Evidence-Based Hiring: What Is It?

The goal of hiring is very simple: to select the best person for the job. Inherent in that process is a question of prediction. Whether you’re a recruiter, hiring manager, or HR professional, your task is to predict which of your candidates are most likely to succeed.

While the goal is extremely simple, the steps to achieving it can be quite complicated. Dozens of factors can impact your ultimate hiring decision. Some of these factors are based on gut feeling or intuition, like a first impression, a shared hobby, or the candidate’s alma mater. Other factors are more concrete and objective, like the candidate’s job experience or their performance on a pre-employment assessment. Any of these factors, whether consciously or unconsciously, can contribute to the final decision. More importantly, no single factor should make the entire decision for you, just as not every factor should have the same weight.

But how do you know which factors to prioritize over others? This is where evidence-based hiring can help.

What is Evidence-Based Hiring?

In simplest terms, an evidence-based hiring process incorporates the factors that are the most predictive of job outcomes. We call it “evidence-based” because it is based on the evidence compiled from extensive research in organizational psychology. This evidence is used to determine scientifically which factors are more likely to predict job performance than others. By building a hiring process that incorporates more predictive factors and weights them more heavily, organizations can improve their hiring outcomes.

Evidence-based decision making gets its inspiration from the scientific method. As you likely recall, the scientific method involves collecting observations, measuring those observations, testing out hypotheses, and collecting evidence based on that entire process. At its core, it involves using real evidence and observations as the basis for our decisions, as opposed to relying on our assumptions or intuition.

What does this look like in the context of the hiring process? Let’s take one hiring factor that we can observe – the interview. We could conduct an experiment at a company with 10,000 employees and instruct hiring managers to assign a rating to each candidate based on the quality of the interview, say on a scale of 1 to 5. Then a year later, managers can assign a performance rating to those people who were hired, based on their on-the-job performance. From there, you can find the relationship between those initial interview scores and the employees’ performance ratings a year later.

This type of analysis enables you to answer, for example, what the likelihood is that someone who rated a “4” on the interview will ultimately be scored as a high performer later on. By conducting this type of “study,” you are gathering evidence of how well a certain hiring factor predicts the job outcomes that matter to you.

In reality, conducting these types of “experiments” in your organization is unwieldy even for many of the largest organizations. Fortunately, research of this kind is constantly being produced by academics and I/O psychologists, and organizations can use this data to build their evidence-based hiring process as opposed to gathering that evidence on their own.

The Evidence is Out There

One of the most well-known studies analyzed 85 years of research and compiled it into a meta-analysis that ranked different hiring factors based on how well they predicted outcomes. In other words, it compiled all the evidence that was out there to provide insight into the impact of different hiring factors. The study found that some of the most predictive hiring factors were work samples, cognitive ability tests, and structured interviews. On the flipside, it found that some of the worst predictors, which had almost no ability to predict job performance, were factors such as age, interests, or even years of education.

These types of insights can be used to develop your own hiring process that gets the best hiring outcomes. Building an evidence-based hiring process is all about incorporating factors into your process based on the evidence of which hiring factors are most effective at predicting success.

Why do Evidence-Based Hiring?

By now, this should be self-explanatory, but evidence-based hiring is so critical because it actually leads to improved job outcomes. By using strategies that are proven to predict job outcomes, your organization can increase your batting average when it comes to making good hires. Over time, this should improve the entire makeup of the company. For this reason, evidence-based hiring has solidified itself as a best-in-class practice for Fortune 500s and beyond.

Even more importantly, hiring is traditionally a very human activity, and humans are unfortunately prone to bias. When making a hiring decision, it is all too easy to select candidates based on things like charisma, likeability, or shared interests. Employers are now abundantly aware that this type of hiring behavior not only leads to a lack of diversity in the workplace, but also prevents employers from identifying and hiring the best person for the job. By building an evidence-based hiring process that heavily weights those factors that are actually predictive of success, your organization has a better chance of building a diverse, high performing team.