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What is Evidence-Based Hiring and How Can You Use It?

If you’ve never heard about evidence-based hiring until now, you’re probably wondering what it is. After all, isn’t all hiring presumably based on evidence? You read a resume, perform an interview, use skills tests, and build a body of evidence that the person you’re considering hiring is skilled and worth your investment.

In truth, you’re half-right with this assumption. Evidence-based hiring starts there but extends beyond your interactions with a single candidate.

So, what is it exactly, and how can you use it? Read on to find out.

What is Evidence-Based Hiring?

Evidence-based hiring is a process that uses evidence to make hiring decisions. Simple, right?

Truthfully, evidence-based hiring is a complex topic. It’s heavily rooted in organizational psychology and measuring key metrics over time, such as job performance, job satisfaction, and overall productivity.

“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 gets 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.” – Criteria.

The goal of evidence-based hiring is to gather evidence of the short-term, medium-term, and long-term results of your hiring decisions based on numerous factors. You can then determine which factors are most influential in the long-term success of your employees and leverage that information to hire more employees with better-predicted outcomes.

The core principles of evidence-based hiring are:

  1. Use the best available evidence and data to support hiring decisions, and guide them in a more long-term profitable direction.

  2. Identify the personal attributes of an individual that are most predictive of long-term success, and look for more people who share those attributes to hire.

  3. Build an objective framework for hiring in the future, which can look for the attributes and evidence indicative of a promising candidate without causing adverse impact or other discriminatory hiring decisions.

  4. Iterate upon data gathered over time to adjust decision-making for maximum positive outcomes.

The ongoing quest to support these principles is the guiding light of evidence-based hiring and recruiting practices.

What Are the Benefits of Evidence-Based Hiring?

Evidence-based hiring requires long-term measurement of consistent data points, with a correlation between factors present during hiring and factors present throughout an employee’s career. It has many benefits, but what are they?

 You fill vacancies in your workforce more quickly.

One of the most tangible benefits of evidence-based hiring is having a more extensive array of data points you can use to make a hiring decision. With traditional hiring, you look at a list of skills, work history, accomplishments, and other personal details. You combine those with whatever the candidate has written in their cover letter (if you read them at all) and what impression you get out of them during interviews to make a decision.

This is, by necessity, somewhat biased and relies on gut impressions and feelings.

With evidence-based hiring, you look beyond the surface and into metrics that might not be obvious at first glance or might not be something commonly found on a resume. These attributes strongly correlate with ongoing success within your organization, so they help you filter through your candidates more quickly.

A faster hiring process results in a more robust workforce, established faster, and less time and money spent on the hiring process itself.

 You save money on the hiring process.

In the business world, time is money. Many job boards require payment to host a job ad, job marketing costs money, and every day you spend short-staffed costs your business money in the form of productivity and other results.

Thus, the faster you can make a decision for hiring, the faster you can fill vacancies and the less money you spend on filling open roles.

On top of this, every part of the hiring process costs money. You may need to pay travel expenses for interviews, pay time for HR managers to conduct those interviews, pay for skills testing and hiring platforms and software, and more. All of these fees add up.

Moreover, they increase by the number of candidates you process; every candidate you interview and don’t hire costs your business money. By reducing the number of candidates you process, you reduce the expenses associated with filling an open role.

 You reduce turnover and increase overall employee satisfaction.

The primary motivating factor with evidence-based hiring is long-term job performance and satisfaction. It’s not a good outcome if your employees only stick around for a couple of years before leaving. So, you seek out the high-performing individuals who stick with you for their careers and look to find more people who meet those criteria.

This way, you build more institutional knowledge, more familiarity with your products and your customers, and a deeper understanding of your business as a whole, inside and out. Satisfied employees don’t leave, which reduces the need to find more replacements, with the expense that adds as well.

 You increase productivity and customer satisfaction.

Employees who feel secure in their job and are happy will be more productive, both as individuals and when working as a team. Evidence-based hiring allows you to build high-performing teams, increasing productivity and the ability to navigate a changing business environment with ease.

Deeper familiarity with your business leads to more empowered employees, which leads to a better product or service and more satisfied customers.

One question remains: how can you use evidence-based hiring to gain these benefits?

Here’s the process.

Step 1: Identify Metrics to Monitor

The first thing you need to do to set up evidence-based hiring is to identify the key predictors of long-term success within your organization. Most of the time, these indicators will be relatively standard, if not across all workers, at least across the industry. That said, in larger companies, you might need to look at specific departments or specialties. For example, the indicators of success in a customer service representative and a marketer will be different.

