We all agree that recruiting and selecting the right people is fundamental to any organisation’s success. How best to do it, however, remains a challenging area. That’s no surprise: the employer and potential new hire enter the process with limited information on what to expect and have few opportunities to learn from their behaviour. In addition, the process is inherently high stakes, so stress levels may be high. Ultimately, any recruitment and selection process demands complex and speedy decision making from both sides.
Behavioural science has a lot to say about the way in which people make decisions in these types of settings. Our behaviour does not always fit a rational actor model but it is still systematic and predictable. This report outlines ways in which harnessing knowledge about how we actually behave can help recruiters – including external agents, recruiting managers and HR professionals – to improve outcomes for the organisations they represent.
This is an area that benefits from multidisciplinary research – occupational psychologists, economists, neuroscientists and organisational behaviour experts have all shed light on parts of the recruitment and selection process over the past decades. The goal of this report is to whittle down the existing evidence using a behavioural lens to practical, actionable insights, clarify where the evidence is strongest and suggest areas for future research.
We start by looking at ways to attract candidates best suited to the job and the organisation’s broader needs. While it is particularly difficult to determine who the ‘right’ applicant might be, there is growing evidence that how you conduct outreach efforts and how you utilise existing networks will determine who finds themselves in your applicant pool. Recent evidence from behavioural science also shows that even small changes to how you frame a job advert can have a disproportionate effect on who applies and, subsequently, how they perform on the job.
In the second section we consider the evidence behind the use of key selection and assessment tools as well as the biases and judgement errors that may occur on the assessor’s side when using these tools. There are simple tweaks that can be made to use the tools in a more effective way. For example, anonymising or jointly comparing CVs helps assessors to concentrate on the information that matters. Structured interviews are shown to be more effective than unstructured ones overall, although the difference may not be as stark for certain types of interviewers. The evidence on tests and questionnaires shows they can be powerful predictors of performance, but the content of those tests will determine their predictive validity, so they must be carefully matched with job requirements.
The third section focuses on the candidate’s experience during the recruitment process. Not only does the candidate experience affect our ability to decipher who is best, it also can have knock-on effects on an employer’s brand and their ability to attract talent in the future. The impact of stress and anxiety during interviews is well documented. Since the situation is likely to be inherently stressful for an employee, much of the literature suggests that additional stress should be avoided. Candidates from disadvantaged or minority groups may be particularly prone to experiencing pressure, due to negative stereotypes and the sense of being an outsider. The research here is clear: when someone’s identity as being from a disadvantaged or minority group is highlighted to them, this may negatively impact their performance in the assessment process. There are simple ways to relieve individuals from these pressures.
We end the report with a call for more research. This need not come from academia alone. Shifting away from a model based on intuition and vague notions of ‘fit’, recruiters can build a strong evidence base by building rigorous evaluation into their own practices. By constantly and consistently testing their own practices, organisations will not only learn what works best, they will make better hiring decisions.