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Does Your Hiring Process Focus on Nonacademic Skills?

July 2, 2015

report-cardIn a recent NPR blog, the author discusses the fact that skills outside of the academic and cognitive- based realm are crucial to academic success among college students. Research suggests that things like standardized test scores aren’t all that predictive of academic success, but that factors such as motivation and determination play a major role as well. Someone may be very intelligent, but lack the drive and desire to earn a high GPA. Alternatively, someone else may have inherited the short end of the intelligence stick, but due to hard work, drive, and motivation outperform their naturally intelligent counterparts. I am sure everyone can think of examples of these individuals in their own lives.

Why then do universities continue to select students based on test scores and high school GPA’s? Similarly, why do organizations place such an emphasis on educational degrees and academic performance in their hiring processes? In both cases, it seems that selection decisions are made without examining the full picture or gaining an idea of the full character and potential of the individual.

Why is it that universities and HR departments don’t put the effort into assessing these other skills in more depth? It appears that people find it difficult to place labels on these other non-cognitive or nonacademic skills that lead to success. Some of the labels that are currently being used include:

  • Character
  • 21st Century skills
  • Grit
  • Growth Mindset
  • Soft skills
  • Social & Emotional skills

While it may be difficult to develop an umbrella term to encompass all of these different skills, it is possible to incorporate these types of skills and traits into the selection process. There are organizations comprised of industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists that develop assessments to measure all of these types of skills and abilities.

The first step in developing measures of various desired traits is to obtain a well-rounded understanding of the job or position in question. This is known as a competency or job analysis. This process involves observing individuals conducting the job in question, consulting with experts who have immense knowledge about what it takes to be successful in the specific job, and gaining an in-depth understanding of what an ideal employee for the job is like.

The data gathered from this process is used to determine the competencies that are required to be successful in the job. Once an understanding of the desired competencies is achieved, the development of an assessment that measures those competencies can begin. For example, 21st century skills involve things like strong written and verbal communication, critical thinking, creativity, and technology skills. If these are things that are important for the job in question, measures or exercises that force individuals to demonstrate their communication or tech-savvy skills and abilities can be utilized.

Finally, the utility of the assessment is validated by determining whether or not it is actually predictive of on-the-job performance. These types of studies are called validation studies and are conducted all of the time across numerous industries and positions. There are mounds of evidence demonstrating that this type of approach is very effective for organizations and results in positive organizational outcomes. In other words, high scores on the assessment are related to higher levels of performance once on the job.

Implementing this type of system provides organizations the ability to assess the “full picture” when deciding who to hire. They have the ability to assess all aspects of a candidate, both cognitive and non-cognitive. As such, they have a better understanding of the individual applying for the job and will ultimately have the ability to make a better hiring decision by evaluating all of these pieces of information about the candidates, rather than just their college GPA or degree obtained. Understanding the full potential of the candidate benefits not only the organization but the applicant as well. If someone does not possess the skills or traits that are required for success on the job, they likely will not enjoy that job. Therefore, screening these individuals out using an assessment will prevent someone who would be a poor performer from being hired while also selecting those individuals who would be high performers and who are the best fit for the job.

5 Steps to Getting Started with Manufacturing Employee Assessment

Alli Besl, Ph.D. Alli Besl, Ph.D. was a Research Consultant based in the Pittsburgh office of PSI. Her areas of expertise include: employee turnover, selection and recruitment.