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Hiring Practice does not make perfect…or even better…decisions


This is the second in a series of blogs about barriers to selection

success.  The first looked at the gap between what HR practitioners

believe and what has been proven through scientific research (Link to – How Pole Vaulting Helps With Better Hiring Decisions).

The idea that scientific analysis outperforms intuition-based

decisions is one of the most well-established findings in behavioral


But using intuition is so appealing… and so wide spread – if everyone

you know is doing it, it is hard to break away and be the first one to

change.  But hiring practice does not improve the decision maker’s


Research shows that HR professionals truly believe in their ability

to accurately “read between the lines” to assess candidates and

recruiters typically hesitate to use science to augment the headhunting

skills they have developed over their careers – they believe they can

“tell” the right candidates from talking with them.

Yet considerable evidence disproves the belief that anyone can make

accurate intuitive judgments about a candidate’s likelihood of job

success: having lots of experience in hiring does not improve hiring success or the ability to predict future job performance.  Here is what happens.

Using intuition people, tend to over-rely on the observable “broken

leg cues” – these cues are the idiosyncrasies in the candidate profile.

Focusing on an individual’s quirks is seductive – the quirks create

compelling (or entertaining) stories and lead people to ignore the

information that really is relevant to job success.  When scientists

study “prediction experts” (and they have studied them a lot), results

show some common themes:

  • They tend to rely on few pieces of information.
  • They lack insight into how they arrive at predictions.
  • They exhibit poor interjudge agreement – the experts do not agree when looking at the same information.
  • They become more confident in their accuracy when irrelevant information is presented[2].
  • One of the earliest studies of predicting the success ofundergraduates found that introducing the intuitive judgment ofstudents’ counselors actually reduced the accuracy of predictions of college success as shown in the table below[3].  Other research leads to the same conclusion.


Bottom-line – the evidence demonstrates over and over that intuition is a barrier, not an advantage, to successful prediction.

The solution is to avoid using intuition and personal assessment as a

major part of the selection decision.  Instead steer clear of the

peculiarities of specific candidates – those “broken leg cues” actually

reduce predictive accuracy because they distract attention from the

factors that are more accurate predictors.

The best talent decisions are based on data that cannot be faked.

Valid assessments provide the best predictive data – combined with

highly structured interviews, managers have a much higher likelihood of

finding the right employee.

[1] Highhouse 2008.

[2]Hastie, R. and R. M. Dawes, 2001. Rational choice in an uncertain world. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[3]Sarbin, T. L. 1943. A contribution to the study of actuarial and individual methods of prediction. American Journal of Sociology 48: 598–602.

Written by: Dr. Deborah L. Kerr