Hiring the Right Person – The Occupational Psychologist’s Role

Posted in : HR Matters on 1 December 2014
Dominic McCanny
Interventus Business Psychologists
Issues covered:

Sir Richard Branson recently stated, “There is nothing more important for a business than hiring the right team. If you get the perfect mix of people working for your company, you have a far greater chance of success.”

With the economy now starting to show signs of recovery, many businesses may well begin to recruit additional staff to meet growing demand for their products or services. However, as most recruiters know, hiring the right person is a lot more complicated than simply placing an advertisement in the newspapers or internet. Occupational Psychologists are ideally placed to provide that level of professionalism to ensure that organisations take a thorough and progressive approach to hiring the right people. This article provides a number of steps in the recruitment and selection stages that Occupational Psychologists specialise in that makes hiring the right person, less of a gamble and more of a structured approach in getting the best person for your business.

Assuming that you have got permission to commence a recruitment exercise, how can you identify the core attributes, skills and abilities for the position?

In the field of Occupational Psychology we place a great emphasis on a rigorous process that will produce tangible benefits in terms of both job performance and productivity. Of course, many businesses have down-sized their Human Resources teams during the recession, and therefore the temptation is always there to repeat what was once done, simply to get the recruitment campaign completed. However, in order to avoid costly mistakes in hiring individuals, using some of the following interventions will go a long way in contributing to the long term profitability of the business, starting with a thorough Job Analysis.

Job Analysis

Job Analysis is nothing new, indeed it has been around in many forms since the 1940s but since the 1980s it has been increasing in importance. This is due to many factors including rapidly changing new technologies (how I wish I had bought shares in Apple), changes in working practices, legal requirements, varying and different types of organisational structures and so on. So, how do you commence undertaking a Job Analysis?

Probably the simplest way is to talk to somebody doing the job and also their managers. It constantly surprises me that many recruiters do not undertake this step. Whilst this is a good first stage, how you go about it is also particularly relevant. Using a multi-method approach will provide much greater information about the job. Focusing in on the following elements will also elicit much about a job and what is required to perform in a productive manner.

Repertory Grid

The Repertory Grid technique (sounds complicated), is a structured interview process that elicits key elements for any job. For example in a sales role the information elicited may indicate that ‘Maintaining self-belief’ and ‘Pursuing Targets’ are some of the key areas of performance. Of course with any interview method, a lot depends on the skill of the interviewer.

Critical Incident Technique

Again this is about interviewing the job holder about incidents in the job which can make all the difference between success and failure. This method provides very rich material about the job content. Conducting a number of these types of interview is one way in which the recruiter can really understand many unique aspects of successful job behaviours.

Profiling Systems

Again sounds complicated but essentially they are a structured questionnaire process that consider the job tasks and human attributes required to perform effectively in the job. With advances in computer based questionnaires, large numbers of individuals can be surveyed, cheaply and with substantial benefits. For small campaigns use of ‘Performance Cards’ also summarise the behaviours and abilities that drive performance and potential in the workplace, at a very low cost.

Job Analysis also has many additional benefits for the organisation in that it also assists in developing Training and Learning initiatives; Leadership Frameworks; Team Profiling; Organisational Development; etc.

By discussing and collating a range of information about the job, interviewing job holders, their managers and other job stakeholders, the development of the Job Description and Person Specification will ensure that only the requirements of the job are accurately reflected. Well-developed descriptions of the job ensures that the organisation is clear what is required.

This article will not discuss the various methods of advertising job vacancies, it is suffice to say that the job should be advertised widely so as to attract the most talented individuals. Once the date for applications is closed then businesses must turn their attention to the shortlisting process.


When businesses receive large number of applications for relatively few positions shortlisting is conducted. To ensure that this is done fairly and to meet good professional practice and legal requirements, it is essential to apply the essential and desired criteria. Most recruiters are quite adept at this aspect. When shortlisting has been completed, psychometric testing is also commonly used. So, does it have any benefits?

Psychometric Testing

As an Occupational Psychologist, of course, many people will say that the Occupational Psychology industry has a vested interest in using this approach. I would not deny that argument, however, one does have to look at the benefits of using various tests and profiling techniques to identify talented individuals. Many individuals have undertaken training in psychometric testing and the market is not solely the preserve of Occupational Psychologists. However it is important to ensure that if you are embarking on psychometric testing it is advisable to ensure that the individual has maintained their competence. This can be done by checking the British Psychological Society’s Psychological Test Centre (PTC) Register – www.psychtesting.org.uk. The PTC website provides access to information about tests and testing. So, whether you are a psychologist, a test user or a member of the public interested in knowing more about testing, the PTC website is an excellent resource.

There are a very wide range of psychometric tests available in the market place today and with large numbers of applicants for jobs, testing provides a range of benefits for the organisation.

