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Can Reality TV Actually Teach You Anything about Employee Selection?

September 29, 2016

reality-tv.jpgCall me a reality TV show junkie, but I fall prey to any show where contestants are competing to become the next best chef, baker, or interior decorator. Who doesn’t want to watch amateur chefs competing against one another in crazy elimination challenges week-after-week?!? Ok, admittedly, there probably are a few people out there who don't find it appealing.

But, regardless of whether you enjoy reality TV or not, at the core, these shows are very reminiscent of a hiring process. They start with a large pool of candidates, do an initial screen to reduce the pool to higher potentials, and then put them through exercises to assess different skills and abilities. While these TV shows aren’t as rigorous as typical selection systems, they do have some good steps in place. Let’s take a look at what they do well.

Screen-out process

The majority of these competition shows have an initial call for applications. Included in the advertisement would be a preview of what kind of “star” they are looking for. In this sense, they are presenting the job description. Applicants would then submit more information about themselves (aka an application), which might include a resume, past experiences, or a list of relevant awards or recognitions. Producers (aka hiring managers) would then review the applications and screen out individuals who didn’t meet the initial requirements.

For example, to be a contestant on The Next Iron Chef, it’s critical to have not only the culinary abilities but also ingenuity and stress tolerance to perform under pressure. Therefore, several years of experience in the restaurant industry may serve as a cut-off to eliminate less qualified candidates. Given the mass appeal of becoming these next stars, the producers have the ability to utilize a more rigorous screening process. In the selection world, we would call them an employer of choice. Therefore, these types of companies have more leverage in how selective they can be initially.

Exercises to assess competencies

After these shows have identified a short-list of contestants (aka candidates), they are included in the stages that require more resources in terms of time and costs. The contestants must participate in a series of elimination challenges which assess the ability to become the next star.

When creating selection systems, HR managers determine these key skills by conducting a job analysis. Once they have a better understanding of the most important skills for the job, they craft assessments which capture these competencies. All of these TV shows utilize a job simulation to test the contestants’ abilities. Essentially, these exercises put contestants in situations that they may encounter on the job and then see how they perform. What is most important for this step is that the exercise is based on a set of key competencies.

Sticking with the same example, The Next Iron Chef clearly identifies the competencies necessary to be an iron chef and develops challenges to test these competencies. Some of the competencies identified included resourcefulness, ingenuity, innovation, risk, passion, and pressure. For example, in one challenge assessing innovation, contestants had to develop a new take on a traditional dish. By basing all of the exercises on important competencies, we are then able to see how well individuals would perform on the job.

Use of multiple assessors

After each challenge, contestants are rated by a panel of judges. On The Next Iron Chef, judges (aka assessors) try the contestant’s dish, provide a rating on the dish, discuss their ratings, and come to a final consensus on their assessments. This is another best practice when rating candidates on more qualitative assessments (e.g., interviews, assessment centers).

Having two or more assessors allows you to get a clearer picture of the candidate because each assessor may pick up on different elements. After completing the exercise, assessors would independently rate the candidate on specific competencies. Then, assessors would participate in an integration session to share their thoughts and determine a final rating. Consensus discussions can increase the accuracy of your ratings.


So, on the face of it, these shows are doing some things right in determining the next best star. While some shows are better than others in terms of the elements they include, they are only trying to impress the viewers and not the court system. Therefore, remember to utilize best practices for implementing a selection system: conduct a thorough job analysis and utilize an assessment tool that captures the most important skills necessary for the job, and then you will be on your way to hiring your company’s Next Best Employee!

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Alissa Parr, Ph.D. Alissa Parr, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include the development, implementation, and evaluation of assessment processes. Alissa has experience managing entry-level through executive level assessment and selection efforts across a number of different industries including government, financial, military, education, healthcare, and manufacturing.