Harvard Professor’s Research Suggests That Current Hiring Processes Are Deeply Flawed

January 27, 2016

Over the years, I’ve suggested that most hiring processes used by most companies were designed to hire the wrong people for the wrong jobs.

Harvard Professor Todd Rose, author of the new book, The End of Average, agrees. He came to the these conclusions using science. I came to them out of frustration.

Regardless of how we got there, here are my top contenders for terrible hiring practices, which are also outlined in Prof. Rose’s book:

1. Assessment tests are not predictive.

At best, they’re confirming indicators of performance. At worst, they screen out the best candidates. What should be measured is how people modify their personality and style to meet the needs of the situation. This is what the best people do and this flexibility is not measured by any pre-screening assessment test.

2. Behavioral interviewing is misguided.

Aside from the fact the answers can be faked, relating behaviors to actual job needs is problematic since the job is rarely defined properly. Furthermore, there is no documented proof that behavioral interviewing has improved quality of hire.

There is some proof, however, that it has reduced hiring mistakes. But this is due to the fact that it’s used as part of a structured interview and any pre-designed questions would have the same effect on minimizing emotional errors.

3. Skills and experience-based job descriptions are anti-performance, anti-diversity, anti-talent and irresponsible.

The best people get more accomplished with less skills and experience, so why would anyone want to exclude these people? For proof, consider that we promote people we know using a different criteria than hiring people whom we don’t know. And the people we promote, by definition, have less skills and experience and the prediction of their on-the-job is more accurate.

4. Any hiring practice based on statistics is illogical.

When combined with a comprehensive job analysis, a behavioral interview is only 12% more accurate than flipping a coin. Here’s the research that proves this. The report shows that only one third of the candidate’s performance is attributed to his or her past behavior. It’s far less if the job analysis hasn’t been done. That’s why justifying any hiring or interview process that has less than 70-80% correlation is logically flawed since so many other and more important factors have been left out.  

5. Competency models are corporate speak for laziness and/or narrow-mindedness.

What the heck does boundary-less thinking, results-driven mentality, quest for excellence and a customer-first mentality actually mean? When I ask hiring managers to define their generic competencies, few ever agree. However, when I ask how the competency is actually used on the job, it’s (relatively) easy to get agreement.

This is how boundary-less thinking becomes “understand the consequences on manufacturing costs for any proposed design change.” If you don’t relate these competencies to actually job needs, they are dangerous to use, since they’re either ignored or used as excuses not to hire someone.

Of course, most HR leaders found my anti-establishment positions offensive, but as Prof. Rose proved in his book, they’re all valid. I actually did talk with the good professor before his book was published and he asked how I came to the same conclusions. Here’s what I told him.

How I came to realize these hiring pitfalls

My first experience with assessment tests was in the mid-70s, including DiSC, PI, MBTI and some others with fancier names. All suggested I was overtly extroverted and a real people person. However, this was only true after 6pm when I went home, drank beer, played volleyball at the beach and went to parties.

During the day, I preferred to work alone on the integration of complex accounting, engineering and manufacturing processes to maximize corporate profitability and performance. If you’ve taken these tests you know they only measure preferences, not competencies. More important these preferences changed depending on the circumstances. That’s why I developed the BEST personality test of all time to demonstrate how inappropriate these tests are for screening purposes.

My industry background gave me a chance to work with world-class people in all functions and in companies of all sizes. Those who got promoted the fastest never had enough experience. Instead, they had the ability to learn quickly, the confidence to take on projects they hadn't encountered before and the leadership skills to inspire the people they worked with.

So when I became a recruiter, the idea of using job descriptions that included a laundry list of the wrong things made no sense. So on my first search assignment, and every one since, I asked my hiring manager clients what the person needed to do to be successful, what resources were available and what the culture was like. I then found people who had excelled doing comparable work in comparable circumstances.

I could tell Todd smiled in agreement. He asked me if he could summarize these conversations in his new book. Of course, I agreed. You’ll find them there. While we reached the same conclusions we started in far different places. More important, we now both recognize that achieving “The End of Average” is the more important goal. Based on what I’ve seen, it will be an uphill battle but one worth fighting. 

*Image from Black Swan

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