Consider indicators such as:

  1. Personality traits. Are they introverted or extroverted? Are they conflict-averse? Are they natural leaders?

  2. Creative thinking. Are they natural problem-solvers, or do they tend to wait for someone else to fix issues they encounter? Do they think outside the box to perform their tasks?

  3. Teamwork. How well do they work with a team, either as a leader or follower?

  4. Conflict resolution. How do they handle being challenged or challenging an idea they know from experience won’t work?

There are nearly as many attributes as there are people in your organization. The key is to look for commonalities amongst your highest-performing, most-satisfied, and longest-lasting employees so you know what to replicate.

Remember that not all employees need to have the same attributes, however. If every employee in your organization is a Type A problem-solving leader, you’re likely going to ratchet up the conflict and reduce productivity as they butt heads constantly.

Step 2: Set Up Tracking and Data Harvesting

Once you have an idea for the attributes you want to track, measure, and look for, you need to set up some way to monitor them. Look for those attributes in new hires, long-time employees, and candidates.

Often, you will need to use specially-designed questions and surveys to gather this kind of information. Whether you integrate it as part of an annual performance review, send out random surveys to your employees, or keep managers in contact with employees and have them be the judge, you need consistency in data management.

Step 3: Make Decisions Based on Evidence

It takes some time, but eventually, you will have a body of evidence and a method to analyze new candidates for the qualities you want to see in a new employee. Integrate searching for these qualities into your hiring process.

For example, you might:

  1. Utilize a personality test to check for certain inherent attributes as part of the application process.

  2. Deliver a practical skills assessment that challenges problem-solving and creative thinking skills and judge results based on established criteria.

  3. During an interview, directly talk to the candidate about situations or factors relevant to your chosen qualities.

The goal here is to seek out as close a match as possible to the list of qualities you want to see. Ideally, hiring a candidate with those qualities will leave you with a candidate ready to hit the ground running, who will fit in right away, and who will become a productive contributing member to your teams in no time. Moreover, they should continue to exhibit these qualities over time as they become a more integrated part of your workforce.

Step 4: Measure Outcomes of New Hiring Decisions

Check in with your new hires at the three-month, six-month, and twelve-month points. Then, check in every six months or every year to monitor their performance.

Sometimes, your decisions will be wrong. Sometimes, extenuating circumstances (such as family illness) cause an otherwise promising employee to drop out. Sometimes, you’re right on target, and your employee settles in beautifully.

As you monitor the outcomes of your decisions, you can then determine what was relevant and what was not. From there, you change what you look for and adjust your hiring process to optimize it further.

Step 5: Repeat Until Satisfied

No process is perfect. Moreover, even if you had a perfect process, your business is not static. Your leadership changes, your customers change, your products change, your industry changes. A growing labor movement might pressure you to increase salaries and benefits. A global pandemic might push you to working from home, encouraging a different set of qualities in a successful employee. A high-level company deal might require internal restructuring.

All of these changes will impact how your hiring process evolves. What you look for today might not be what you need in a year or five years. Iterating on your evidence is the key to long-term success.

Does Evidence-Based Hiring Have Risks?

Like any process that relies on harvesting evidence from a sample, there are risks to evidence-based hiring.

The most significant risk to watch for is self-reinforcing data. It’s especially important if you’re using an ATS that includes evidence harvesting; it might identify qualities that “predict” job satisfaction but are themselves not relevant or actually harmful.

Here’s an example scenario. An algorithm or app picks characteristics of candidates that predict long-term success in the organization and recommends candidates. You hire those candidates. Yet, your company stagnates. So, you look at what evidence it was suggesting and see qualities such as:

  1. Has an agreeable personality.

  2. Is willing to accept a sub-standard salary.

  3. Has little ambition.

Sure, the result is that you’ll have a company full of like-minded people who work well together and stick with your company for many years. The trouble is, you lose out on many benefits associated with diverse employees and may even make your workplace more hostile to minority employees. You have a stable but sub-par workforce.

Actual evidence-based hiring requires human oversight, not algorithmic decision-making. You can’t trust a computer to make a decision like this. Instead, you need to focus on attributes relevant to long-term satisfaction and are not part of protected classes.

Luckily, it’s relatively rare that such an issue crops up with properly-handled evidence-based hiring. As long as you keep an eye on what data you’re harvesting and using to make decisions and give it a periodic sanity check to avoid adverse impact, you’ll reap the benefits without such issues.

Do you have any questions about evidence-based hiring, how you or your company can use it, or anything similar? If so, please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we’ll get a conversation started! Implementing evidence-based hiring isn’t going to be simple for every company, and we would be more than happy to assist you with the process however we can! 

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