This CQ Dossier describes how organizations can utilize structured interviews to attract and retain talented personnel. In particular, the dossier focuses on general cognitive ability (IQ) and how HR professionals can utilize situational structured interviews to assess those competencies that are reflective of an applicant’s IQ. The dossier describes the research supporting the use of cognitive ability as a predictor of job performance and describes how organizations can circumvent the problems of IQ testing through utilization of the structured interview.
General cognitive ability predicts job performance
Selection and Recruitment is one of the most important areas for organizations for investment in talent management. There is a plethora of methods for assessing and evaluating job candidates yet one of the best ways to do this is through a structured interview. Research has shown that the best predictor of job performance is general cognitive ability als referred to as g or IQ (Schmidt & Hunter, 2004). Many organizations use biodata, tests and performance tasks to determine the general cognitive ability of job applicants. This CQ Dossier describes how organizations can utilize structured interviews to appraise the IQ of applicants.
Cognitive ability testing is an effective recruitment method
Most of the research on recruitment methods show that cognitive ability is an effective predictor of job performance. As such, it makes sense for organizations to rely on cognitive ability testing as recruitment method. There are important aspects to all jobs but these aspects vary in importance based on job complexity. For demanding jobs, cognitive ability is a more important predictor of job performance (Schmidt & Hunter, 2004).
Cognitive ability predicts how fast a person learns
Research has repeatedly established the linkage between the two concepts. Hunter (1986) performed a meta-analysis of existing research to examine the predictive effects of cognitive ability on job performance. Hunter found that cognitive ability was an effective predictor for success across a wide range of occupations. One of the benefits of testing for cognitive ability is it demonstrates how much and how quickly a person learns. This has implications for employee training and development because it suggests that new hires can quickly learn new information.
Cognitive ability predicts creativity
Cognitive ability also predicts the ability to show creativity on the job and so this can lead to a culture of innovation within an organization (Hunter, 1986). Based on the meta-analysis it also appears that cognitive ability provides more incremental variance after controlling for existing job knowledge. Cognitive ability goes beyond job knowledge acquisition as a predictor of job performance (Hunter, 1986).
The linkage between cognitive ability and job performance is universal
There is also evidence that cognitive ability predicts job performance across countries (Salgado et al., 2003). Salgado and his colleagues performed a meta-analysis on cognitive ability and job performance in European countries. They also found that cognitive ability was a valid predictor of job performance across a range of jobs in Europe. Most of the previous research had focused on organizations within the United States so this meta-analysis confirmed that the linkage between cognitive ability and job performance is universal rather than a product of cultural practices.
Structured interviews as recruitment method predicts job performance
Most of the discussion surrounding testing cognitive ability has focused on whether they are fair particularly with regard to race. Disparate impact with respect to race has been found for cognitive ability tests. The tests typically produce racial differences larger than other valid predictors of job performance such as structured interviews. HR scientists and professionals recommend the use of other assessment methods in combination with cognitive ability test to lower any potential adverse impact.
The structured interview has been empirically validated and predicts job performance in a .55 to .70 range. The structured behavior interview is appealing to HR professionals because it is less costly and more time-efficient than other assessments such as a battery of psychometric tests. A structured behavior interview also avoids the issue of disparate impact. There are two types of interview–situational and behavioral we will briefly address below.
The behavioral interview is the most common and the accepted best practice for the past 30 years; it includes questions about a person’s experiences performing certain activities and explains about 25% of the variances in job performance. However, it doesn’t always tap into the cognitive ability of the applicants and misses a substantial amount of what determines success within an organization.
The situational interview has received considerable attention as a selection method (Oostrom et al., 2016). The situational interview presents applicants with a series of situations that are linked to the knowledge, skills and abilities required for the position. Typically, applicants are asked what they would do in a work-related dilemma such as how to deal with a subordinate who is under-performing. As a structured interview, situational interviews have been found to demonstrated criterion validity ranging between 0.41 and 0.47, based on meta-analyses (e.g., Huffcutt; Huffcutt et al., 2001).
How to develop situational interview questions
Before deciding on situational interview questions, it is important for organizational to conduct a job analysis to ascertain the characteristics that should be assessed. Most importantly, an organization needs to consider whether this is a knowledge, skill, or ability (KSA) that is important for job performance. General cognitive ability can be assessed through deciding on those domains that are important for job success. It is also important to determine whether the interview is the best way to assess this important knowledge, skill or ability.
In developing relevant interview questions, situational questions can be determined based on the particular position (SIOP). HR Professionals should focus on generating hypothetical questions that show a strong connection to the KSA for the position. It is also important to generate questions that don’t result in socially desirable responses. It is also important to generate a series of anchored scales in order to evaluate responses. Anchored scales allow for the interviewer to evaluate the candidate on the job relevant characteristics rather than a random set of criteria. In addition, standardization in rating scales provides documentation that all candidates were evaluated on the same basis.
The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) also provides guidelines for generating questions based on competencies. The competencies should reflect those knowledge, skills and characteristics that are the required for the specific positions and include domains such as business acumen, communication, consultation, flexibility, leadership and stress management.
In order to attract and retain talented staff, it is important for organizations to develop structured interviews that focus on the key competencies required for a position. Organizations can assess important predictors of job performance such as general cognitive ability through structuring questions that focus on key competencies.
Cognitive ability is an effective predictor of job performance
Structured interviews are better predictors of job performance than unstructured interviews
The structured interview predicts job performance in a .55 to .70 range.
Cognitive ability tests have a disparate impact. Interviews avoid this bias.
Situational Interview questions can assess general cognitive ability better than behavioral interview
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References and further readings
Huffcutt, A.I. (2011). An empirical review of the employment interview construct literature. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 19, 62–81.
Huffcutt A.I., Weekley, J.A, Wiesner, W.H, DeGroot TG, Jones C. (2001). Comparison of situational and behavior description interview questions for higher-level positions.Personnel Psychology, 54, 619–644
Hunter, J. E. (1986). Cognitive ability, cognitive aptitude, job knowledge, and job performance.Journal of Vocational Behavior, 29(3), 340-362.
Murphy, K. R., Cronin, B. E., & Tam, A. P. (2003). Controversy and consensus regarding the use of cognitive ability testing in organizations.Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(4), 660-671.
Oostrom, J. K., Melchers, K. G., Ingold, P. V., & Kleinmann, M. (2016). Why Do Situational Interviews Predict Performance? Is it Saying How You Would Behave or Knowing How You Should Behave?Journal of Business and Psychology,31, 279–291
Outtz, J. L. (2002). The role of cognitive ability tests in employment selection.Human Performance, 15(1-2), 161-172.
Ree, M. J., Earles, J. A., & Teachout, M. S. (1994). Predicting job performance: Not much more than g.Journal of Applied Psychology, 79(4), 518-524.
Salgado, J.F., Anderson, N., Moscoso, S., Bertua, C., & De Fruyt, F. (2003). International validity generalisation of GMA and cognitive abilities: A European community meta-analysis.Personnel Psychology, 56, 573-605.
Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. (2004). General mental ability in the world of work: Occupational attainment and job performance. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 86(1), 162
Annette was born in England and now lives in the United States. She has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has taught at several institutions. Annette has published in several journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Development Quarterly, and Organizational Research Methods. She worked in the public and private sector for many years, primarily as a management trainer.