• We are all different…
• The Selection Process
• Organisational Design, Efficiencies & Effectiveness
• What does this all have to do with recruitment?
• Cultural & Social Influences: ”The Individual Self”
• Motivation & Emotion
• Prejudice & Discrimination
The reasons (psychologically, physically and socially) why our cognitive behaviour is the way it is are complex and will extend
far beyond the topics covered today. But in fairly simplistic terms and articulated i hope in a way that is relevant and
applicable, i will attempt to cover some of the following areas around the psychology within recruitment:
• Drivers & Motivators behind why behave the way they do
• Looking at the Social: Thinking / Influence / Relations side of things
• Emotional: "Biopsychosocio" views to our behaviours
• Workplace Cultures & Environments
By the very nature of the world I will be exploring, the sheer volume of people involved as recruiters, candidates, clients, hiring
managers and so on runs in to the millions...and that in itself will mean that the following has to be interpreted predominantly
as qualitative interpretation of studies, insights and observations rather than necessarily a quantitative exercise based purely
on probability, statistics and data. There is plenty of it, but ultimately as you will see; a lot of the psychology behind recruitment
is driven by circumstances within an environment rather than through design or engineering.
We are all different…
It is known from research into the psychology of individual differences that people differ from each other in stable and
noticeable ways. Some differences and their links with job performance criteria are easy way to identify (at a fairly general
level). But what role does ‘emotional stability’ play? For most jobs and people it’s quite difficult to be certain what the
precise mix is between psychological characteristics that are important for success.
Selection therefore seeks to identify the common characteristics of those people who perform well, even though those
individuals may be different in other ways. The goal of selection research over the years has been to establish specific
links between individual difference variables and job success. In broad terms, the most important individual difference
characteristics for selection are "Cognitive Ability" (Carroll, 1993) and "Personality" (Costa & McCrae and Digman,
Across our 4 audiences (Candidates, Hiring Managers, Recruiters / Suppliers and Clients), setting out our criteria
for job success shared amongst all:
• Performance / Proficiency - effectiveness in conducting work tasks
• Attendance - Reliable attendance at normal work times
• Tenure - Length of stay in the job
• Progression - Through relevant grades in the organisations hierarchy
• Training Performance - Effectiveness in assimilating and benefiting from the training provided by the organisation
The Selection Process
We often look at the above in terms of Competency Based Interviewing (CBI) to ascertain the right person for the job - identifying
and measuring individual differences in specific work-related behavioural constructs that can be seen as samples but not necessarily
signs of behaviour. In psychology, "The Big 5 Factors of Personality" refers to Extroversion, Neuroticism, Openness to Experience,
Conscientiousness and Agreeableness...and the practical difficulties of CBI alone means the understanding of a person's potential to
perform may be of more interest (but ultimately missed) to the organisation than if he or she can actually do the job right now, today.
We need to be able to make good predictions about a candidate's likeliness to succeed based on measures of their character (The
Big 5) too.
So, in this first area; the selection process must begin with a strong job analysis to identify the key components of what is required of
the role in turn creating a person specification indicating which skills and characteristics to look for in a good candidate. If we go on to
accept that candidates will be different to each other, it is these differences that we are going on to assess and understand as the
heart of our selection - the criteria and competencies forming the validity and reliability of what we are looking for at the core of the
A contemporary 'hot potato' in the world of recruitment at the moment is (as with a lot of trends) "Unconscious Bias - UB". This is a
very complex topic to explain and is a paper in itself. A personal view and one that can be justified through further reading around UB,
is that ultimately it is a natural, biological phenomenon that cannot be eradicated from someone's behaviour (partly due to it
developing over the duration of our lives and partly due to its physiological complexities going beyond a few training sessions in the
The Selection Process contd.
Where I think organisations and companies could perhaps better focus their attentions if following trends is to first understand what
Emotional Intelligence is, how it fits within the framework of Cognitive Intelligence (linking to IQ for example) and to then go on to
understand and appreciate what “Emotional Quotient – EQ” means within the workplace. Then, dealing with UB could be more
objective and beneficial to everyone.
