Posted by Jamie Betts - Solutions Consultant
candidate attraction, Implementation, recruitment
Posted on December 8th, 2011 at 11:52 am

A story of double standards: why do recruiters ask more from line managers than we demand of ourselves?

We’ve all seen it. When it comes to advising line managers on how to make the best hires, we can list off a whole ream of ‘best practice’ tips: be consistent, use competencies effectively, provide constructive feedback, be rigorous, use structured interviews…the list goes on. And yet, when it comes to making hires ourselves, into our own teams, we sometimes go back to what does not work: intuition and feeling.

Study after study proves that, when it comes to making hires who consistently perform, hiring based on intuition is little better than a rabid chimpanzee tossing a coin (or, actually, a non-rabid chimp, rabies doesn’t effect the odds, but I digress). Yes, we might make some hires that work out. That’s called luck. The problem is that people remember their good hires, and through a process of denial forget they were also responsible for hires who didn’t work out, or do not perform as hoped.

You may have made great hires into your team. But so would that rabid chimp tossing his coin. We know what best-practice looks like, why don’t we consistently practice what we preach? Well, I don’t know. You tell me. Why don’t you practice what you preach? Maybe you do, but often we go back to using our intuition for our own hires.

When looking at the ‘predictive validity’ of an interview process (i.e. how well it accurately predicts future job performance), we express the effectiveness with a number called a ‘validity coefficient’. The number 1.0 equals perfect predictability (every hire you make is fantastic), while -1.0 equals the opposite (every hire you make is dreadful). 0.0 is the same as tossing a coin. Making hires using an unstructured interview, where intuition comes into play, has a validity coefficient of 0.19. However, if you use a rigorous assessment process, and remove intuition entirely, the validity coefficient leaps up as high as 0.65 – a dramatic improvement.

Stick to the science and we will make consistently great hires, and we can share our internal success stories with hiring manager communities. Not only that, but these great new hires will then deliver further quality hires themselves, ultimately improving business performance. Everyone wins. What do you think?


  1. Sean Wilkes says:

    A lot of truth here. But my own experience recently contradicts this a little. The Recruiters I have been dealing with have relied far too much on heavily structured interviews that anyone could conduct. I’d rather work with people I believe I can trust and I have something in common with. Trusting your gut, to a degree, is therefore not a bad thing. Of course, build a robust process that takes in to consideration all of the components that make a great recruiter, but (and I make no apology for this statement) with so many distinctly below average people in recruitment who are only good at one thing (selling) filtering the good from the bad will always need to rely on a degree of ‘gut feel’

  2. Jamie Betts says:

    Hi Sean, thanks for the response.

    I’d agree with you that an interview/assessment process should be flexible, and that it’s critical for a recruiter to gain the trust of hiring managers. It’s possible (indeed desirable) to build a rigorous approach that is both valid and not too heavily scripted. The key is base it on what we know works, in terms of predicting future job performance (which is, after all, what an assessment process should be doing).

    That said, all available evidence is very clear: recruiting based on intuition doesn’t work as well as following a rigorous approach in terms of the quality of hires generated. Whilst a rigorous approach can and should be flexible, and a recruiter should gain the trust of hiring managers, this relationship building it not the same thing as relying on ‘gut feel’. Filtering the good from the bad is where a rigorous (yet flexible) approach can bring real results.

  3. Hi Jamie, I have to politely disagree with you here. In my experience, intuition is a good thing and normally proves right. I believe that a balanced approach is required when hiring people (whether for my clients or for my own company). This necessitates an effective screening and interview process, but should also rely on an ‘internal compass’. I have to rely on all the tools at my disposal to select candidates that will prove to be good hires. Intuition (which, admittedly comes from experience) is a good tool, not to be ignored.

  4. Jamie Betts says:

    Thanks for the comment Steve.

    Your feeling that intuition works is very common. I can also understand why people believe this – it seems to make perfect sense. And yet, it’s anecdotal, so we have to consider what wider evidence exists to support this notion.

