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A great hire can have a far-reaching ripple effect: improving the good morale of co-workers, producing quality work for other employees to build upon, and contributing to critical goals of the organization. Yet many companies make important hiring decisions based upon very unreliable screening methods. Here’s where Industrial/Organizational (I/O) psychology can help. I/O psychology uses behavioral science – a quantitative and statistical approach – to assessing candidates’ knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs). This method can help you more reliably select a candidate who will be a great fit for the role you’re trying to fill, while at the same time help your hiring process be more compliant.

SkillSurvey Chief Analytics Officer, Cynthia A. Hedricks, Ph.D., described how in a webinar hosted by the Human Capital Institute, An Insider’s Guide to I/O Psychology: Cutting Through the Confusion to Make Better Hiring Decisions.

Step 1: Start off on the right track; align job descriptions with what’s required
Let’s start with the job profile. Often, there’s a misalignment between the job description and the actual skills needed, and required for success, in a particular position. And that sets you up for a mismatched hire, says Dr. Hedricks. And, you may be missing out, because the description might not appeal to a potentially great applicant. “The right profile attracts the right candidates,” says Dr. Hedricks. “If you’re not asking for the skills and abilities needed to excel in the position, the right applicants probably won’t apply.”

Step 2: Be Specific
Another common pitfall: vague job descriptions. A candidate or hiring manager’s idea of “good people skills” can mean any number of things. It might be interpreted by some as being outgoing or talkative, while others might perceive that it means “greeting customers with a smile.” But if you’re hiring for a customer service role that could involve the need to successfully resolve customer complaints, a more precise description might be “remain calm and helpful when handling complaints from customers, even if they’re angry.”

Dr. Hedricks, who is also a hiring manager and an I/O Psychologist, recommends that recruiters work closely with hiring managers to create job descriptions, with an emphasis on what is needed to succeed in the role. Furthermore, they should touch base with the hiring manager periodically to update the description as needed. And after a candidate has been hired, check in with the new hire, and the hiring manager, within a few months and ask how well the description matched the actual job.

Step 3: Get more insightful reference feedback
Next, you want to find the candidates who have the skills you’ve identified as critical to success. Your best gauge? Their past performance. “Past behavior predicts future performance,” emphasizes Dr. Hedricks. “By applying this tenet to the hiring process, you can better anticipate a candidate’s future behavior at work.” Your best and most reliable sources for a candidate’s past performance are the people who have worked with him or her in the past, including both managers and co-workers.

Most importantly, you need candid feedback on a candidate’s soft skills, or the competencies and behaviors that aren’t necessarily tied to degrees, resumes or job experience. “Employees are hired on hard skills, but commonly let go because of soft skills,” says Dr. Hedricks. “Behaviors like social and communication skills are all very necessary in today’s workforce, even for remote and virtual workers.” Identifying a candidate who has already demonstrated the soft skills that are important for a particular job will save you money on training. Because unlike hard skills such as computer proficiency, in general, it is more difficult and expensive to train an employee on soft skills needed for the job.

SkillSurvey’s online reference checking solution provides questions about relevant soft skills and behaviors that have been validated against successful performance in thousands of jobs. References can provide feedback through an online and confidential format.

Step 4: Bring specificity and consistency to the interview process
A candidate’s job is to present the best image of him or herself. Your job is to distinguish fact from fiction. Create your interview questions based on the soft and hard skills correlated with job success. If you have reference feedback prior to your interview, you can delve deeper into specific areas identified as potential concerns. Ask candidate about explicit behaviors, such as exactly what they did to resolve a complaint from an irate customer.

Also, ask the same questions of every candidate and in the same format. “This structured and consistent approach yields the best results and provides the best data for purposes of comparison when it’s time to make a decision,” says Dr. Hedricks. I/O psychology research has shown that when compared to results of interviews that lack structure, structured interviews are more highly correlated with actual job performance.

By embedding these I/O best practices into your hiring process, you can find solid employees who will have the skills and abilities that better match the position that you are trying to fill. And as a result, you should see improvements in performance and retention. Want to learn more? Listen to the webinar which features Cynthia A. Hedricks, Ph.D., Chief Analytics Officer at SkillSurvey.

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