Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Staffing Your Organization

by Professor Tony Wheeler
Assistant Professor of Human Resource Management

I frequently have students and employers ask me two fundamental staffing questions. First, how do you find applicants? Second, how do you select them? As a recent SLRC student stated this past semester in our training and performance management course (LRS/MBA 578), "Selection is so important because if you let junk in, you have to get the junk out." I couldn't agree more, yet employers should apply the "junk it, junk out" principle well before selection begins.

Where do you find applicants? They are everywhere. For the first time in almost two decades, employers can find a surplus of qualified applicants for almost any position. The unemployment rate for applicants holding a four-year college degree currently resides above 5%, which is double the rate we typically see. The question isn't where do you find applicants. The question is "Where do you find the right applicants?" If your company simply wants hundreds of applicants to apply for a vacant position, then they should place a posting on or Unfortunately for the people screening the potentially hundreds of resumes (usually spending less than 20 seconds on each resume), what they will find is that many people who should not have applied for the job did in fact apply. In trying to generate as many applicants as possible, a company can actually make it less likely to find the right person.

Think of recruiting like fishing. A fisher doesn't use the same equipment and bait to catch every type of fish, and a fisher doesn't look for freshwater fish in the ocean. Furthermore, many organizations apply "one size fits all" approaches to their recruiting. A good fisher doesn't fish in the same spot as every other fisher. Your organization should adopt a similar mentality to recruiting.

Recruiting problems compound selection problems. How do you select the right applicant? Your company might consider some evidence that HR scholars have known for decades. First, applicants fluff resumes and resume screeners often apply subjective criterion when screening resumes. Between the fluff and the subjectivity a resume becomes a worthless selection tool. Moreover, the subjectivity might lead to legal issues. Second, traditional interviewing, while good at determining if you "like" an applicant, might be the worst method of selecting an applicant for employment. There are plenty of people that you might personally like who are the worst employees your organization employs. There are ways to make interviews better, but this requires those dreaded structured, behavior-based interviews that no one likes because they are too impersonal. It also requires training your interviewers to limit those unconscious affirmative head nods during the interview!

The biggest trend in selection is the use of IQ and personality testing. It is estimated that more than 30% of U.S. companies use some type of IQ or personality test during selection. That number continues to grow as companies find that these tests are efficient to administer, are cheaper than interviewing, and better predict the performance of potential employees than almost any other type of selection method. Given that turnover can cost anywhere between 80-200% of a turned over employee's wages to replace that employee, the costs associated with hiring the wrong person can literally sink your company. I think that is what my student ultimately meant when stating the "junk in, junk out" principle. It doesn't matter how much training or performance management you provide to a poorly hired employee. If the employee doesn't have the right knowledge, skills, or abilities from the start, the chances are that they won't ever have them. Spending more time and money on training or performance management just adds to the costs of hiring the wrong person.

For the first time in the history of the SLRC, we will offer a comprehensive staffing course that covers these issues and more. We will offer LRS/MBA 573 - Staffing Organizations in the spring 2010 semester on Wednesday evenings in Providence, and we hope to offer the course each spring. We will start the course with the basics: job analysis and forecasting. Students will develop comprehensive and integrated staffing strategies using a web-based HRM application, so they will leave LRS/MBA 573 with both "text book" and "real world" knowledge, skills, and abilities. That is the goal!


  1. Tony, you opened a lot of questions in this article and didn't really answer any of them. I hope you're considering writing a future article where you touch on one or two of these in more detail!

    (IQ testing or training interview teams, for example)

  2. Chris:

    Given the costs associated with training of any type, using IQ-type tests easily win the cost-benefit analysis. Interviews done correctly (structured, behavior-based, trained raters) strongly correlate with IQ tests to the point that structured, behavior-based interviews have been referred to as "verbal IQ tests." The catch with this, though, is that interviewing costs a lot of money. Think of the time and indirect costs of interviewing. Why not just purchase a valid IQ test and save your company the money?

    There are issues with IQ tests, namely that a lot of companies are worried about adverse impact lawsuits associated with IQ tests. Most of the observed racial/gender/ethnic differences on IQ tests result from social artifacts (things like stereotype threat). Rules of thumb for selection: any selection test (interviews, IQ, personality...anything you can think of) should be 1) job related, and 2) criterion valid (predict job performance). If your selection test satisfies those hurdles, your company will be fine.

    Thanks for the comment. Hope I answered a few of your questions. If not, email me!

  3. Tony, thanks for getting back to me on this, and sorry I missed your response for a few days! I hope you have a great semester!