​Psychology In Recruitment: 5 Lessons To Improve Your Performance .

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​Psychology In Recruitment: 5 Lessons To Improve Your Performance

May 13, 2020

We explore how psychology and recruitment overlap, including psychometric tests, EQ, positive psychology and more. Here are our 5 key lessons for both job seekers and employers. 

 Psychology is the fascinating discipline of understanding the human mind. Its findings have implications everywhere from healthcare to sports, and arts to business. 

 Job seekers and employers alike can use psychology-informed techniques to improve their performance. The psychology of recruitment has long been studied by academics and employers, many of whom have developed sophisticated recruitment models based on scientific evidence of success. Individuals, too, can utilise psychology to understand themselves and to secure the job that’s right for them.

 In reality, psychology and recruitment are natural partners. Effective job searching often draws on psychology (think What Colour Is Your Parachute? or any similar career planning guide) and all successful recruiters know its value (we even employ a few graduates of the discipline here at Headcount!)

 Our mission at Headcount s to connect people: we work on behalf of both candidates and employers. So, drawing lessons for both sides of the job search / recruitment line, let’s review five ways to learn from psychology and improve your performance. 

LESSON 1: Focus On Emotional Intelligence (EI)

Emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of job performance - so concluded a 2010 VCU study published in the Journal Of Organizational Behaviour. As the working world becomes ever-less structured and ever-more changeable, emotional intelligence has become the ‘must-have’ workplace skill.

Emotional intelligence (EI) - which can be measured on an emotional quotient (EQ) - is the capability of individuals to recognise and handle theirs and others’ emotions. It’s such a professional superpower that…

  • 71% of employers say they value EI over IQ [Career Builder]

  • The US Air Force, L'Oreal, American Express and countless others have recorded significant improvements after focusing on EI [Odyssey GRP]

  • The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2022, 42% of current core skills will be outdated, while demand for “emotional intelligence, leadership and social influence” will increase [PSI]

 It’s even a stress-buster. And when stress accounts for somewhere around 40% of workforce turnover (a fact employers often overlook), a bit more EI could be a huge benefit for us all. 

 Can you coach EI? “While no program can get someone from 0 to 100%, a well-designed coaching intervention can easily achieve improvements of 25%” [Harvard Business Review]. Not to be sniffed at!

 Key Takeaways

 --- Employers: Look for emotional intelligence when hiring, and consider training your staff.

 --- Candidates: Show off your EQ with interview answers that demonstrate your emotional intelligence.  


Lesson 2: Take The “Positive Psychology” Approach

What’s google’s hiring secret? In this ‘expose’ for Wired, Google’s SVP of People shared part of it: “Generic Questions, Brilliant Answers.” 

Google’s lighter touch approach allows superb candidates the space to stand out, rather than boxing them in with tightly crafted brain teasers. It’s not about the interviewer ‘showing off’ or ‘having fun’, says Block, but about finding the best person for the job.  

Positive psychology is about focusing on strengths and potential, while avoiding focussing on weaknesses and vulnerabilities. 

In an article for Forbes, experienced interviewer Brett Steenbarger reveals that “differentiating oneself based upon strengths is what 90% of the interviewees I have met have failed to accomplish.” He suggests that “story statements” (narratives that capture a candidates’ essence) are far more effective than dry competency statements at communicating strengths. 

Meanwhile, interviewers are often “on high alert for red flags” and therefore not listening properly for positive potential [Dr Dawn Graham.] This is caused by a fear of making a poor hiring decision - the antithesis of a ‘positive psychology’ approach.

In an interview, it’s the job of BOTH the applicant AND the interviewer to apply positive psychology, and to avoid excessive focus on weakness. 

 Key Takeaways

 --- Employers: Ask questions that give candidates the freedom to invest in their answers.

 --- Candidates: Understand your strengths and tell ‘stories’ that convey them in vivid colour.


Lesson 3: Think Fast… And Slow!

Every day, we make an estimated 35,000 decisions. The consequences of these decisions can vary from negligible to catastrophic. When you’re involved in a job search, or are recruiting new
staff, however, the decisions you make can undoubtedly be life-changing. 

How does a manager fairly assess a potential hire simply from a CV/resume, for example? Or how does a professional decipher a job advert to find their future path?

Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s international bestselling book Thinking Fast And Slow raises, among many other things, important considerations for job seekers and employers. In a nutshell, the book divides human thought into two types: 

  • System 1: Fast and unconscious, but error-prone and only suitable for everyday decisions

  • System 2: Slow and conscious, requiring more effort but achieving greater reliability

Too great a reliance on system 1 thinking will achieve speed, but perhaps at the expense of some excellent opportunities or next-best hires. Instead, adopting ways to use system 2 thinking - thereby properly considering the available options and supporting evidence - is highly recommended. 

 Key Takeaways

--- Employers: Allocate a little more time to properly consider applications and to make hiring decisions.

--- Candidates: Be cautious about discounting opportunities at first look - let ideas linger.


Lesson 4: Take Tests (But ONLY With A Pinch Of Salt)

Psychometric testing - including both cognitive and personality testing - can be highly beneficial in ascertaining the right job “fit” for a candidate. But beware, there are big risks!

For a start, there’s a huge gulf in effectiveness between tests that are ‘cognitive’ (ie. reasoning, perception, problem solving, etc) versus those that seek to quantify ‘personality’ (“What Type Of Person Are You?”). Cognitive tests are one of the strongest indicators of future job performance, whilst personality tests rank among the least.


Whilst psychometric tests can be an excellent component of a recruitment process, their inclusion demands careful thought. The cost of mis-reading a test can be critical. In some countries, testing may even be illegal, especially if regarded as potentially discriminatory. [Here’s a Beginner’s Guide To Selecting The Right Assessment For Your Organization]

For individuals, psychometric tests come into their own as an eye-opening way to explore your strengths and learn more about how you work. Understanding your mind helps you portray a secure, confident self in applications and interviews. Try 16 Personalities (based on the famous Meyers Briggs test) for starters.

 Key Takeaways

--- Employers: Take extra care when adding tests to your recruitment process, and heed expert advice.

--- Candidates: Explore your brain with free online tests.


Lesson 5: Look After Ourselves

Let’s be honest: job searches aren’t always fun! In fact, even when they are, the process can be mentally draining. Uncertainty, secrecy, change - it can come thick and fast, all with you at the heart of it. 

As a society, we’re becoming ever more aware of how important mental health is for our overall well being. Job searches can severely challenge our ability to stay happy and positive, at a time when we need those traits most! 

Some particular hazards come from the fact that:

With all this and more to contend with, taking care of your own mental health is certainly of high importance in any job search. In fact, you can even actively teach your brain to LIKE job searching

 Employers have a significant responsibility here. Clear communications, relaxed interview settings and thoughtful processes all respect the applicant who has “put themselves on the line.” It makes good business sense too, because strong candidates are likely to be attracted to companies who show they care.

Key Takeaways

Employers: Conduct recruitment processes with respect for candidates’ mental health.

Candidates: Take extra care of your mental well being while job searching.


Next Steps...

Psychology in recruitment is here to stay. For job seekers, psychology’s findings can provide new ways to explore pathways to worth. For employers, psychology can be used to maximise the effectiveness of recruitment and hiring practises.  

If you’ve been inspired to try doing things differently, talk to Headcount today: 

Candidates: Register with Headcount or View Our Latest Jobs 

Employers: Submit A Recruitment Enquiry