    All the available research (and there has been a lot) points in the other direction. In terms of quality of hire, a meta-study which looked at over 16,000 hires in the US found there was a direct correlation between how structured a process is, and how statistically likely it is that the person hired turns out to be a good performer.

    In other words – the more you actively remove intuition from the decision making process, and replace it with something altogether more robust, the more likely an organisation is to make the right hires. It’s anecdote v’s scientific method, and like climate skepticism you’ll never convince everyone no matter how strong the evidence is, but the evidence is definitely there.

  5. Stephen Smith says:

    Guys you are both corect but for different reasons.

    Steve is right to trust his intuition- because it is unlikely that inuition is what he is using. Steve you are a professional recruiter with years of experience and that’s what you are using. It works because this is your profession.

    Jaimie is right because the evidence (16000 inviduals in meta analysis) is not focussed on guys like Steve. It includes everyone – eg line managers who are not professional recruiters and whose intuition about people is very varied. If a study was done on professional recruiters alone (with a minimum 10 years experience) I bet the predictive validity for structure versus unstructured would drop.

    However, when you add the structure for individuals who are not professonals in this field then the difference reappears.

    Without the experience all the psychological evidence clearly shows that the average person in the street is much less effective a judge of character than they think- it’s when these people draw upon their intuition that the intrview falls over.

    Conclusion – the interview is usually only as good as the quality of the individual running the interview. In most cases that is not very high whch is why a more structured approach is perfect for the average line manager but not neccessarily for the talented and experienced professional recruiter

    hope this helps
    Stephen Smith
    Occuptional Psychologist

  6. Jamie Betts says:

    Thanks for your input Stephen – really great to have this level of discussion.

    Like you, I’d love to see a study which looked at predictive validity and the experience levels and possibly performance ratings of experienced recruiters. Actually thinking about it, what better organisation to consider this than my own (or another large RPO)?

    We’d have to devise reliable measures of employee performance linked back to the recruitment process across a whole range of organisations, which is of course a whole other discussion, but it’s certainly something for us to think about.

  7. Netdogca says:

    I first must say that when you use the term rigirous and then flexible in the same sentence I inclined to believe that in itself is a contradiction or double standard.

    Ok, now on to more double speak. Psychology in itself is intuative to some point. It is not all science. Therefore, using a rigirous Psych and science evaluation process will require intuition at some level. Otherwise, it will be robotic and produce the wrong results. We (staffing pro’s) are, after all, dealing with people. The most diverse “product” known. (far from a coin flipping chimp) No one test, eval or such item will provide us exacts. We need to be able to “read” the person.
    Of another note is measurements. How are recruiters measured? What is the best measurement? Quality is my answer. How do you measure quality of a person through an evaluation that doesn’t allow room for intuition? Further to that, when we are interviewing people, it requires a level of intuitiveness to know when/what to probe.
    Granted, to just meet someone and say ” nice guy/lady, we should hire him/her” will lend itself towards a negative outcome.
    I do beleive that a really and truly good recruiter will know how to interview and select with a well thought out process with good questions and discussion points directly related to the field, the company culture and the position (and they’ll slip in some intuition)

    I would also contest that the great (1.0) hires of today’s climate at my company may not be the (1.0) hires of tomorrow. That takes some intution and some good process points to know if the person will cut it or be a coin flipper.

  8. Jamie Betts says:

    Thanks for your comment, Netdogca, and you’re quite right – we shouldn’t be too robotic. We can indeed be flexible about a process and still keep it rigorous – there are a wide variety of way to assess someone, and it’s really about choosing the most appropriate selection tools for the job in hand. Of course, we’d uncover that normally in our job analysis

    All we can really do is look at the evidence we have showing which forms of assessment are most predictive, and build them into our process – our goal then is to make it more likely we are hiring the right people. We can never be 100% certain, but we can, by following elements of best-practice, tip the scales considerably in our favour.

    Your point about predicting success in the hires of tomorrow is a good one – this is why we would always recommend building ‘visionary interviews’ with business leaders into the job analysis process. That way, we can understand how an organisation is likely to change, and build that into the selection process.

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