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If you want to improve your recruiting – and reduce the headaches and heartache from bad choices – it makes sense to look at the evidence of which tactics are successful and which aren’t. That seems so obvious that it’s not worth stating. But I’ll bet if you examine the things you hold most dear about recruiting they are more hunch than proven hit.

Perhaps that’s why the top recruiting trend at a sample of 10 elite firms studied by recruitment consultant John Sullivan is a shift to data-driven recruiting. It starts with a commitment to make decisions based on data and analytics that reveal what actions improve quality of hire and business results. His blog indicates that involves measuring the performance of new hires, retention and failure rates, and identifying the factors that correlate with them. He and an aide highlight the importance of checking the impact of slow hiring – whether you are missing quality recruits by not acting quickly enough – and also calculating the “recruiting batting average” for each hiring manager and recruiter.

Executive search consultant Atta Tarki in his book Evidence-Based Recruiting starts by poking holes at a common performance illusion that we can improve our team by hiring “solid” performers. In fact, he says the data shows we can get greater value by spending more resources on attracting star performers. Netflix found stars are two times better than the average person for procedural work and 10 times better for creative and inventive work. Various studies have put it at 225 per cent better for professionals in high complexity jobs, 500 per cent better, and even 900 per cent better – a huge variance but also a sobering one even if the lowest figure is correct.

“If star performers produce most of the value, instead of focusing on recruiting average performers and hoping a few of the hires will turn into stars, set up a recruiting strategy that produces more stars and reduces chances of mishires,” he says.

A 2016 study found candidates with a high score on a test of general mental ability – verbal, mechanical, numerical, social, and spatial – will pick up new job-related skills faster and more thoroughly than other candidates and have a greater likelihood of success in complex jobs. The GMA correlates 65 per cent with a hire’s performance compared to the next best factor, job knowledge tests, at 48 per cent. Other correlations: Integrity tests, 46 per cent; job tryouts, 44 per cent; grade point average, 34 per cent; work sample tests, 33 per cent; emotional intelligence tests, 32 per cent; situation judgment tests, 26 per cent; job experience, 16 per cent; and extroversion, 9 per cent. Some of those poorly correlated approaches are actually highly rated by modern recruiters – perhaps even by you – showing the need for focusing on the evidence.

But don’t rely on the GMA alone. Your predictive ability improves by 20 per cent, a study shows, when you add integrity tests to the general mental ability test. Structured interviews add 15 per cent in predictive value to the GMA and unstructured interviews 13 per cent. By comparison, reference checks is only at 8 per cent additional value, tied with evaluating conscientiousness, and emotional intelligence tests at 5 per cent.

“The question therefore is not whether you should use the GMA in screening candidates; the question is, which variables add the most value in addition to using the GMA? And the answer is that integrity tests add the most value when used as a second variable in addition to the GMA, followed by a structured interview,” he writes.

Mr. Tarki warns against groupthink in interviews, where one person’s biases emerge too early in the process and influences others. To counter that he recommends calibrated independent estimates. Interviewers don’t share with colleagues their experiences in their individual interviews of candidates before the group finally meets to discuss the contenders other than perhaps to state they didn’t get to one topic or to recommend a deeper dive on some issue. They individually distill their interview rating to a single numerical score and write down their main arguments for and against hiring a candidate as well as their conclusion, making it likelier they will stick with those thoughts in the group discussion. They e-mail their scores and thoughts to an independent person who compiles it and sends the totality to the entire group for the discussion without naming who said what.

He compares recruiting to poker. The results depend on skills, tactics and chance. Participants in both tend to rely more on their instincts than math. Instead, learn what evidence exists on recruiting and build upon it with studies in your own realm.


  • Don’t every hire anybody who doesn’t care about people, says management guru Tom Peters.
  • When faced with morning fog, you can stop your car immediately and wait patiently for it to clear; barrel ahead at full throttle; or proceed with caution and focus on the 20 feet ahead of you right now. Consultant John Linkner recommends that third approach as well for dealing with the fog of the pandemic and accompanying economic downturn.
  • Serial entrepreneur Ruth King advises small business owners to go through their proposals, quotes and tickler file to see what can be reignited now that we are in a more stable situation with the pandemic. Also, reactivate customers who have stopped doing business with you in the last 19 months to five years.

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