Angel’s Dancing: Separating Truth From Almost Truth From Fiction

There is a major disconnect between the world of research and the world of business. Research majors in minors. Business minors in majors. (Think about it). We often read articles written by our peers lamenting, “I/O Psychologists don’t get no respect.” I wonder if the propeller-head who agreed with that statement also wrote the article, “Method effects of positive affectivity, negative affectivity, and impression management in self-reports of work attitudes.” Does anyone see a logical disconnect here? I’m sure the ‘Method effects’ article is a good one, well researched, thoroughly documented, and all that. I may even plan to read it someday myself someday. But, the bottom line was then, is now, and will be in the future, “So what?” The debate that arose from my last article (Sense, Common Sense, and Nonsense) underlines the dual components of silliness and seriousness that my colleagues (and I) are guilty of each and every day. For every research article that claims interviews have a correlation of .30 with performance, there is another article that claims the figure is closer to .40. And, every so often, there is a great-big summary of articles that claims the figure is closer to .35. So what? This kind of argument reminds me of theologians who argue how many Angels can dance on the head of a pin. (I didn’t know Angels could dance, let alone use a pinhead as a dance floor!) Psychology tries hard to defend itself as a “science.” But common sense tells us that predicting behavior or job skills is a very “iffy” process and should be thought of more as a persuasive trend than a replicable experiment. If rocket scientists worked with the same “mushy” concepts that we do, the Mars Global Surveyor would right now be systematically investigating New Jersey. What we offer is a general confirmation that helps end users separate claims into “nonsense” and “makes sense” groups. Take for example, interviews (my favorite topic): Research Question: Does an interview accurately predict job performance? Common Sense Answer: Maybe. Question: What do you mean, “Maybe?” Common Sense Answer: Well, “Yes” if you clearly know what answers you need, if you know exactly what questions to ask, if the applicant is perfectly truthful, if you get comprehensive answers, if the past job is precisely like the future job, if the interviewer is perfectly objective, and if the interview thoroughly covers each important job domain. Common Sense Response: File that under “Never.” Conclusion: Interviews are effective at dividing people into two groups: 1) Alien life forms, and 2) I don’t see any tentacles. I’m willing to bet my company’s money and take a chance. It is not really important to know statistical terms and be able to quote research studies chapter and verse. If you have the time, they make fascinating reading as long as you don’t get too bogged-down in the ugly details. But, if you care about doing a good job, you do, however, need to know how to master some basics:

  • Lack of job analyses data leads to job assumptions and that leads to mistakes (Clue: Does it take multiple “test balloon” candidates before the hiring manager agrees you understand what he or she is looking for?)
  • Questions produce lots of data, but little of it is useful (Clue: Do you have trouble deciding which of two candidates would be a better performer?)
  • Candidates tend to exaggerate their accomplishments and hide their weaknesses (Clue: Have you ever seen a “Star” applicant turn onto a “loser” performer?)
  • Do you hire people based on image instead of skills? (Clue: Managers seem to hire people who all look related and shop at the same clothing store)
  • Do you take the time to track your hiring successes and failures? (Clue, do you give hiring managers a detailed survey to assess your hiring accuracy?)

If you did track hiring success with your managers, it would look something like this: Use the Following Scale to Rate This Employee: Exceeds requirements, Meets Requirements, Needs Improvement, N/A. How well did we do at predicting this employee’s:

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  • Ability to learn and apply new job information
  • Ability to analyze data and solve problems
  • Time management skills
  • Planning and prioritizing skills
  • Ability to coach and counsel subordinates
  • Skill at effectively persuading others
  • Active engagement in team efforts
  • Willingness to make work a high priority
  • Ability to produce quality product that meets company standards
  • Flexibility and adaptability to meet changing situations
  • Technical skills

(You see, if you don’t ask for detailed feedback, you cannot learn what you are doing right and doing wrong) Can we accurately predict performance from interviews? Only if we learn from our mistakes and work to get better. Do you suppose Angels line-dance? <*SPONSORMESSAGE*>

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1 Comment on “Angel’s Dancing: Separating Truth From Almost Truth From Fiction

  1. Interesting article. I agree that we need to do a better job of applying what I/O researchers learn to the field of HR. However, I would argue that “interviews” appear to lack validity because of an inconsistency in research methods especially in terms of the interviewers. I think the bottom line with interviewing research is that some interviewers are much better than others. I don’t think I/O psych is the only field prone to frivolous topics.

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