Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Predicting Job Performance from Background Characteristics: More Evidence from the Public Sector

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Predicting Job Performance from Background Characteristics: More Evidence from the Public Sector

Article excerpt

Despite extensive research on employee selection, managers still do not have clear guidance on whether specific background characteristics predict good performance. To help clarify this issue, this study analyzed the relationships between several academic/work background characteristics and performance appraisal scores for entry-level professionals in a public sector agency. Agency managers were also surveyed to determine if they believed that these characteristics predict performance. Although the managers perceived that most of the characteristics studied are linked to performance, only one characteristic, grade point average, was found to be statistically related to appraisal scores. This study's findings support other research which suggests that it may be better to base employee screening/selection decisions on specific job-related knowledge, skills, and abilities, instead of relying primarily on background characteristic "signals."

In most organizations, recruitment and selecting new employees are critical and high-profile activities. Private and public sector organizations spend large amounts of time and money attracting and selecting employees, and most managers believe that hiring the "right" people is essential for continued success. As we advance into the 1990s, hiring decisions are becoming even more critical as competition intensifies for a declining supply of qualified entry-level workers. To meet this challenge, human resource managers must clearly target the kinds of candidates they need to hire; and determine how to efficiently attract, select and retain employees who have the skills and abilities to perform successfully.

Effective and efficient employee selection has direct bottom-line implications. For example, Schmidt, Hunter, Outerbridge, and Trattner (1986) estimated that the federal government could save hundreds of millions of dollars and also increase productivity by using valid measures of cognitive ability to select white-collar employees. While selection validity is important for all organizations, it is particularly critical in the public sector because of merit selection requirements and the ever-present specter of disparate impact. The appearance of arbitrary decision making, or evidence of adverse impact, could force a public sector employer to prove in court that its selection procedures are valid. This could result in an expensive and destructive legal battle for all involved, regardless of which side ultimately "wins."

Despite extensive research, discussion, and debate on how to predict employee success and make the best possible hiring decisions, human behavior is complex and remains difficult to predict. Not surprisingly, then, employee selection research has produced inconsistent and inconclusive results and managers are still uncertain whether they can rely on specific background characteristics to predict employee success. Although individual research studies have linked some background characteristics to performance, other research suggests that general mental ability may be the best overall predictor of job performance, particularly for entry-level jobs (Arvey, 1986; Hawk, 1986; Hunter and Hunter, 1984). Since mental ability tests can be impractical, however, characteristics such as GPA, degree level, school quality, and other biographical data are often used as "signals" of basic mental ability.

Unfortunately, research on these characteristics has not shown that they consistently predict performance. As a result, managers are still searching for empirical guidance to help them make efficient and effective recruitment and selection decisions. Despite the emergence of validity generalization techniques, organizations still tend to rely on their own data to develop selection systems.

This study was intended to provide some organization-specific, but generalizable, employee selection guidance by analyzing the backgrounds and performance of one government agency's entry-level recruits. …

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