to ambiguity even within the recruiting team.

To truly understand what a role calls for, it is essential to observe the people who are currently on the job and make notes on their daily duties, the challenges they face, the kinds of interactions they have, the resources they use, and the hard and soft skills that enable them to do their job.

It is also essential to talk to the team manager to understand why that role exists and how the candidate will be called upon to contribute.

2. The wrong people are interviewed.

The screening process at most companies is, unfortunately, highly flawed. They filter resumes based on factors like where someone went to college or what their GPA was, which eliminates a vast number of suitable candidates who might be from less-privileged backgrounds.

Moreover, unconscious biases often enter a recruiter’s estimate of a candidate’s ‘personality fit,’ which can be just a shorthand for the people most similar to the recruiters themselves.

Studies have consistently shown that traditional screening methods disproportionately hurt candidates from lower-income backgrounds, people of color, women, trans/non-binary people, and differently-abled people.

3. Interviews do not predict job performance.

Regardless of industry, it is astonishing how much resemblance there is among traditional interviews at most companies.

The typical interview is designed around unstructured questions like ‘what are your strengths and weaknesses’ and ‘tell us about a challenge you overcame,’ and clever candidates will simply tell the interviewers what they want to hear rather than being genuine.

Moreover, such questions rarely reveal insights about how someone actually performs under pressure or whether they will get along with the team.

4. Reference checks are ineffective.

Most interviewers will request a reference of some sort for each candidate who makes it past the interview round. In the majority of cases, however, references are unhelpful for two reasons. First, candidates will tend to provide the contact details for people who can give them a glowing review, however partial that might be.

Secondly, many references are managers or supervisors who did not have much one-on-one time with the candidate, which means that they can only provide confirmation that the candidate worked there and not real insights into how they did.

How can one actually predict job performance?

To have a successful hiring program, we need to go back to basics - recruiting processes should be designed to identify actual performance, not claimed performance. This means testing candidates by giving them situations where they need to prove their skills.

It also means refining the screening process to include good candidates from all backgrounds, not just the privileged. We offer some concrete ways for you to do so:

1. Track employee performance metrics

One of the best ways to overcome conscious and unconscious biases is to define objectively what makes a good candidate and then use that to benchmark all job applicants. Study your top performers and identify the skills, qualities, and attributes that make them who they are.

Then, rope in those top performers to help you design a skill test to identify candidates who show similar abilities. At the same time, study the characteristics that negative or toxic employees display so that you know the warning signs to look out for when you’re interviewing.

2. Use skill assessment platforms

A skill assessment is one of the best ways to separate the wheat from the chaff and zoom in on the candidates most capable of taking up the job's duties. These are web-based tests that are cost-effective and easy to implement and can be taken from the candidate’s home.

These can be customized to assess the candidate’s real-life skills in relevant job scenarios, such as writing a piece of code or drafting a press release. For instance, you can hire Python developers with the best on-the-job skills by conducting a Python online test.

A skill assessment platform like Adaface allows you to objectively screen candidates on ability alone, not their college degree or background. It thus levels the playing field for candidates from diverse or historically disadvantaged backgrounds.

3. Turn the interview into a job audition

Given that traditional interviews are so rarely an indicator of good performance use the interview to build a rapport with candidates and ask questions that were unanswered by the skill test. You could also dive deeper into aspects of the candidate’s performance on the test or even ask them how their experience was taking the test.

Over to you

In conclusion, it is essential to remember that no single predictor will guarantee good performance. Moreover, what works for one company may not necessarily work for another. So, you have to carve your processes and workflows.

Use the points here as a guide to reframing the way you approach hiring and actively track your numbers along the way to see what is working.

The more your recruitment policies are in line with performance prediction, the better your quality of hire will be, translating to strong economic benefits for your company over time.

Asavari Sharma

Asavari is an EiR at Adaface. She has made it her mission to help recruiters deploy candidate-friendly skill tests instead of trick-question based tests. When taking a break, she obsesses over art.

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