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A New Manager's Guide to the Art and Science of Hiring

A woman at a desk in front of a computer, on the phone and taking notes.

Some people appear to have a gift for hiring talented, motivated candidates. They seem to know what assets to look for and consistently find people who have them. And as a new or aspiring team leader, you might wonder: “Is there a formula I can use to find the ideal employee?”

The fact is that a well-designed and executed selection process can make a real difference in terms of employee retention, productivity, costs, and other outcomes. Nevertheless, according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), many organizations use haphazard approaches to employee selection that don’t employ effective, evidence-based methods.

Whether you view hiring as an art or science, it’s worth understanding what it takes to employ a rigorous selection process—and how it helps with identifying the right candidates. This article captures key points in that process based on recommendations from human resources professionals and relevant research findings. 

Identify competencies that relate to performance

The bottom line is that you need to evaluate whether candidates have competencies that facilitate successful job performance. This involves delineating job tasks along with the competencies—i.e., knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics—necessary to perform them. The term of art here is “job analysis,” a process which forms the basis for evaluating candidates.

There’s more than one way to approach a job analysis. One is to focus on defining detailed, job-specific tasks, and the other involves outlining broad employee behaviors. For example, a job-specific task for fundraisers might be to “write and send letters of thanks to donors,” while a general fundraising behavior may include “communicating with people outside the organization.” Both approaches ultimately inform the list of competencies and can be used in tandem.

For instance, the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) integrates both approaches into a public database. The database contains job-specific and employee-oriented data for more than 900 occupations. By exploring O*NET, you can see the results of job analyses conducted for positions relevant to your organization.

Pro tip: “Competency modeling” is a term closely related to job analysis. Although the relationship between competency modeling and job analysis is the subject of some debate, it’s useful to understand job analysis as a way to assess job-specific requirements, whereas competency modeling enables organizations to align employee competencies with the overall strategic goals of an organization. 

Use valid selection measures to assess candidates

In their selection assessment guide, SHRM defines a valid selection test as one that “provides useful information about how effectively an employee will actually perform” when hired. This is important: using valid tests is crucial for identifying qualified candidates and for pinpointing what, if any, additional training may be necessary once they are on board. After all, qualified candidates may not match 100 percent of the requirements.

In essence, valid tests, such as structured interviews or work samples, help to “predict” future job performance. And by using multiple valid tests in conjunction, you’re able to capture a higher proportion of factors that relate to performance. 

The notion of using valid tests may seem self-evident, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. In fact, there’s an entire body of research that examines test validity. Specifically, research shows that methods such as cognitive ability tests, structured interviews, and work samples have high validity when properly developed and administered. The process of validating tests also requires time and expertise, as is the case with custom tests specifically tailored to the organization.

Valid tests are a must, but be mindful of other factors 

Although only valid tests should be used for hiring, factors such as costs, applicant perceptions, and adverse impacts are also important considerations. The authors of one selection-test study nevertheless caution that “it never makes sense to employ a tool without supporting validity evidence—regardless of how cheap, how low the adverse impact, or how easy to administer.” 

It’s worth noting that several tests with high validity may also contribute to high adverse impact, according to SHRM. That is, certain tests have a discriminatory result that manifests in a disproportionately low number of people hired from a protected group as compared to the majority group selected for a position. 

SHRM notes that researchers are looking at ways to reduce adverse impact without compromising validity, for instance by recruiting more candidates from protected groups or by ensuring the collection of tests used covers much of what’s required for successful performance. There’s also evidence that organizations are more likely to attract people who value diversity if they communicate that value clearly.

What now?

The purpose of this article is to make you aware of evidence-based selection practices. But what should you do if you want to learn more? What if you want to bring more rigor to your organization’s hiring process? 

There are publicly available resources, such as the SHRM selection guide and O*NET database referenced throughout this post. You may consider these resources as a starting point for further learning—and as information to share with colleagues. 


About the Author | Jen Bogle is a writer and social-impact communicator studying organizational psychology. She aims to help organizations enhance employee health and well-being.

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