Salvoes & Mayer (1990) originally defined EQ as "the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate
amongst them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions." Within recruitment, this concept has massive
implications at various and all stages of the lifecycle.
Studies and Scholars have debated for some time whether EQ is a trait / characteristic associated with The Big 5 Personality
Factors or as with IQ is a measure of ability of intelligence rather than personality.
Where EQ does become wholly relevant to recruitment is the relationship between it and job performance; as Goleman (1998) found
in competencies such as ‘understanding & influencing others’ being essential for job effectiveness for example. However, emotion at
work is a relatively new topic within psychology and is deemed quite a different expression to other feelings such as stress or
satisfaction...How employees and organisations manage the experience and expression of emotion is a key consideration - EQ likely
to be important therefore in doing so.
Organisational Design, Efficiencies & Effectiveness
Organisations are investing heavily in recent years around “Organisational Design (OD)” and “Organisational Efficiencies / Effectiveness
(OE)”. These areas focus on Culture Performance and Environment. Defining and measuring these could be categorised as follows:
Power Distance: The degree to which members of an organisation accept distinctions between members on the basis of position - including
such things as status and decision making power...
Uncertainty Avoidance: The degree to which members of an organisation actively attempt to reduce ambiguity in organisational life by relying
on norms, rules and policies...
Humane Orientation: The degree to which members of an organisation encourage and reward individuals for being fair and kind to others...
Assertiveness: The degree to which members of an organisation are assertive, dominant and demanding in their interactions with others...
Gender Egalitarianism: The degree to which men and women are treated equally in terms of tasks assigned and opportunities for training /
Future Orientation: The degree to which an organisation encourages and rewards long-term versus short-term planning...
Performance Orientation: The degree to which an organisation focuses on and rewards high performance and efforts to improve quality...
Individualism / Collectivism: The degree to which an organisation focuses on individual accomplishment versus those of & within a group...
Organisation Collectivism: The degree to which organisation members take pride in being associated with the organisation...
What does all of the above have to do with Recruitment?
All of the above create your “EVP and perception of your Brand”. That is ultimately what we are promoting,
attracting and encouraging candidates to buy-in to in addition to the technical opportunity they are seeking.
Psychologically, Levering (1998) found in his book "A Great Place to Work: What Makes Some Employers So Good
(and Most So Bad)?" -
• Trust: Credibility: The trustworthiness and competence of management. Respect: recognition of employees'
personal and professional worth. Fairness: Equitable sharing of opportunities and rewards.
• Pride: Value attached to one's job, work group and association with the company.
• Camaraderie: Friendliness and community in the workplace.
In turn, we aspire to find the above values expressed and demonstrable from our candidates.
Cultural & Social Influences: “The Individual Self”
The importance of social factors and group memberships is recognised when talking about the "Self Concept". Most of us exist
within a network of communities and social expectations: be they family, friendship groups or occupational ones. Many people seek
out communities to belong to: religious groups, communes, volunteer groups...and indeed, workplaces they feel that they would "fit
In other words, we don't really exist as independent individuals necessarily, rather we live within social networks and groups. So,
what does this mean for D&I initiatives and strategies, seeking variation of individuals brought together and made to feel equally
welcome with the same opportunities for success?
We potentially gauge our fit through "Social Identification" - large scale in terms or ethnicity for example, medium scale such as our
profession (accountant, doctor, mechanic etc) and on a small scale perhaps social clubs or groups we might attend. Social Identity
theory is interesting as it highlights to people that they belong to more social groups & categories than they perhaps realise and if
they are unaware of this as recruitment adopts more and more anonymisation to its process, peoples' identities once masked to avoid
UB for example or in the hope of promoting positive discrimination; may lead to the loss of social identity altogether. Ultimately losing
not only your own identity but that of the organisation you are working within.
From an early age we develop a "Theory of Mind". An awareness of what other people are thinking and feeling, which we go on to
use to interact effectively with others. However, if we are constantly told it doesn't matter what people think about you - the way you
dress, speak, think, feel...we lose the ability, slowly, to engage purposefully with others. Liberalism and acceptance of any and
everyone and their behaviours and actions is progressive thinking, but without the understanding of people's 'non-verbal
communication' we run the risk of totally misinterpreting someone. Con Artists for example have excellent control of their non-verbal
communication because they need you to focus on what they are telling you...whereas a young person who is not yet able to
articulate themselves fully may mislead your assumptions of their attitude due to a casual posture for example. This could be critical
and key in interview or assessment situations where someone is physically in your company rather than on the phone or
communicating only by text.
