The Best (and Worst) Predictors of Job Performance

To avoid making completely gut-based hiring decisions, employers use several criteria to determine which candidate to hire for a given position. However, are there factors truly predictive of success on the job? Traditional thinking about what ensures a successful hire has been rocked in recent years by studies analyzing this very question. Factors that are less predictive of success include grade point average, personality, appearance, and responses to trick questions. In fact, Laszlo Bock, the SVP of People Ops at Google, which has been at the forefront of workforce analytics regarding the quality of hires, has said: “In our analysis, the school you went to and the places you’ve worked are poor predictors of performance.”

So what factors actually predict success of a hire? Factors that are more likely to lead to the best candidate are the candidate’s proven track record at prior jobs, diversity of experience, and dedication to a quality work product. In other words, their behaviors and not their education or ability to prepare for an interview are the best predictors of future success.

Many employers have hard and fast rules about minimum grade point averages, but studies show that academic performance has very little correlation with on-the-job performance. Being “book smart” does not necessarily translate into success in the working world – quite the opposite. If anything, emotional intelligence (EQ) is by far a better predictor of real world success than IQ.

Grades are an indicator of performance for at best a couple of years, after which time on-the-job performance and other maturity-based factors become the stronger signals of success. By eliminating candidates based on an arbitrary grade point average cut off, employers are missing out on candidates who may have much more important social skills and competencies to offer. It’s no longer relevant whether a candidate graduated in the top third of their class, but more relevant that they produced quality work on the job, delivered consistently, and solved real-world problems.

When interviewing candidates, employers can also be swayed by superficial factors such as appearance and personality. These are cognitive biases that can mask other red flags that may surface in the interview or be revealed in a reference check. Look carefully at the candidate’s past job performance. Did they take on increasing responsibilities or were they pigeon-holed into a narrower role? Is the candidate open to learning new things or taking alternative approaches to challenges? Did they take on a leadership role or otherwise take initiative?

Studies have consistently shown that interviewers make hiring decisions based on their impressions in the first 90 seconds of the interview. Try to avoid making snap judgments and dig below the surface to ensure that the candidate truly has the skills and temperament to perform the job. Although a candidate may have a sparkling personality, this quality does not necessarily predict success on the job.

However, digging below the surface does not mean asking trick questions or brain teasers to see if the candidate can “think on their feet.” Google was notorious for asking these types of questions in interviews and ultimately abandoned this tactic as it did not produce the desired results. Instead, spend sufficient time during the interview focused on the candidate’s past job performance. Ask them what they liked and did not like about past roles. Get clarity on why they changed jobs and why they are seeking a new position at this time. Ask them about their career goals and how the position you are offering fits into those plans. Is the candidate looking for “any job,” or do they have specific reasons why the position you are offering is attractive to them?

There is no magic formula for hiring the perfect employee, but employers are more likely to ensure success in the hiring process by asking specific questions designed to elicit information regarding the candidate’s track record in prior positions, diversity of experience, openness to learning new ideas, and dedication to producing a quality work product.

Contributed by: Rosemary Schwimmer, J.D., Director, Attorney Recruitment