These are that:

  • Well-designed tests do predict good job performance.
  • With computerisation they are cheap to administer with large numbers of individuals being tested either by computer remotely, or by paper and pencil in groups.
  • They minimise bias.
  • They are quick and easy to score. 

However, there are some disadvantages; principally that they cannot measure all aspects relating to the job and, secondly, the purchase of initial materials can be expensive. In addition, if using remote computer testing of Ability or Aptitude Tests, it is important that individuals are tested under supervised conditions.

Personality Profiles are also a particularly useful tool in assessing an individual’s motives, talents, preferred work culture and competency potential. When professionally used they provide particularly useful information about the individual. There are many different test publishers on the market. This is increasing with globalisation. It is therefore vital that when using any forms of psychometric testing or profiling you check on a range of factors.

We would suggest:

  1. Is the administrator registered with the PTC?
  2. Check the validity and reliability of the tests. ‘Validity’ ensures that the test is working fairly and measuring what was intended and ‘Reliability’ ensures the accuracy of the test.
  3. Ask what ‘comparison’ group has been used for the psychometric test or profile.

With the huge increase in computerisation over the recent past, online testing is now relatively common. This has reduced significantly the cost of using psychometric testing. For most businesses this means that availing of psychometric testing need not be expensive or complicated.

Assessment Centres

Many organisations consider the use of Assessment Centres as an objective selection method to measure the suitability of candidates for particular roles. Many different types of exercises are used, including In-Tray Exercises; Role Plays; Briefings; Analysis Exercises, Group Discussions; Psychometric Tests and Profiles; Presentations, Situational Judgement Tests, and so on. Generally, Assessment Centres last a day but can be longer depending on the job role. They are often used in Graduate Recruitment and for more senior positions within organisation.

Whilst a multi-method approach involving a range of the above exercises have good predictive validity, this also depends on careful design of the exercises. Assessor training is also essential to ensure consistent rating of candidate performance on each task. For many businesses they are resource intensive and expensive and it would be prudent to conduct a cost benefit analysis before using assessment centres.


Ah! The interview is undoubtedly one of the most popular ways in which businesses recruit people. It is of course an opportunity to meet with the candidates and provides a good opportunity to ‘show case’ the business. However, interviews by their very nature are also social interactions and as a result often subject to a range of biases. Many interviewers believe that they have an ‘innate’ ability to get the ‘right’ person for the job only to find out, sometimes very quickly, that the appointed individual has not performed to expectation.

Over the recent past, many organisations have implemented competency frameworks, which of course is very good practice, but again there are limitations to these. Individuals are easily coached to answer interview questions in a highly polished manner.

Therefore, it is particularly important that interviewers are mindful of this and ensure that their questions are a mixture of job knowledge; behavioural; job sampling; worker requirements and situational questions.

Many experienced interviewers believe that they have the necessary skills in identifying whether or not individuals are being honest in their answers. In a recent research article (2013) published in the British Psychological Research Digest www.bps-researchdigest.blogspot.co.uk about detecting dishonesty in the interview, the article highlighted that: “For the penultimate round of the TV show The Apprentice, the competing entrepreneurs must face a series of interviews with a crack team of hardened executives. The implicit, believable message is that these veterans have seen all the interview tricks in the book and will spot any blaggers a mile off. However, a new study provides the reality TV show with a reality check. A team led by MarcAndré Reinhard report that experienced job interviewers are in fact no better than novice interviewers at spotting when a candidate is lying.

“Our results provide the first evidence that employment interviewers may not be better at detecting deception in job interviews than lay persons,” the researchers said, “although it is a judgmental context that they are very experienced with.”

The interview in itself is not the most valid selection method due to the many subjective biases that impact on the process. However, if this is the normal method of recruiting do make sure you adopt a structured interview format, based on the Job Analysis.

Seven Quick Tips to ensure you hire the Right Person

  1. Conduct a thorough Job Analysis – use a number of methods.
  2. Design Job Descriptions and Person Profiles based on the Job Analysis.
  3. Advertise widely and then shortlist on the Essential and Desirable Criteria.
  4. Consider using Psychometric Tests – If so check individuals are properly registered to ensure professional competence. The Register in Test Use – www.psychtesting.org.uk (UK) or for the policy for appropriate test use in Republic of Ireland check with Psychological Society of Ireland – www.psihq.ie.
  5. If using Assessment Centres, ensure the requirements of the position are clearly defined before the assessment takes place and that assessors are fully trained.
  6. Conduct structured interviews. Remember with the growth in ‘coaching’ many candidates can present themselves in a highly professional manner. Ensure all interviewers have received training and are fully familiar with legal regulations.
  7. Provide feedback to candidates and evaluate and validate your recruitment and selection processes.
This article is correct at 01/12/2014

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Dominic McCanny
Interventus Business Psychologists

The main content of this article was provided by Dominic McCanny. Contact telephone number is 028 8224 3100 or email info@interventus.net

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