The whole recruitment process is often akin to flipping a coin and hoping you land the right candidate. High employee turnover is evidence that many recruitment decisions fail to deliver value for either candidate or employer. These failings often result from various logical fallacies, such as our inability to make rational decisions rather than hunches.
New research by Samuel A. Swift and Don A. Moore, University of California at Berkeley; Zachariah S. Sharek, Carnegie Mellon University; and Francesca Gino, Harvard Business School has highlighted a further logical fallacy of the recruitment process.
The paper focuses on the inability of recruiters to distinguish between results achieved under easy conditions and those achieved under difficult conditions. In a sporting parlance, it’s akin to assuming that someone who scored a hat-trick against their local Sunday league team is as proficient as someone who did likewise in the Premier League.
“Across all our studies, the results suggest that experts take high performance as evidence of high ability and do not sufficiently discount it by the ease with which that performance was achieved,” the paper reports.
Their study looked at a typical recruitment scenario. Twelve fictional candidates were in the hunt for a promotion. Some candidates had done well, albeit in an easier job, whilst others had done less well on a much harder task. They found that recruitment managers consistently chose the candidates who had achieved better headline results, even though they did so under much easier circumstances.
Suffice to say that whilst the candidates themselves are no doubt very grateful for their good fortune, it is not delivering the best results for the company as a whole. This is especially so when these outcomes are scaled up across a large company. Place that employee out of their depth and it’s unlikely to yield good results for either party.
Judging future performance
In a follow up study they wanted to see if they could remove this logical bias. They asked managers to look at the scores people achieved in a game, and then predict how well they would perform in subsequent rounds. The managers were informed that the scores were subjective, with some games easier than others. Nevertheless, the managers consistently chose players who had scored higher, and were then consistently disappointed when these players flopped in subsequent rounds.
What’s more, the skill of the judge was no indicator that selections would be more sensible.
“We thought that experts might not be as likely to engage in this type of error, and we also thought that in situations where we were very, very clear about [varying external circumstances], that there would be less susceptibility to the bias,” Gino says. “Instead, we found that expertise doesn’t help, and having the information right in front of your eyes is not as helpful.”
The report didn’t go into providing solutions to this problem, but hopefully being aware of the bias can at least warn managers of the fallacies that exist in their decision making.