Can There Be More ‘Creative Forms’ Of Hiring?
Should we look beyond the traditional CV and application form?
Not so long ago I was asked about different or more ‘creative’ ways of hiring people beyond the traditional CV and application form that are being looked at by some companies. I gave this some thought, reflecting on my experience and research and came up with the following.
Different hiring forms
This idea of different hiring forms came about partly because traditional methods can have poor reliability as predictors of job performance. Also, some research on hiring has found issues on both sides with CVs and application forms. On the one hand there can be discriminatory behaviour in their use by firms, ie noting certain names as implying ethnicity, gender, etc.
On the other hand, some exaggerated/false claims/statements by applicants have also been found. Furthermore, some companies may be seeking hiring forms more in line with their ‘image’ and corporate culture.
One example is Timpson, the UK key cutting and shoe repair business that employs around 3,000 ‘colleagues’ in 1,325 branches in many towns and shopping centres. It (in)famously recruits staff based on which Mr Men characters they are most like. This is not novel in itself in that it is simply personality-driven interview hiring. Yet, it is eye-catching as these children’s book characters are used to equate as shorthand to a candidate’s personality!
Some companies have scrapped the CV and encourage candidates to sign up to workshops, in which they assess candidates based on practical exercises to identify matches to the job and the fit with shared values. One example is Bagelman, the mini bakery store.
Tech in hiring
The use of technology in hiring is increasing. For example, virtual reality with headsets to tour offices and have meetings while having their personality judged and assessed is used at L’Oreal, the beauty business. Then there is the replacement of the initial application process by the Space Gentleman chatbot at Byte London, a marketing technology agency. Candidates were shortlisted based on Instagram videos they submitted, with the winners advancing to the next stage where they were interviewed, at South Korea’s Jeju Air. This sort of hiring depends on the job of course.
It still involves interviewer assessment and so, there is still the potential for bias. What is the purpose of hiring? Is it looking to fill existing roles :
1) through proven capability (backward looking) versus potential (forward looking); or
2) by covering existing skillset requirements (backward looking) versus training (forward looking)?
Some may see that there are companies who benefit from being ‘creative’ in their hiring. It can be a bonus if it reduces the problems with the ‘classic trio’ of methods (application forms, references, interviews) and their poor reliability as predictors of job performance.
However, it may go too far, even leading to complaints of discriminatory behavior, ie you only hired candidate A because of characteristic X (gender, ethnicity, age, etc). Companies need to be able to justify that the decisions were not based on that but rather on comparisons of – as objective as possible – criteria relevant to the job at hand.
These more creative methods can be both good and bad.
It may not be wise to ditch the CV (despite the above caveats on their veracity), especially as it is structured to allow efficient/easy comparisons of key factors/data across candidates, ie with ‘standard academic CVs’ for some universities.
Some more traditional hiring methods, such as tests, have been shown to be better predictors of job performance than the ‘classic trio’. The benefits of such methods include test results being numerical and statistical, so allowing direct comparison of candidates on the same criteria and producing explicit, specific results. Tests provide seemingly ‘hard’ data which can be evaluated for their predictive usefulness in later years – comparing predicted with actual performance. There are a variety of possible tests. However, tests may need interpretation and analysis, particularly in the case of tests of personal attributes.
Psychometric Tests of Occupational Personality
These tests attempt to determine if the candidate has the ‘right’ kind of ‘personality’ for a job. Their use varies by job level: less for manual positions, more for management posts and graduate entry positions.
In the US alone, there are about 2,500 personality tests on the market.
One of the most popular is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or MBTI, translated into 24 languages and adopted by governments, military agencies and top companies around the world and taken by 2 million people annually in a US$20 million industry.
Its attraction lies in its seductive simplicity – the 93 question inventory distils personality into four letters: INTJ (Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging) and sorts people into one of 16 permutations of character types. However, that simplicity is precisely what makes some people sceptical and suspicious and the test is highly criticized and increasingly discredited as unscientific and irrelevant.
For example, the test’s “bimodality” forces stark either-or answers. For example, Extrovert or Introvert? Thinking or Feeling? Yet, what if you fall in the middle? Also, the 16 personality types have no grounding in science – the same person can take the test twice with different outcomes. Therefore, the results can read like horoscopes.
Warning against personality tests, even when these are used in similar cultures as the one in which they were developed, comes from a classic piece of research (Stagner, 1958). Here 68 managers completed a personality questionnaire and were presented with an individual written profile summarising their personalities main characteristics. The managers then completed a further questionnaire asking how accurate they believed their profile to be.
Some 50 percent ranked their profile overall as being ‘amazingly accurate’ and a further 40 percent as ‘rather good’. However, the researchers had given all the managers same fake personality profile to assess, instead of genuine summaries of their own personalities.
Thus, tests can appear more accurate and meaningful than they actually are. There is also the tendency for people to accept vague, ambiguous and general statements, known as the ‘Barnum Effect’, after the famous circus owner who wanted to have a little something for everyone!
These involve a range of simulations or events. Employment tests seek to measure specific characteristics, abilities and behaviour. Some are paper or computer screen tests of numerical or verbal reasoning and other abilities. There can be work scenarios and actual tasks, such as being given a piece of real or simulated work to complete or a team problem solving exercise.
