The Biggest Lie Ever Told about Hiring

Throughout history, there have been many false or misleading claims about hiring.

The biggest lie?

It’s one that many of us tell ourselves.


Let’s talk through the logic

Skills aren’t as important as they were traditionally thought to be.

We know this from decades of research across many different organizations and industries.


Skills generally account for about 20% of job performance.

What about the other 80%?


Some of today’s most prominent and successful business leaders have found that hiring for “attitude” is the most important thing.

(For example Google, Richard Branson, Zappos).


In other words, maybe personality and “soft skills” can make up that difference.


This graph looks like it makes sense at first, but it is wrong. Very wrong.


What would this actually mean, if true?

Think about all the information you would actually need to account for 100% of job performance.

We’re talking about all of the relevant:

  • Social and economic conditions, industry trends, workplace conditions
  • Characteristics of managers, coworkers, customers, or clients
  • Events that might happen in the worker’s personal life


And you would need to be able to predict exactly how these things will happen or change in the future, specifically how they will impact the worker.


Imagine someone tried to convince you that all of the factors we just listed above don’t actually influence job performance.

You would probably laugh at them. That can’t be true.


If someone tried to convince you that they only explain 5% of job performance?

Still sounds pretty ridiculous.


But in a different context, what if someone claimed that their hiring assessment is 95% accurate?

That sounds great!

But is it even possible?

It only could be if the other factors don’t actually matter after all.


Even with an adaptive hiring system using the latest talent analytics technology, the reality looks more like this:


Note: Don’t assume that all of the unknown variation will result in a “bad” outcome.
Even if hiring is completely random, you would still have a 50% chance of hiring someone in the top 50% (i.e., an above-average employee).


What’s does this uncertainty mean?

Uncertainty could mean that the assessments are imperfect, or the predictive models are inaccurate.

Some critics might even use this uncertainty to claim that the system is unfair and shouldn’t be used at all.


Unexplained variation certainly can be due to flaws in the hiring system.

But if you don’t think carefully enough, you might assume that it always is.


The truth is that you should expect the unexpected.

Assessments can add tremendous value to the hiring process, but we simply cannot know everything.


We want to believe

We all want to believe that it’s somehow possible to predict or explain everything.

Anything less than 100% isn’t good enough.


That is the biggest lie.



Image credit: Jacinta Lluch Valero

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *