Making Sure You Have the Top Talent

By Irène Samson and Annie Foucreault, Organizational psychology consultants

Selection and recruitment are two of the biggest challenges organizations face. Companies want the best candidates and the top talent to improve organizational performance. But the selection process can be particularly costly in time and money when the wrong hire is made. To avoid this situation, we offer two guiding principles, which involve putting in place a rigorous selection process, based on best practices, and assessing the efficiency of that process through a validity study.

1- Institute a rigorous selection process

The first thing to consider in introducing a rigorous selection process is standardization. Standardization means that all candidates go through the same steps, in the same order, under the same conditions. Standardization promotes the validity of the process, because it limits subjectivity biases and hasty conclusions. A standardized process also reduces the risk that candidates will have doubts about the process, because it shows them that employee procedures are fair and equitable. 

Next, ensure that you collect information from several different sources. A candidate’s job performance depends on a number of factors, including work experience, motivation and the work environment. So it is a good idea to use a number of information sources, such as psychometric tests, structured interviews and reference checks, to create a more detailed portrait of the candidate.

The choice of psychometric tests can also affect the rigour of your process. You need to ensure that the tests you use are accurate and valid, by taking a look at recognized scientific benchmarks. Normally, organizations use just one personality inventory, which offers a partial, albeit interesting, view of the candidate. This limits the ability to predict performance, because only one angle is covered. Using several different tests provides a reliable and more complete portrait of the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses.

The addition of structured interviews increases the validity of the selection process. Structured interviews provide information that complements psychometric tests in terms of skills, knowledge, aptitudes, personality and motivation. They let you delve into certain points that would not have been picked up through other sources of information. For a robust structured interview, it is generally recommended that you:

  • Ask questions related to the job.
  • Ask behavioural questions (e.g.: “Describe a situation in which you have...”) or situational questions (e.g.: “What would you do if you were in a situation in which…?”).
  • Ask open questions.
  • Ask questions that are easy to understand.
  • Ask one question at a time.
  • Do not suggest an answer to a question.


2- Conduct a validity study

We subscribe to the principle of continuous improvement, which is why we recommend checking results after putting in place a new selection process based on best assessment practices. It is a good idea to follow a two-step procedure that reflects your organizational reality and ensures your selection process identifies the best talent for a position, i.e., that the candidates you select score high on a range of key performance indicators (KPIs). These indicators could be increased productivity, greater customer satisfaction or less absenteeism. This procedure, called a validity study, involves using statistical analyses to determine how the results from assessment tools (e.g.: interviews and psychometric tests) match the behaviours, attitudes or workplace performance in the candidates assessed. The following two steps can help you put in place such a study.

Step 1: Identify the right performance indicators

Every organization collects data to assess employee performance. Identifying the most relevant data to link to skills assessed using your tools requires a bit of thought. It is better to adopt objective performance indicators (e.g.: sales figures, number of annual absences, number of calls handled) to ensure you limit potential subjective bias for certain KPIs. In fact, subjective indicators, such as managers’ general level of satisfaction, can be distorted by a number of biases. For example, there is similarity bias (managers systematically assess more positively employees with whom they have things in common) and the leniency effect (managers overestimate the performance of all employees). These biases can undermine the results of your study and be more a reflection of the managers’ limited objectivity than of the actual performance of employees.

It is also important that the indicators you choose in your study be closely tied to the skills you measured during the selection process. For example, a psychometric test that assesses customer focus should be linked to performance indicators that relate to interpersonal skills, such as customer satisfaction with the service received. The purpose of such a study is to ensure that the assessment tools you have used allow you to truly predict an individual’s behaviour once on the job.

Step 2: Conduct statistical analyses to establish a link between the skills measured and the performance of candidates assessed once on the job

Now that you have determined your performance indicators and collected them in a document that includes results from your different assessment tools, you are ready to conduct your statistical analyses. Ideally, if you have both the performance data from a group of individuals who hold the position without having gone through your new, rigorous selection process and data from a group that participated in each of the steps of your process, you can compare the benefit of your efforts through group comparison analyses.[1] These analyses check whether employees chosen through the selection process perform better once on the job than employees who were selected using a different process.

In short, a selection process based on best practices is essential to identifying top talent. Robust interview tools and techniques allow you to analyze your candidates from several angles and guide you in your decision making. A validity study is a rigorous, worthwhile way to choose the best assessment tools and enhance existing processes, thereby increasing the predictive value for future employee performance. It enables continuous process improvement, minimizing the time and money you invest in candidates who do not have the skills to meet your standards for performance.



[1] A minimum of 30 people per group is needed for the results of your analyses to be effectively generalized to all candidates selected by your organization.