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HR Lessons: What does the NFL Lockout have to do with HR?

July 26, 2011
Hooray!  The NFL isn’t going to deprive us of a year of America’s new favorite pastime.  As I find myself shifting away from the excitement, I have to ask myself what the rookie class is going to look like this year.  Normally NFL teams have months to mold these talented collegiate athletes into professionally-ready football players, but not this year.

Without these additional months of preparation, it will provide us a very unique look into a much more direct relationship between NFL combine scores and rookies performance in the league.

For those who are curious, the combine contains a 40 yard dash, bench press, vertical jump, broad jump, 3 cone drill, 20 yard shuttle, 60 yard shuttle, and a cognitive ability exam.  It’s easy to see why the physical assessments are included in predicting athletic performance, but the cognitive assessment is a bit of a head scratcher.  Certainly it has to be relevant for the most complicated positions (QBs)…right?

To give you a frame of reference, this particular cognitive ability test’s scores max out at 50, consider a 40 to be genius, 21 to be average, and 14 to be the equivalent of an unskilled worker.  24 is the NFL QB average.  Having said that, here are a few scores of historically popular NFL Quarterbacks:

Brett Favre – 22

Terry Bradshaw – 15

Tom Brady – 33

Peyton Manning – 28

Eli Manning – 39

Dan Marino – 15

All of these QBs have significant achievements to note, yet there really doesn’t appear to be much of a pattern to the scores.  This is a perfect example of what we deal with every day in Selection – we deal with probabilities and patterns, not absolutes.

The fact of the matter is there is no such thing as “perfect prediction” using any type of selection tool.  Assessment tools are used to help identify predictable patterns in behavior, but no human characteristic exists in a vacuum.  People who score well on validated assessments generally perform better on the job.  Regarding the NFL, other factors are at play here such as work ethic, performance contingent on teammates, and physical health, which are constantly interacting to produce what you end up seeing on the field labeled as “performance.”

As hiring professionals we play the game of odds every time we make a hiring decision.  You never truly know if the person you see on their first day will be the person you see in eight months, but by leveraging this kind of information, we improve the clarity of the candidate’s picture pre-hire.  The more rigor used in the process, the less reliant we are on one tool and the more robust the picture – resulting in higher probability of success.

The jury’s out on whether this cognitive ability test should have a home in the NFL combine, but be sure to keep your eyes on two QB rookies who scored significantly different: Blaine Gabbert (10th pick overall), who scored a 42 as well as Jake Locker (8th pick overall) who scored a 21.

Adam Hilliard