HR matters: The behavioural science of recruitment and selection

By 4 November 2015 No Comments

Here at Oxford HR, we believe placing the right people in the right role will change the world. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for us to be on the cutting edge of hiring practice. Behavioural science, the psychology of predicting how people will behave in certain situations, is an integral tool for optimising recruitment practice. CIPD recently released a report, “A head for hiring: The behavioural science of recruitment and selection”, an in-depth analysis of data that aims to shift away from vague models based on intuition and help recruiters develop a more robust and evidence-based approach.

While it is worth reading the report in its entirety, here I am going to summarize the key points and demonstrate that by using Oxford HR’s services, you will be benefiting from the best recruitment strategies based on the most recent research and ensure that you are hiring the right people.

Very often, recruitment and selection decisions are based on intuition and the successful candidate is the person with whom the recruiter feels the strongest emotional connection. Some of the time, intuition is honed through years of experience and can be quite reliable. However, basing decisions on behavioural science is far more and consistently reliable. Human behaviour can be predicted in a number of different ways, one of which is heuristics.

The human brain uses heuristics, or mental short-cuts, because we are inundated by stimuli and the brain has evolved to quickly parse that information in order to make fast decisions. Unfortunately, this also leaves us prone to bias and stereotyping. It can be difficult to acknowledge this tendency – no one wants to think that their behaviour is biased – but we all do it and awareness is the first step in correcting it. For example, “the attribute substitution occurs when someone has to make a complex judgement and uses an easy-to-interpret attribute to make the decision. This may lead someone to believe that people behave in situations such as interviews in the same way they do in ‘real life’ – causing them to misinterpret signs of anxiety.” (page 24, glossary of CIPD report)

Attract the right people

Employers often make assumptions about who will fit into their organisation or define fit erroneously. People tend to like and choose candidates who are the most similar to themselves or their colleagues. Focusing solely on intuitions about fit with organisational culture, therefore, can undermine diversity. The solution lies not in ignoring fit, but defining fit in a way that benefits the organisation in the long term and only evaluating candidates based on those criteria. Be willing to challenge the status quo and consider whether there are positions where anti-fit would be desirable. For instance, Google will sometimes hire someone who doesn’t fit or meet some of the selection criteria and then measure the impact.

You also need to be aware of and leverage what attracts people to apply for a given job. The right job advert is a key element of attracting the right kinds of people. Variations in job adverts attract different types of candidates who will go on to perform differently.

For example:

  • Stereotypically masculine or feminine wording will attract either male or female candidates.
  • Women apply when they meet one hundred percent of the essential criteria while men are likely to apply when they meet sixty percent.
  • Showing the number of applicants will increase the number of applications by 3%.
  • Personalised emails significantly increase the number of applications for a position.

Research shows that information about new jobs is shared the most with acquaintances; the implication being that if your networks are homogeneous, you are not reaching a wide range of candidates. It is vital, therefore, to systematise your recruitment strategy – one of the easiest ways to do this is to use an executive search agency.

At Oxford HR, before we begin each search, we have an in-depth briefing with our clients to discuss the role, their organisation, the type of candidates sought and the culture of your organisation. We gather as much information about your needs as we can. We offer advice on determining fit and any other areas in which you may need support. We have years of collective experience in writing effective, targeted job adverts to attract a wide pool of suitable candidates. We are acutely aware of linguistic biases and work hard to eradicate them (see previous article: HR matters: How to avoid gender discrimination in the hiring process). We pride ourselves on the individual attention we give to each candidate at every step of the process. This not only ensures that more people apply for each role, but also that we have a strong, diverse and ever-expanding database of potential candidates with whom we have an existing relationship.

Assessing CVs and optimising interviews

Behavioural science tells us that we hire people who are like us, even in terms of leisure activities, experiences and self-presentation styles. Identical CVs get more call backs when the name on the CV is traditionally white (e.g., Emily or Greg). Both male and female managers continue to favour men over equally qualified women in hiring, compensation, performance evaluation and promotion decisions. The propensity for bias is undeniable and so the goal of any assessment process should be to tease apart bias and real predictors of performance. Anonymising and comparing groups of CVs together is shown to reduce bias during this stage of recruitment.

Unstructured interviews are easily influenced by irrelevant information and the decision is usually made hastily and without considering the full range of information available. Assessors are particularly prone to confirmation bias; that is, only remembering information that confirms their existing opinions. Even seemingly inconsequential details, like the order in which candidates are interviewed and the fact that holding something warm causes you to feel more affectionate towards the people around you, have an influence on whether a candidate is hired.

The majority of studies suggest that structured interviews reduce bias and better predict job performance. The key during interviews is to focus on collecting information, not making the decision. Pre-commit to a set of interview questions that are directly related to job performance, such as questions that ask about what people have done in previous positions and how they would handle specific situations. Avoid brain teasers or other clichéd questions as they tend to be received negatively by candidates. Your recruitment process reflects back on your organisation and brand; it is prudent to leave all of your candidates with a good impression.

Evidence shows that standardised tests or tests of cognitive ability are often the most useful in predicting job performance, so long as the tests are relevant to the job. At Oxford HR, we are well-equipped to provide advice on testing as well as administering psychometric tests (e.g., the Harrison Assessment).

Oxford HR undertakes the first round of interviews and produces a comprehensive report on each candidate, which includes career and interview summaries well as the results of any testing, references and online research findings. You will then have all the necessary information with which to make a well-informed and unbiased decision on which candidates to invite to final interviews.

Make better hiring decisions

The evidence shows that in order to make better hiring decisions, you should:

  • Systematise and monitor your recruitment strategy.
  • Gather evidence to learn what works best for your organisation.
  • Be willing to challenge the status quo in the interest of long-term organisational goals.
  • Bolster your understanding of behavioural science, heuristics and best practice based on recent and well-tested evidence.

Oxford HR offers a personalised search based on our client’s specific needs and a personalised approach for candidates. We have an extensive network that spans the globe and a solid track record of gender parity and diverse hiring. Utilise Oxford HR’s expertise and ensure that you are hiring the right person.

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