employee recruitment, employee selection, employee application screening

Selecting ill-suited employees are the number one reason most businesses fail or have stagnated growth. Selecting the right candidate for virtually any position is a difficult and costly process. Typically the applicant pool must be first narrowed down based on submitted resumes/CVs to make the process more manageable. A select group of applicants are given in person interviews, or situational judgement tests/personality tests, their references checked and a single applicant is selected. For the employer, the stakes are high. In the US, the overall industry average requires 14 interviews per hire. The rate of turnover is high. More than half (56%) of voluntary turnover happens within a year of new hires’ start date. This is compounded by the fact that the cost of losing an employee is 1.5 to 2 times the salary of the outgoing employee. It is therefore critical to have the right screening and selection tools so that new hires are done efficiently and accurately.

Here are the top 5 deadly sins of employee selection:

Deadly Sin #1: The Resume/CV

The resume or CV step of the application is usually the first screen in every hiring process. The talent pool here is narrowed down by 90% or more. Sadly, this stage introduces the most error in the whole process. If identifiers such as names are not removed from each resume, the applicants are immediately subjected to the implicit biases of the reader. There are countless examples of this type of bias. Perhaps most famous is the finding that a resume submitted with a typical male name is significantly more likely to receive an interview or a job offer than the identical resume with a female name. Much the same way an English name is more likely to receive an interview than an ethnic name. Unsurprisingly science consistently shows that interviewers are subconsciously drawn to the applicants most like themselves. The result of relying on this selection criteria will ensure that your future employees are superficially the same as your current ones. In the best case, this process reduces talent diversity in your business and creates an environment ripe for groupthink fallacy.

Another issue is that applicants often lie on their resumes. Although exact figures are not known, estimates of individuals who exaggerate their resumes range from 40% to 70% (George and Marett). ADP Screening and Selection Services (Babcock) found similar results for background checks: 44% of applicants lied about work histories, 41% lied about education, and 23% lied about credentials or licenses. Students thought it was more acceptable to lie to an employer than to a romantic partner (Robinson et al.) and that 95% of one sample were willing to lie to get a job (McShulskis).

Hinging your selection process on such an unreliable tool is not only wasteful, it is discriminatory and irresponsible. Wayne Gretzky famously said “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. By eliminating a huge portion of the applicant pool at the resume step your company is leaving a lot of shots untaken.

Deadly Sin #2: Personality/Situational Judgement tests

The use of situational judgement tests (SJTs) is an attempt to bring scientific rigor to the hiring process. Candidates are shown a video or written prompt and asked how they would respond. The test is designed to examine problem solving, decision-making and interpersonal skills. While these tests claim to be less subjective and circumvent interviewer bias they too have significant shortcomings. Assessing a candidate’s response to a complex and stressful scenario can be difficult depending on the candidate’s and reviewer’s cultural backgrounds. The “appropriate” response is always defined by accepted western cultural norms. This places non-native applicants or those who are immersed in another culture, yet highly qualified, at a significant disadvantage. Because these tests claim to be less vulnerable to subjective opinions, means that there is an “objectively” correct answer. This means that the applicant can be coached on how to provide the desired answer.

Personality tests ask the applicants to rate how similar they are to a described trait, or how they feel about a situation to categorize their personality traits according to a rubric. A potential employer can then choose from those with "leadership", "task-oriented", or "free-spirit oriented" personalities, for example. The ability of these types of tests to predict future success within the company is suspect and remain unproven. While these types of tests may identify individuals at the extremes of the spectrum, it has low resolution for the typical applicant. Importantly, personal and professional traits do not necessarily dictate performance, motivation does.

Deadly Sin #3: Interviews

The interview, whether with a single interviewer or a panel with varying degrees of structure, is a common part of the hiring process. At this stage the applicant pool has been drastically (and artificially) reduced and only a handful of potential employees will be given this opportunity. Interviews are costly and difficult logistical operations for an institution requiring managing the time of the applicants, interviewers, use of appropriate locations to list just a few. These investments may be justified if the interview was a reliable method for selecting applicants.

Often preceding the in-person interview is a telephone or an online video conversation. These can be used to further narrow down the applicant pool. While these types of interviews may tell you something about the quality of the applicant’s voice or manner of speaking they are not a reliable screening tool, unless of course you are hiring a singer for your next corporate event!

