Past behaviour is a great predictor of future behaviour

Perfect prediction has long been the Holy Grail or magic ingredient which Search Consultants have always been hunting for.

Many Occupational Psychologists make a good living out of deploying Personality & Critical Reasoning Assessments to help in this prediction challenge.  Indeed, there is no doubt that these measures do bring valuable information to inform decision-making about people.

Interviews alone have long been seen to be poor predictors, reference checking can be a moral and legal minefield and although Assessment Centres have been shown to be much better, these can be expensive and not always practical if the bringing together of a shortlist in a confidential context is required.

The best predictor of future behaviour is still past behaviour and sometimes the easiest thing is actually to focus directly on this.  So, how do you do it?  Pretty easily as it turns out.

When you invite people to apply for a role, provide as accurate a job preview as possible.  You will find that this helps some people to self-select out, which makes your eventual shortlisting task easier.  Crucially however, the preview can also enable you to gather information which connects applicants’ experience directly to job requirements.  This is important because it changes the nature of your shortlisting activity.  Most Consultants compile a shortlist by attempting to match or mismatch what they see in the CV to what they know to be the requirements to do the job.  This is fraught with difficulty for two fairly obvious reasons:

First, the CV information is rarely organised to naturally relate to the selection criteria.  It is a tiresome process to trawl through CVs or profiles looking for relevant data and a time-consuming one which means that Consultants often take shortcuts or get fatigued in completing their shortlist, undermining the integrity of this activity.

Secondly, much interpretation needs to be made (or guessed at) by the Consultant, to connect CV data (such as job titles, project descriptions etc.) to the selection criteria; many of these connections are necessarily weak and may say more about the Consultant than they do about any applicant.

So, with tired Consultants often over (or under) interpreting what they can read into basic CV data, shortlisting is not the most objective of activities.  Yet it is the way you get to choose who you will see about the vacancy.  Are you throwing away potentially good candidates and inviting to interview the weaker ones?  How do you know?

The answer is, if you’ve got a valid job preview, you can ask all applicants to do the first part of your shortlisting for you.  The job preview data should be clear about what the successful applicant would be expected to achieve in a typical week, month or year.  The key activities and required skills and/or knowledge should be up front.

Armed with this information, it is easy to ask applicants to take a little time to complete something we call a “Previous Experience Review (P.E.R.) – Remember that bit about past behaviour predicting future behaviour?  Well this is it: you ask the previous experience (behaviour) and connect this to be behaviour you want to see on the job.  A question on a P.E.R. might look like this:

This job involves planning events, often many months in advance and making sure that all details are checked and contingencies set to cover foreseeable problems.  Can you please provide one or two examples of where you have planned an event?

Another example concerns Leadership:

This job requires the jobholder to direct, guide, motivate and develop others, by creating an environment where high performance is fostered and valued.  Please describe an example of where you have shaped the efforts of everyone towards a common purpose and where you have inspired the trust and loyalty of your team whilst not recoiling from tough or unpopular decisions.

This process of course involves the Search Consultant in more preparation time in drafting a P.E.R. questionnaire and similarly the potential candidates also need to commit time and effort into providing answers.  If however the candidates are not prepared to put in the necessary time and effort, then what does this tell you about their real interest and commitment to the selection process and the vacancy?

Of course P.E.R. responses help the Consultant to select a pre-screening shortlist for interview but better still, it provides further topics for subsequent interview questions and verification.  This helps to ensure a competency-based approach to the interview and if the Consultant has drafted the P.E.R. properly, linked to the vacancy, this will ensure that the interview will focus on the right areas.

The client, in their interview, can also adopt the same focused approach; candidates feel that they are being asked about relevant matters rather than which school or university they attended or which golf club they belong to and employers love this structured approach.


Article written by Angus Keiller, CFR Global Executive Search UK.

Photo source: Unsplash

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