Human Resources
Why Not Just Use My Gut and Save a Ton of Cash?

Why Not Just Use My Gut and Save a Ton of Cash?


Feb 23, 2017 | by Michael Heil

The Problem
I’ve had hiring managers tell me that they can save a lot of money by discarding selection assessments and following their gut when evaluating candidates. This claim has often been based on a belief that selection tests are not valid if they produce results that conflict with the hiring manager’s expectations. Bottom line: Someone they know and with whom they have prior experience did not score as well as expected, so this must mean there is something wrong with the test.

I understand this logic. If I perform poorly on a test, I assume that there must be something wrong with the test because my score clearly doesn’t reflect my abilities. Unfortunately, my family, friends, and employer have painstakingly created charts and graphs illustrating my strengths and weaknesses, all in an effort to help me better align my self-perception with reality. I suppose that this type of misperception is just one reason why test scores and expectations might diverge.

Other potential reasons: Maybe the candidate just had a bad test day or didn’t put forth his/her best effort. Or maybe the hiring manager’s assessment of the candidate is based on one set of required competencies and the test assesses another.

Complaints about the test’s validity seem to imply that the test failed to identify highly qualified candidates, but is that really true? Is there any reason to believe that the high scorers won’t succeed on the job? If the scores don’t turn out as expected and I want to declare the test invalid, maybe it’s time to reevaluate my objective. What is my real goal? To hire a particular person or to hire the best candidate? If the test results don’t turn out as I expected, I have a choice. I can admit that maybe my favored candidate is not the most qualified, I can blame the test and shake my fist at the sky, or I can realize that maybe I now have something even better than expected…a hidden gem who exceeds my expectations. Someone who’ll excel on the job.

The Risks
Despite valid reasons for lower than expected scores, a mistrust of selection tests may persist and result in managers foregoing tests and hiring based on their gut feeling. I mean no offense to people who make gut-based decisions, but I’m not sure that’s the best way to identify top talent. First of all, pulling my gut out for every applicant could get exhausting. How many people do I need to evaluate? All of them? Only some? If not all, then how do I decide who should be evaluated? Am I basing the gut check on resumes, interviews, or some other type of data? What is the time investment required for this process? Second, I dare say that my gut doesn’t always make the best decisions. I submit a beta max, a bad 80’s perm, a minor in Philosophy, and more marriages than I care to admit as evidence to support my claim.

What if my gut reaction is based on the strength of the candidates’ social skills, words on a resume, and/or my personal reactions to the candidate?  I may end up failing to evaluate competencies that are critical to successful performance, which means I may hire someone who either fails or performs work at a mediocre level. What may seem like a cheap selection process ends up costing me in lost productivity and/or recruitment and training costs if I need to replace the new hire. What if my decisions are challenged in court? Can I defend gut decisions? Wouldn’t I rather be in court with the backing of a test development/ validation process that complies with legal/ professional guidelines and standards?

The Solution
If you’re a hiring manager, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use your gut; just that you need to have the right balance of intuition and science.  The science comes into play with the development, validation, and implementation of selection tests. In addition to being valid and legally defensible, these tests provide objective data you can use to evaluate the candidates.

You can then use this information in conjunction with your knowledge/ expertise of what is needed for the job…along with what your gut is telling you about who will succeed in the specific role. A good example of this balance is the hiring manager who interviews her top 3 to 4 candidates, as identified through test scores, then makes her selection based on her gut feeling about which of the candidates is most likely to succeed in the role.

There are a lot of factors to consider when making a decision about selection tests, including the size of your workforce, hiring needs, expected test volume, costs, legal defensibility, goals, etc. Although using your gut seems cheaper than using tests, investment in the correct tests can result in a substantial return on investment due to hiring the best quality candidates . Contact Mike Heil for more information.

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