The reason behind the lack of effectiveness of telephone or in person interviews is again, interviewer bias. The opportunity for implicit bias to taint the process is even more likely than when reading a resume or CV. Here the interviewee is face to face with the interviewer(s). Whereas when reading a CV the reader could be biased towards the applicant’s gender or background information they may gleam from their name, here the interviewer may be biased by gender and background, but also physical appearance, body posture, or manner of speaking, especially given that most interviewers are other employees or the management of the organization, rather than trained professionals. Additionally interviews suffer from poor reliability and predictability. 

The development of more recent interview approaches (like the mini interviews) claim to eliminate interviewer subjectivity and bias with the use of multiple raters or reviewers. However, their administration can be even more costly than standard interviews. They require standardized parameters, additional reviewers, and adds logistical complexity. Developers must also assume all content in any test will be fully exposed to future applicants. Therefore, to preserve test effectiveness, reliability, and impartiality, it is important to carefully redesign test versions, as well as decide what information is available to candidates. This requires a significant investment of time and resources from the hiring department.

Together this means that few applicants have the privilege of a standardized multiple-rater interview. This again exacerbates the problem of the biased narrowing of the applicant pool that occurs at the early stages of the interview. Unless all applicants are subjected to this type of screening process, which is virtually impossible for most organizations given its complexity and cost, the larger problem remains.

Deadly Sin #4: References

References are a staple of the hiring process but are also unreliable and ineffective. There is no empirical evidence to support the reliability of referees in the selection process for employee selection, a highly regimented process. The applicant can always unfairly affect the process by simply selecting their (usually 3) best references. If the applicant has good and bad work experiences, asking for a very small sample will not give an adequate assessment of that applicant. This lets the applicant shape the narrative of their professional career and can be no more trustworthy than the resume. The identity of the referee is rarely confirmed and often difficult to do so. If as mentioned previously 95% of people are willing to lie to get a job, this is an excellent place to do so. The risks are not very high. A 2002 study of small businesses and Fortune 100 companies indicated that only 36% of respondents fired employees after uncovering a lie on their job applications (Prater and Kiser), while the majority did not. So if an employer discovers that the reference for your last job is actually your deadbeat roommate, you have a half decent chance of keeping your job!

Deadly Sin #5: Screening few applicants (the shots not taken)

This problem is the same problem that started us off. Simply not enough applicants are fairly and adequately screened, the shots not taken (to bring the Great One back into this). You need to find the needle in the haystack, the nugget of gold in a river of silt, the perfect new hire that will complement the existing team and bring new skills to the company. Someone who will contribute and will be a pleasure to see everyday. Unfortunately, if you are using the old resume-interview-hire dogma, reducing the applicant pool drastically at the initial steps, you are handicapping yourself. It is simply a matter of probability; your final hire is the best candidate of how many really. How an HR department carries out the selection process determines the “out of how many” part.

This is why we feel more confident saying that Usain Bolt is the fastest human runner in the world, than Michael Phelps is the fastest human swimmer. What percentage of the human population has access to coastlines, bodies of water, or indoor swimming pools in which to learn how to swim and train. What percentage of the human population has access to…open space

Click here to find out how to select top-performing employees who are intrinsically motivated while cutting time and resources required by at least half. 

To your success,

Your friends at SortSmart

SortSmart® Candidate Selection


  • George, J., and Kent M. (2004). "The truth about lies." HR MAGAZINE 49.5: 87-92.
  • Babcock, P. (2003). "Spotting Lies Reference checks alone won't protect you from a mendacious job applicant." HR MAGAZINE 48.10: 46-53.
  • McShulskis, Elaine (1997). "Beware college grads willing to lie for a job." HR Magazine 42.8: 22-23.
  • Prater, T., and Sara B. K. (2002). "Lies, lies, and more lies." SAM Advanced Management Journal 67.2: 9.
  • Robinson, W.P., Shepherd, A., and Heywood, J. (1998). Truth, Equivocation Concealment, and Lies in Job Applications and Doctor-Patient Communication. Journal of Language and Social Psychology 17, 149–164.