These are a more reliable method with the battery of tests used as these compare candidates’ performance in simulated problems and with focused or behavioural event interviews which seek deep understanding of candidates in relation to the role envisaged for them.
There can be a range of tests. Indeed, the number used is an advantage. The use of several trained assessors is essential, enabling the pooling of tests and assessors results. Tests can include in-basket simulations where candidates are asked to process and take action on an accumulation of memos, reports and letters or team exercises involving building a small tower or bridge. Others include leaderless discussions when a group response to a question is required. Individual presentations may also be used in the exercise as may assigned leadership tasks.
Of course, small businesses should try to emulate these practices. Hiring here is critical as each person is a larger percentage of the total workforce and hiring mistakes more costly. However, such firms are unlikely to do so due to the investment of time and money needed.
There is also interesting variability in the use of methods between countries across the West and Asia. This shows that being ‘creative’ and ‘new’ ideas need to be put into context. Some examples will suffice.
Handwriting experts assert that a person’s handwriting reveals their aptitude for a job based on their personality. Reliable figures on its use are hard to come by. In the late 1990s, a lot of American organisations used graphology in their hiring. In most of the rest of the world, graphology use is marginal, except in France, where an independent study (in 1991) found that a huge 91 percent of public and private organisations were using handwriting analysis.
In Japan, a person’s blood type is popularly believed to determine temperament and personality.
“What’s your blood type?” is often a key question in lots of things, including job applications.
According to popular belief, Type As are sensitive perfectionists and good team players but over-anxious. Type Os are curious and generous but stubborn. Type ABs are arty but mysterious and unpredictable. Type Bs are cheerful but eccentric, individualistic and selfish. Despite repeated warnings, many employers continue to ask blood types at job interviews.
Chopsticks and Cooking!
Sempio Foods, a 70-year-old food products company in South Korea, uses an interesting hiring method.
Applicants undergo two rounds of interviews, a group cooking evaluation and a chopstick test. It has been evaluating interviewees’ teamwork, character, creativity and leadership through group cooking since 2000.
In the team interview, applicants have the task of using ingredients in the group cooking of food. Through the cooking interview, the company observes the attitude of applicant’s collaboration and creative ideas, rather than their cooking skills. The next round puts applicants’ chopstick skills to the test. What the firm considers important when hiring is whether applicants understand the philosophy of the company as well as the culture.
Testing chopstick skills has been part of new employee training since 2013. Chopsticks and its culture reflect the “sharing culture” of Korea’s dining and represents dining etiquette and culture and encompasses the spirit of sharing with those you dine with. The company wants to see whether candidates can hold chopsticks properly and how they pick food up. The company believes having knowledge of and a respectful attitude towards Korean food culture is one of the core values in candidates.
It’s a cultural thing
In South Korea, hiring can involve asking job seekers for photos. According to research, some 93 percent of firms did so and nearly 50 percent of HR managers rejected applicants because of appearance.
Firms also ask about personal details, such as age, religion, medical history, weight, height, blood type, eyesight, whether they live with their family, occupations of family members, even drinking and smoking capacity. Korean societal norms encourage applicants to polish their credentials and paint themselves as attractive candidates.
In Korea, where academic background and hometown are of utmost importance when it comes to employment, companies tend to favour graduates from universities in Seoul, themselves ranked, when hiring.
Given the above, employers in Korea are being encouraged to use anonymous or ‘blind hiring’ (‘bulaindu chaeyong’) and remove personal information from CVs. For example, applications are accepted without being asked about experience, education or foreign-language capabilities, only requiring basic information such as name, phone number and covering letter at Saramin, the recruitment portal. An open environment recruitment process where candidates are not asked about their age, gender, grade or major and only required to hold a university degree is used at Sempio.
What can we conclude from all this?
First, in terms of the best way to recruit people, there remains the need to reduce bias as much as possible and allow as objective (as possible) comparisons across candidates. So, a mix of CVs, application forms plus semi-structured interviews and relevant tests – as especially if actually job/work related, these are better predictors of job performance.
Second, one person’s or country’s ‘creative’ hiring is another’s ‘cheap’ or even biased approach and another’s ‘old hat’ or even ‘whimsical’ and ‘odd’.
Third, looking at examples over time and especially, internationally and comparatively, can teach us more about ourselves and systems – what we may consider to be ‘normal’ is not to many others around the world – thereby usefully reducing ethnocentricity.
Fourth, this examples clearly shows some of the institutional and cultural constraints to ideas behind universalism globalization (Rowley and Harry, 2011; Mukherjee Saha, 2015; Nankervis, Rowley and Salleh, 2016).
Mukherjee Saha, J. and Rowley, C. (2015) The Changing Role of the HR Profession in the Asia Pacific, Elsevier.
Rowley, C. and Harry, W. (2011) Managing People Globally: An Asian Perspective, Elsevier.
Nankervis, A., Rowley, C. and Salleh, M. (2016) Asia Pacific HRM and Organisational Effectiveness: Impacts on Practice, Elsevier.
Stagner, R. (1958) ‘The gullibility of personnel managers’, Personnel Psychology, 11 (3).