Using Psychology Tools to Hire the Best Employees

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For hiring managers, finding the right employees is important to the both individual and company success. However, many companies still allow natural biases and personal preferences to guide their interviewing and hiring processes, which can prove detrimental in the long term. By using a few psychological tools, though, hiring managers can help their companies improve their recruiting processes and hire high-performing employees.

Creating Structured Interviews

A potential employee is interviewed.

Image via Flickr by World Relief Spokane

No matter the industry or the job type, most candidates undergo an interview process before joining a company. While the traditional interview process continues to be standard in most instances, it is a remarkably unreliable method. It is almost impossible for professionals involved in the hiring process to set biases aside, avoid making snap judgments and view a candidate objectively. Instead, hiring managers may seek out candidates that they get along with or those who form positive first impressions.

While some professionals prefer more creative interview questions to blander queries, industrial psychology often leads to the conclusion that inventive interviews may be inappropriate for assessing candidates. Creative questions may be more enjoyable to ask or answer, but they inspire more judgment and bias and provide less concrete data. According to Wired, a 1998 study determined that loosely structured interviews can explain just 14 percent of a candidate’s performance, which provides only slightly more information than simply conducting a reference check.

As a result, hiring departments may adopt structured interviews instead of encouraging interviewers to ask inventive, open-ended or surprise questions. Structured interviews may include either behavioral questions, which can assess how a candidate’s prior performance relates to the job in question, or situational queries, which determine how a candidate’s thought process would guide him or her through a typical on-the-job issue.

Creating structured interviews is not an easy process. With dedicated testing, implementation, and updates, however, this interview method can help managers find the ideal candidates. Adopting structured interviews can also provide companies with more value over time, since a larger amount of data means that hiring departments can better assess results and predict performance.

Using Positive Psychology to Reveal Strengths

Structured interviews do not necessarily have to be bland. This interview method may not prompt candidates to discuss personal preferences that would cause biases, but it can encourage candidates to highlight their strengths. Opportunities to highlight these abilities and attributes may not always be clear, but with training, interviewers can learn to identify positive declarations. Similarly, with practice, interviewees can easily spot opportunities to make their strengths apparent.

According to Forbes, framing an interview with positive psychology gives interviewees an opportunity to stand out rather than blending in with other candidates. Interviewers trained in using positive psychology may also have the chance to learn more about candidates’ resilience, work ethic, and sense of fulfillment than they could with any other method.

Encouraging Self-Awareness

As the Chief Learning Officer explains, hiring managers should also strive to identify candidates’ self-awareness during the interview process, as this quality can be critical in the workplace. After all, candidates with a high level of self-awareness are often the best hires. They understand what they need to achieve professional fulfillment, can help a company put its best foot forward, and may be more receptive to retention strategies.

Not all candidates have the level of self-awareness that hiring managers may be seeking, but hiring managers can use psychology tools and assessments to encourage employees to seek greater insight. Inspiring employees to become more self-aware can benefit them by accelerating their careers and can help the company succeed by generating greater job satisfaction.

Conducting Psychological Assessments

While structured interviews can reveal extensive information about applicants, as the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) explains, this method alone may not be enough to assess a candidate effectively. Individual psychological assessments are also remarkably effective tools for evaluating applicants. Far from subjective tools, psychological assessments include professionally developed and tested measures that assess candidates’ personalities and leadership styles.

While hiring managers may administer and provide preliminary scoring for these assessments, those experienced in industrial psychology often assess candidates’ overall performance and make hiring recommendations. As SIOP states, these assessments are most effective when combined and used in conjunction with structured interviews or other supplementary tools, such as cognitive tests or work samples.

Requiring Cognitive Ability Tests or Work Samples

Perhaps the least likely to produce biased results, cognitive ability tests and work samples are also some of the best predictors of how well an applicant will perform a particular job. According to Wired, work samples account for 29 percent of a candidate’s performance, while cognitive ability tests account for 26 percent.

As SIOP explains, cognitive ability tests can quickly and easily measure reasoning, logic, comprehension, and other basic skills that are essential to a position, but these tests may produce slightly different results among candidates of different genders and races. Job knowledge tests and work samples are remarkably straightforward assessments of candidates’ understanding and abilities, but they may not excel at predicting applicants’ aptitude to take on more complex duties.

As the Harvard Business Review cautions, hiring managers should understand how and when to use these testing methods. For instance, a business with no existing data on job performance may not benefit from related predictions, and a company that requires an unnecessarily extensive testing process may find that candidates lose interest or fake answers. When used in conjunction with other assessments, however, these skills- and knowledge-based tools can be key components in evaluating candidates.

Learning more about psychological tools and principles can help hiring managers improve their recruiting methods. The Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California offers a unique applied psychology degree focused on giving students an edge in business-related talent management and recruitment, research, analytics and more.