The Psychology of Recruiting and Selecting Employees

This article discusses how psychologists have designed recruiting processes and personnel-selection systems to help employers find the best candidates. The article describes using interviews, personality tests, ability tests, and work samples to evaluate potential employees. As with all forms of testing, we cannot ignore the validity and reliability factors attributed to each test, as noted in the article.

Industrial and organizational (I-O) psychologists design recruitment processes and personnel-selection systems to help employers hire the best candidate for the job.

Learning Objective: Discuss the importance of personnel selection and recruitment as seen from the perspective of industrial and organizational psychology.


Key Points

  • Personnel recruitment is the process of identifying and encouraging qualified candidates to apply for jobs with an organization. Personnel-recruitment processes include creating job announcements, placing ads, defining key qualifications for applicants, and screening out unqualified applicants.
  • Personnel selection is the systematic process of hiring and promoting personnel. Personnel-selection systems employ evidence-based practices to determine the most qualified candidates. The assessment tools they use include interviews, personality inventories, psychomotor and physical ability tests, and work samples.
  • I-O psychologists must evaluate the validity of these measures to determine how well their assessment and selection tools predict job performance. This evaluation includes an examination of content validity, construct validity, and/or criterion validity.



Validity: A quality of measurement indicating how well a certain measurement reflects the underlying construct, in other words, whether it measures what it purports to measure.

A major function of I-O psychologists is to design recruitment processes and personnel-selection systems. Personnel recruitment describes the systematic process of hiring and promoting personnel. It includes creating job announcements, placing ads, defining key qualifications for applicants, and screening out unqualified applicants. Personnel-selection systems employ evidence-based practices to determine the most qualified candidates for a job. The assessment tools they use include ability tests, knowledge tests, personality tests, structured interviews, the systematic collection of biographical data, and work samples.



Recruitment is defined as the search for potential applicants for actual or anticipated vacancies. It is the first step in the hiring process. No matter how a company recruits, the goal of a recruitment strategy is to produce viable applicants who fit in with the company's needs and values. Therefore, it is beneficial to attract not just a large quantity of applicants, but a group of individuals with the necessary skills for the position.



The next step in the hiring process is choosing new employees from a pool of qualified candidates. After obtaining a large, qualified applicant base through recruitment, managers need to identify the applicants with the highest potential for success in the organization. Selective hiring is critical because it reduces future staff turnovers, reduces costs, and increases morale and productivity. To find the best fit, managers create a list of relevant criteria composed of critical skills, behaviors, and attitudes for each position. Managers should choose candidates based on how they think they will fit within the culture of the organization, in addition to their technical skills and competencies.


Types of Selection Measures

Industrial and organizational (I-O) psychologists use a variety of measures to select applicants who are the best fit for a position. The main goal of these tests is to predict job performance, and each test has its own relative strengths and weaknesses in this regard. When making a hiring decision, it is important to understand the applicant's personality style, values, motivations, and attitudes. New employees can acquire technical competency, but it is not easy to change one's personality.

Photo of an interview at a job fair



Most businesses choose the individuals they hire through the Interview process. The best interviews follow a structured framework in which each applicant is asked the same questions and scored with a standardized rating scale. Structured interviews provide more reliable and consistent results than unstructured interviews.


Personality Testing

Businesses also use personality testing to choose new employees. These assessments can provide an accurate analysis of an applicant's attitudes and interpersonal skills. They can reveal a variety of things about an applicant, such as how well the applicant gets along with others, self-discipline, attention to detail, organization, flexibility, and disposition.


Ability Tests

Businesses use psychomotor-ability tests to measure a job candidate's fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. These skills are important to jobs, such as carpentry and computer programs that require a lot of hand-eye coordination. Unlike psychomotor-ability tests, physical ability tests measure gross motor skills, such as lifting and running. These skills are important in jobs, such as construction and delivery, where strength is needed.


Work Sample

Many businesses ask applicants to complete a hiring assignment or task that simulates the work the employee will perform on the actual job. The goal is to assess how well the applicant can learn and perform the tasks.


Validity and Reliability

I-O psychologists must evaluate the validity of these measures to determine whether the selection tools can predict job performance. Measurement tools have different types of validity that capture different qualities. There are three major types of validity: content validity, construct validity, and criterion validity. 


Content Validity

Content validity refers to how comprehensively a measurement tool assesses the underlying construct it claims to assess. As an example, let's look at a job interview for a position as a banker. This measure would have low content validity if it assesses whether a potential job candidate is comfortable talking to different customers, but not whether they are proficient in math. This candidate would not be thoroughly evaluated on these necessary facets of banking. The measure does not cover the full breadth of what the job requires.


Construct Validity

Construct validity refers to whether a measurement tool accurately assesses the underlying construct it claims to assess. We can evaluate constructs by examining correlations with other measures that purport to assess the same construct. When we ask if a measure has good construct validity, we are asking, "does it test what we are interested in testing?" An example of a measure with debatable construct validity is IQ testing. It is intended to measure intelligence, but there is disagreement about whether it measures intelligence as it claims, or merely examines one type of skill. 


Criterion Validity

Criterion validity examines how well the construct correlates with one's behavior in the real world across multiple situations and manifestations. For example, does the measurement tool adequately capture the construct (for example, work ethic) as it presents in real life (for example, getting assignments done on time, coming in to work on time, not leaving early)?



The reliability of a measurement tool refers to whether it gets the same results time-after-time, or is repeatable. Will the recruitment and selection processes a company uses work every time they need to hire someone, or just once? If their processes obtain the same results every time, we say those measures are reliable.

Source: Boundless
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 License.

Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2020, 3:07 PM