Psychologist’s guide to recruitment & selection

person working on laptop

You might have been following my series of interviews with business psychologist Simon Kilpatrick, lecturer at Leeds Becket University, and founder of Intrinsic Links.

Today, we’re moving onto the subject of recruitment and selection, and Simon has valuable insight into several of the stages within this area of business. If you’re ready, continue reading. Or, you can catch up on my previous summary of the recruitment process here.

Psychometric testing to support selection

Before you invest too much time into a candidate for consideration, there’s a lot you can learn by reviewing their application. But while Simon tells me that you can learn a lot by reading CVs, he reminds me that it really helps to have an objective way of scoring your candidates.

Psychometric testing can give you excellent insight into a person’s abilities” he explains, “and it’s a very objective measure – the end score isn’t influenced by your opinion of a person.

There is a range of psychometric tests available, but Simon recommends using a test that scores a candidate’s cognitive abilities, in areas such as:

 * General intelligence

 * Verbal and numerical skills

 * Abstract reasoning

One obvious benefit of adding psychometric testing into your recruitment process, Simon says, is that it allows you to conduct a large-scale assessment, in a relatively short space of time. And there is scientific evidence that suggests that it is one of the best predictors of job performance (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). However, there are also a few pitfalls to consider.

Psychometric testing might not be as fair as you think

While Simon does overall recommend psychometric testing as a positive selection and assessment technique, he is keen to point out some of its pitfalls.

Not everybody thinks psychometric testing is fair,” he tells me. “For example, if you are asking candidates to complete this test remotely, via the internet, then it’s difficult to make sure they’re not cheating. Plus, there is some evidence that the results might be influenced by the candidate’s ethnic group (Ones et al, 2007).

Some companies use psychometric testing to help them decide who to interview. But Simon advocates testing potential employees on the day of the interview, as this helps prevent cheating – such as asking somebody to complete the test on their behalf.

Useful assessment techniques during the face-to-face interview

The job interview itself is not only a great time to administer an objective psychometric test, but it is also the first opportunity you’ll have to meet your candidate face-to-face, which is important for making an assessment of their skills, their character, and how well they will fit in with your team.

But beyond sitting down for a chat with the potential new employee, Simon says there are plenty of other things you should do to assess a candidate’s abilities while you have them with you. In particular, he recommends you consider one – or even both – of the following:

1. The Presentation. “Asking a candidate to deliver a small presentation in relation to the job they’re applying for is an excellent way to assess their creativity, marketing skills, IT skills, and overall presentation skills.”

2. The In-Tray Exercise. “For more technical or administrative roles, you could give your candidate an assignment to complete, that relates to the vacancy. Of course, you can also extend this to all sorts of job roles. For example, if you’re hiring a Barista, you might want to ask them to make you a cappuccino, and see how well they make it, and how artistically they present it.”

Other techniques include presenting the candidate with a scenario that they might face during their new role, such as resolving a difficult customer complaint. Simon says you can’t really expect them to understand the inner workings of your company’s processes at this stage – but you can assess how they think through the problem, and it gives them a chance to demonstrate their problem-solving skills.

When to include group work as part of your assessment

If the new role is going to be heavily reliant on teamwork, you might want to consider assessing candidates in groups. This could be a group of potential new employees, but you could also bring in some volunteers from your existing workforce. But it’s also a great way of looking for other skills.

Asking candidates to participate in a group project can assess a whole range of skills and not just teamworking skills,” says Simon. “It can help you to assess creativity, IT competencies, leadership, and more.

Finding a cultural fit for your organisation is also very important. And this is where group activities can also really help you, because you’ll get a snapshot of each candidate’s style of interaction, and you can decide whether or not they’ll fit in well with your existing employees.

Additional tips on selection and recruitment

I asked Simon to list what he felt were some of the most useful tips for companies to consider during recruitment. Here’s what he told me:

 * Make sure interviewers are trained. Don’t ask somebody who’s never conducted an interview before, to assess a candidate. They might do a great job… but chances are, they don’t know what they’re looking out for. Ensure they understand the selection and assessment process thoroughly and have sat in on several interviews to get a feel for it. See these three interview training tips which might help.

 * Use the same interviewer(s) for each vacancy. You won’t fairly assess which candidate is best if you’re swapping and changing the interviewer. Objective assessment methods help, but you need a consistent perspective for the subjective parts.

 * Low scores don’t always mean bad candidates. Make sure you assess how the candidate scored in all areas of the recruitment process. Just because they have a couple of areas where they scored badly, it doesn’t mean they’ll be bad at the job.

 * Cultural fit is more important than you think. You could have the best, most skilled person in the world. But if they don’t get along with your other employees, then you might be hiring more problems than you’re solving.

Whatever you do, don’t just stick to the “Application + Interview” approach

Perhaps the biggest mistake employers make in their recruitment process, according to Simon, is sticking to the “Application + Interview” approach. In other words, checking applications, and then holding a sit-down interview. This will rarely give you the right data you need to make an informed decision.

Your recruitment process must be rigorous, and multi-faceted,” he tells me, “otherwise you could be missing some really damaging weaknesses – or, on the flip side, some really hidden strengths. This is why it is important to introduce other factors like psychometric testing, group work and assignments. It helps you probe into the true depths of a person’s abilities.

About Simon Kilpatrick

Simon is a lecturer of psychology at Leeds Beckett University. He is a business psychologist, from Intrinsic Links. He also runs Intrinsic Links, a team of psychologists who teach positive psychology and management techniques, to help companies develop great teams with top performers.

For more information, visit his website here: