Research suggests that most employers rely most heavily on the least reliable, most expensive step in hiring new employees — interviews.

“Studies have shown that interviewing is one of the least accurate steps in the selection process,” said Harris Plotkin, founder of The Plotkin Group, San Bernadino, CA. The firm specializes in the use of employee testing and the design of effective selection processes.

Plotkin cited a study done by Michigan State University’s School of Business several years ago which concluded that written tests are four times more accurate than interviews. Plotkin said with the computerized tests available now, he’d upgrade that figure. Tests, he said, are as much as five to ten times more accurate than interviews.

Plotkin explained further about the Michigan State University study: The most accurate hiring procedure was use of ability/composite tests that measure aptitude, motivation and compatibility. Other, less accurate approaches, he said, were “a tryout period, a review of the resume and, or, the employment application, reference checks, experience…”

The least reliable approach to determine if an applicant would be a good employee? The interview. Yet, Plotkin pointed out, “probably more than 95 percent of all hiring decisions are made almost solely on the basis of an interview.”

“Doing an interview is also very expensive. Employers should consider the cost of the interviewer’s or several interviewers’ time, reminded Plotkin, who authored Building a Winning Team.”

“Do the least expensive, most accurate step first, so you can screen out the people you shouldn’t waste your time interviewing,” advised Plotkin. Depending on your needs, an honesty or attitude test is often an inexpensive first step.

Plotkin explained, “You can teach somebody how to set a table, but you can’t teach sincerity. You can teach somebody how to pour liquor or even a Coke, but you can’t teach them enthusiasm. You can teach somebody how to ring up sales at a cash register or how to use an optical scanner, but you can’t teach friendliness and warmth.”

The mistake most companies make is that they hire people for the skills they have,” Plotkin continued. Skills alone are not the most important, and in the big scheme of things, are the least important. It’s the attitude a person has in dealing with coworkers and customers that’s going to tell whether they’re going to make it and move up in the organization.”

“Most companies are not aware that it’s more important to hire certain personality traits and attitude than it is for skill,” Plotkin added. “Skills are easy to teach. Attitude, sincerity, enthusiasm, friendliness, courtesy, honesty and warmth are not easy to teach.”

So, where should an employer start in the hiring process? Plotkin answered this way:

“List the job tasks, along with the qualities, education, experience and training a person needs to do the tasks. Then identify how you’re going to determine whether a person has all of the qualities that you’ve listed. Written tests will give you some information and interviews will give you other needed information. Reference checks, background investigations and other sources also are needed.”

Plotkin said five factors make for job success:

1) Experience that fits your organization

2) Education or training that fits your organization

3) Aptitude to do the job

4) Motivation to do the job

5) Compatibility with the culture and personality of your organization

Compatibility is the most important factor, and the smaller the employer, the more important it is. “Compatibility is where most problems occur,” said Plotkin, “and it’s the hardest to check for without a test to see if the applicant shares your same values.”

“A person could have a terrific aptitude for the job, be motivated, have lots of experience, education and training for the job, but if they don’t fit in with everybody else, they’ll create problems,” said Plotkin. “For one thing, they eat up much of management’s time trying to grind that square peg into a round hole.”

Compatibility can be gauged by comparing applicants’ test results with results obtained from testing an organization’s best and worst existing employees, said Plotkin.

Here are six factors to consider when selecting tests and assessment instruments for use with applicants in the hiring process:

Selecting Tests
1. Accuracy. The test or assessment, in fact, measures what it claims to measure.
2. Reliable. No test or assessment is 100 percent reliable. But can you trust the results to be highly reliable?
3. Job-related. The subject or purpose of the test or assessment is job-related.
4. Non-discriminatory. The test or instrument does not discriminate against applicants or employees in protected classes.
5. Validated. The firm producing the test or instrument has documentation showing results do not discriminate and are accurate and reliable.
6. Easy to Administer and Score.