Powerful Strategies to Improve the Quality of New Hires

One of the most important opportunities for employers today is a large employment pool from which to draw new talent. The opportunity to upgrade the overall level of talent in your organization is strong. As you seek to raise the level of talent, first consider what positions are most critical to your bottom line. Positions where the level of performance varies greatly between the top and the bottom performers are a good place to start. These positions are ripe for improving the quality of new hires which will improve productivity and performance.

Powerful strategies to improve the quality of new hiresIt is critical to consider which qualities of applicants are most important to high performance and how these qualities can best be measured. Cognitive ability, or intelligence, is the best predictor of job performance by many counts. Cognitive ability refers to a person’s thinking skills and ability to learn. Many tests have been developed over the years to measure general cognitive ability or specific cognitive aptitudes such as logical, numerical and verbal ability. Research and validation studies of these tests established cognitive ability as the single best predictor of job performance (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Thus, smart employees can execute job-related tasks successfully.

Non-cognitive qualities of applicants, such as interpersonal competence, social styles, work attitudes and values, also provide valuable insight into how well the applicants would perform on the job (Barrick & Mount, 1991). These researchers argue that non-cognitive factors are as important as cognitive ability (i.e., Goleman, 1998). Most testing experts recognize that cognitive and non-cognitive qualities reflect the unique attributes of a person and when used together substantially improve the ability to predict the person’s job performance (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Cognitive skills predict some aspects of job performance while competencies predict others. A best practice is to use tests that measure both cognitive skills and competencies.

Although some may think that cognitive ability alone would suffice for the hiring, there are many exceptionally bright people who can’t work on a team or coach a direct report. These characteristics are captured by non-cognitive measures such as personality and competencies. Personality, or the way a person tends to act and behave, has been shown to be a valuable predictor of performance (Barrick & Mount, 1991). Behavior can be assessed using structured interviews, or more effectively through multiple choice assessments. There are a variety of ways that assessments get at non-cognitive elements, which include social competencies, values, personal needs, and interests. Some personality dimensions are more predictive than others because it depends on the jobs and the nature of the work environment as well. The type of job determines the most relevant personality factors and competencies. For instance, competencies reflecting work ethic and emotional intelligence tend on average to be the best predictors of performance across many jobs. Work ethic and self-management are foundational to many roles. It doesn’t matter if a candidate is a skilled researcher if the person doesn’t adhere to important company policies. On the other hand, research has found that social skills are a better predictor of job performance for sales jobs than for other jobs (Barrick, Mount, & Judge, 2001). Many personality instruments describe individuals against a model or theory of personality. This is not useful in human resource applications where it is critical that assessments are job related. It is also important that assessments do not measure mental health, or they risk violating the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). One advantage to competency-based assessments is that job attributes are being measured directly and the results align with desired work behaviors.

Cognitive ability and non-cognitive qualities tap into different aspects of job success. For example, cognitive ability assesses a person’s ability to learn, and non-cognitive measures can evaluate the person’s willingness to learn. Used together, there is a much stronger ability to predict job performance. Studies suggest that personality-based measures can increase the prediction of job performance by 18 percent (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Cognitive ability and non-cognitive qualities together provide a great deal of information for organizations to assess candidates’ capability and compatibility to the job and/or organization. Because the specific competencies and cognitive skills required for high performance differ at each level of the organization hierarchy, assessment is also important to succession planning.

Job Analysis Sets the Standard

Accurately assessing required job requirements is the first step to ensure that the right competencies are being measured. Job analysis helps to identify the key aspects of cognitive ability and the non-cognitive competencies of applicants to be assessed for certain jobs. Job Profile Reports in the XBL Assessment Platform are based on subject matter experts’ ratings on criticality and frequency of three dimensions of critical thinking (logical, numerical, and verbal reasoning) and competencies. Competencies in the XBL Assessment Platform are defined behaviorally so that those behaviors are linked to successful performance.

These cognitive and non-cognitive components of the XBL Assessment Platform independently contribute to the selection of the best candidates. By using a narrow tool, organizations can miss the opportunity to hire a well-rounded candidate who has the most potential to succeed in the job. These situations cost time, morale of other staff and dollars. Because the results are holistic, the data provide managers with a way to understand and guide team composition. The data is useful along the talent management spectrum.

Consider three candidates who went through the XBL Assessment Platform for an entry-level sales job. The first step was to create a job profile repot and to profile the current team. This set the benchmark for new team members. This is a consultative selling role that requires the ability to craft a solid solution and to communicate that solution effectively. Both cognitive and not cognitive skills are required for the position.

The first candidate scores high in competencies such as “Delivers Compelling Presentations” and “Communicates Articulately” but performs poorly on the Numerical Reasoning dimension in critical thinking, which is also important for the sale position. This candidate was very impressive in the interview and has the polish and verbal skills to make a terrific first impression. Yet his low scores on thinking competencies and numerical reasoning suggest that he does not have the depth for complex sales where judgment is required to build profitable proposals.

Another candidate ranked in the 95th percentile across Logical, Verbal and Numerical Reasoning. She is able to solve problems and deliver impressive solutions on paper. Her grasp of working the numbers and creating a value proposition is clear in the interview process. This candidate’s competency profile reveals, however, that she scored low in the key competencies for the job such as “Demonstrates Flexibility/Resilience” and “Persuades and Influences”. She may become a disappointment for the organization as she fails to adjust to the organizational culture and misses the mark in consultative sales situations.

The third candidate has a well-balanced profile. He scored above average for key competencies for the job. While his communication skills are not as dazzling as the first candidate, he is above average in the most important competencies. In addition, his numerical reasoning score was in superior range. This candidate will show good judgment in working with his customers to deliver sound, properly priced proposals and also have the ability to build solid relationships.

With all the information available, the employer can decide which candidate is right for the position and what support and training each will require to be most successful. With only cognitive data or competencies, it would be easy to miss out on understanding the potential of the well-rounded candidate or the well-rounded team.  

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