Computers Make Better Recruitment Choices than Managers

In the UK, more than 75% of the firms listed as the Times Top 100 companies use psychometric testing as part of their recruitment process. It is not uncommon for these computer-based tests to be used by management consultancies, financial institutions, the civil service and even the armed forces. In recent times, they have become an extremely popular tool in the fight for hiring top UK graduates. And in new research, Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Danielle Li, along with two colleagues, found that these companies are right to trust computers with recruitment, because their research suggests that machines make better hiring choices than managers.

“My sense is that managers are probably doing their best to hire the people they believe will be the best candidates,” observes Li. “But they are not as good at predicting when compared to an algorithm that has access to much more data on worker outcomes and has been trained to recognise these patterns.”

Computer-based testing is an established way to assess whether candidates have the technical, academic and mental capabilities to do work that involves logic, numbers and problem-solving, and many people/organisations recognise this. But the most obvious issue that it creates is the discounting of so many other important aspects of the recruiting decision, such as personality, enthusiasm and experience. This really becomes a problem when such testing is placed at the very first stage of the hiring process – sometimes coming even before application submissions, let alone interviews. Whereas a candidate may not do so well on tests, if given the chance they could manage to ‘wow’ company executives at interview.

According to Li, it is for this reason exactly that testing could be the better option: because it supposedly helps prevent recruitment decisions being based on anything other than facts and logic. Whether or not they realise it, intuition (which could easily be wrong) and other biases often play a role in the hiring manager’s decision. These biases could be based on a variety of factors including having things in common with the candidate, or whether they are likeable. The researchers concluded that tests could be a good way to prevent this. The research found that those hired through testing stayed with their company 15% longer than those who were hired without it. Of course, this is just one set of research, and there are usually exceptions. Even so, it does raise questions as well as possibilities for HR executives to ponder.

On this issue, the vice-president of Bersin by Deloitte’s talent acquisition, engagement and retention research group says, though pre-hire assessment is helpful, the most important factors include “a good, communicative relationship between recruiters and hiring managers – and that requires humans in the process.”

If this is so then it may well be that some leading firms are potentially missing out on top talent, simply because they rely too much on testing.

Opinions are therefore divided.

Computer-based testing has been around for some time, and this looks set to continue. Moreover, as research shows, it can be advantageous in certain respects when it comes to recruitment. At the same time, others argue that computer testing systems cannot measure certain key qualities that many companies find important and candidates; for example creativity, resilience and motivation. As such, it may be quite some time before companies leave their recruitment decision-making process entirely in the hands of computers.

Written by

Cambridge University graduate and professional career sector writer.

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