Cultural & Social Influences: “The Individual Self” contd.
A positive organisational culture makes people feel valued and able to do good work, so they are proud of belonging to that
organisation. A dictatorial culture, or one where cost-cutting means that people have to do bad work they are not proud of,
produces high turnover and dissatisfied workers. Increased attrition, almost impossible retention and increasingly difficult
The power of organisation culture is closely linked with social identification. People always form social groups at work and a
positive org culture can include those groups as its strengths because everyone is pulling together to succeed in the same
direction...but, in a more negative culture, the group's values and this of the management don't connect and the workforce
Motivation & Emotion
The study of motivation is the study of the causes of behaviour. Motives comes from the Latin for 'move' and denotes that
which energises and gives direction to people's behaviour. This can be driven through need and also by desire. The
physiological reasons for motivation are extensive. But in this paper's context, Core Social Motives such as belonging,
understanding, controlling, self-enhancing and trusting are the more relevant ones around why each category does what they
do in recruitment.
We often talk about understanding the 'Drivers' and 'Motivators' of Hiring Managers and Candidates. Here, we are looking
to ascertain the balance of understanding between need and want from either party. What is critical / key to success and
what is desirable, personal preference?
It's interesting also to consider the concept that 'Emotion' is not necessarily biological, but potentially psychological and
cultural. The same Basic emotions (see diagram by Plutchik) differ from culture to culture and eventually within cultures; so a
physical expression of emotion ends up being driven by psycho-social factors rather than physiological ones. So when
people say they are "following their gut" or "led by their emotions" it's quite possible that in fact they are being led by the
social / working groups or organisational culture that they are working within. This is a form of professional UB rather than
Prejudice & Discrimination
As an extreme attitude, 'Prejudice' comprises cognitive (stereotype), affective (hostility) and behavioural components.
Discrimination usually refers to the kind of prejudiced behaviour. Most definitions of prejudice identify it as the characteristic
of an individual, but it's often associated with intergroup conflict - racism, sexism...ageism...regarded as ideologies; which
are characteristics of society, not individuals. The idea here that an individual may simply be acting out the prejudices of the
group they belong to, or indeed work for. Replicating influences they are seeing from the top down.
2 major motives for conformity are 1) the need to be right and 2) the need to be accepted by others. While independence
is often seen as preferable to conformity, conformity also serves an important social function.
So how would all of this tie in to Inclusivity policies? Are we looking for conformists or individuals? Do we want more of the
same or do we want lots of difference aiming for the same common goal?
There is much more to all of this, but in the interests of opening things up to discussion, I will start to draw some conclusions and
The key question for me therefore is “What is the balance between understanding and application?” The understanding of all
that has been said in this paper versus the pragmatic application of processes and practices that get the job done day to day by
those who perhaps are unaware of the psychological, social and corporate influences upon them.
The more we analyse and obsess over things, are we making them less productive or should we carry on exploring and peeling
back the layers of why people behave the way they do, aspire to success in a certain way and accept that without this ability to
truly understand “why” we will be reactive transactors rather than proactive implementers of successful talent acquisition and
management across our organisations.
My advice would be to master the basics first, explore the more complex concepts from a number of perspectives / viewpoints
and train incrementally rather than attempting to learn it all in one go or session. One 2-hour session on UB for example is not
going to mean people are able to reduce or manage it…the same way CBI isn’t going to be the most appropriate method of
assessing HR Candidates one day and Digital ones the next…we need to have appropriate and fit for purpose options that can be
tailored to varying needs.
It’s fascinating and constantly learning and developing. The key is to keep up and wherever possible go ahead by not being afraid
to take a few risks and benefiting from making the odd mistake…but having tried and failed rather than not and remaining static in
our approach to recruitment, talent acquisition and workforce development.