Guest Column

January 5, 2014

Scientific method applied to hiring

“The times they are a-changin,” wrote Bob Dylan in 1964. That fact became very apparent to me last week when I participated in a conference call the topic of which was “Using predictive statistical analysis to hire talent and assess performance.” For the uninitiated, predictive analytics are used “to determine the future outcome of an event or the likelihood of a situation occurring.”

My friend, Amanda, a behavioral neuroscientist who lives in England, invited me to attend with the admonishment that I could listen but not speak. She always sets the bar high.

Armed with a large latte (double shot), I dialed in hoping the caffeine jolt would keep me awake, if not alert, for the duration of the call. I was quite surprised to find the conversation interesting and informative, when it wasn’t completely over my head.

The teleconference began with the participants, primarily behavioral scientists involved in finding more effective ways to recruit and hire people for positions requiring specific skill sets.

No argument there; hiring the best available talent is definitely a strategic competitive advantage. A recent survey of 250 executives in seven countries found “attracting and retaining skilled staff” was the one of the top issues facing businesses worldwide.

As a group, they challenged the conventional wisdom in recruiting. Their premise was that the traditional approach to hiring and promoting is subjective and flawed and that there is technology in the marketplace that can remove the “human bias from recruiting and promoting.”

The discussion focused on moving away from largely subjective means of assessing talent to more objective, empirical-based methods; challenging the conventional wisdom that the best talent is found among applicants from top schools with high grade point averages and experience at prestigious companies, and “poaching” from competitors is the best way to hire great people.

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