Psychology of hiring

Andrea Dobson

Andrea Dobson

Psychology of hiring

November 3, 2017

What can psychology tell us about hiring for our dev rel teams?

Developer relations people are often described as unicorns. Hiring teams of developer relations professionals has all the usual headaches of hiring and then you have to reach the relatively small number of candidates (of course, the DevRel newsletter is a great way to do that).

Andrea Dobson has been using her background in psychology to develop the hiring process for Container Solutions. In this talk from DevRelCon London 2016, Andrea describes what they’ve done and how that is applicable to other hiring managers.


So let’s start with the selection process. So you see it starts with the proper job description. And in your case, you need to know as a devrel, “What is my job’s description?” Because how can you hire if you do not know what you have to do as a devreler or an engineer or any other job. And we base those on two things. On competence models or the specific competencies, you need to have, that could be knowing a bit about communication, knowing about presenting. And secondly, you might need to have specific person specifications. That could be maybe an engineering degree or SNIQ. Once you have your job description you can go on to advertise that job on your website or put it out to recruiters and then you choose your tools. And we’ll get into that in a minute. You assess your candidates using those tools and then you make a hiring decision.

All right, what happens then? You’ve hired someone, the next step is to follow up on that person as well. To make sure that your competence model and your person’s specifications are up to date in order to improve your next hiring. I guess that’s quite simple and quite clear for everybody.

These are the tools. Some of them you will know. Like an interview. Who’s been interviewed for their job? Okay, I see quite a lot of hand. So that’s about let’s say 90%. It’s true a lot of…interview is one of the most used assessment tools when it comes to hiring people. And what you see here in this diagram is the tool and we look at it like in the way how good is that tool in performing job performance. So now we’re looking at the tool and how much is able to predict how that person is gonna do in his job. Is he gonna do his job well? So when we look at the two highlights, these two ones are on bold, that’s the structured interview.

And a structured interview is not like a nice little chat over coffee, no. Structured interview means you have a set of questions that that person needs to answer and you do it with every interview. And you have preferably some trends interviewees. And that makes the interview process not only fair but it will also allow less bias in that interview. So the evidence that it does a good job is quite high. There’s a lot of evidence out there that says it does a good job in predicting how people will do in their job. And as we see we’ve been using it a lot. Like you all said everybody’s been interviewed.

There’s another funny tool that has been used which is handwriting. Let’s now have a look at this next slide. So on this slide, we see something else happening. We see a discrepancy between what the evidence is and what we’re doing in real life. And why is that? Why is there a difference?
And we call that…what I say on the slide, “A scientist-practitioner gap.” And there are two main reasons for that difference. We pick not our selection tools based on what the evidence says, but we pick it on costs. So how much does that tool actually cost to implement?

So when we look at references, very cheap. Most of you will always have a reference so we’ll just hand it over, so it’s quite cheap for you and your company to use. But when we look at the situational judgment test and a work sample test, these are quite specific assignments that need to have lots of high and immediate costs and are quite hard to develop and even though they might be cost-efficient over time because we know that they do really test for a job performance, we do not use them.

The second reason where we pick our tools on is how the person, the applicant feels about that test. And when we look at cognitive abilities test and the personality measures we can see that their reaction is quite negative. So we base our choice on two things. Cost and the reaction of people. And the reaction of people obvious is quite important if you are hiring for a small company and you want to attract a lot of engineers, you preferably use something that does not scare those engineers away. It makes sense, right? But you have to be aware that this might impact your accuracy of your selection decision. So you might end up hiring someone that is not really right for the job. At CS, we started using…we use the structured interview, we use a work sample test, a work sample test could be compared to like a pool request that you guys probably need to do quite a lot. You’re adding a bit of code that reflects on your skills as a coder, so we use that as well.

And we recently started to experiment with the use of personality measures in the hiring and selecting of our personnel. And why? This is an interesting question. So I have to take you back a little bit…sorry. In the 1990s, the studies into using personality measures in selection became very more interesting. And that was because of two reasons. The first reason being that our psychologists got better at looking at different statistical analysis on how these studies were conducted. And therefore we got more evidence for correlations between certain traits and job performance. And the second development was that we finally agreed on how to describe a personality character. And we started to agree on the traits. So trait being a specific character, a specific dimension where people differ on.

And now that we finally know what a trait is, we could use questionnaires to describe these differences between people. So questionnaires like the Neo Personality Inventory and the 16 personality questionnaire were developed and scrutinized and improved and questions added, questions removed, new norms, so we could finally use and study how these different traits were related to job performance.

I have one special note about The Myers–Briggs Indicator. I don’t know how many people are known with this indicator. It’s a bit infamous. Where you talk to a psychologist. The Myers–Brigg Indicator is actually a questionnaire when indicated that is not based on the trait theory. It distinguishes type. So type being either obese or anorectic. So when you start describing personality in those types, it sounds a bit ludicrous. Well, I think it is.

The indicator on itself, the questionnaire itself, is not a good sound measurement. And there’s loads of stuff out on the Internet that you can look up. So I will not bore you with that today. I do want to take you through these traits. Right. So these are the big five traits dimensions that we know and we see across, not only Europe but America and other industrialized countries. And it’s a dimension, meaning you either score high, average or low. So in every dimension, you would have a score. And a high score and openness to new experiences would mean you’re curious. But a lower score would point out that you’re more practical and conventional and prefer routine.

I was actually having a quite an interesting talk with one of the…I don’t know if she’s still here? She said, “Oh I love to travel and have new…and do everything, do different things every day and don’t lock me up in an office from nine to five, I would get depressed.” I was like, “Okay. So you probably have the right job for you. Because you’re traveling and doing different things. Fantastic.” When it comes to neuroticism that’s…I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of, “Oh, you’re so neurotic this person.” Ever heard of that? Maybe you’ve been described as neurotic? I don’t know. Neuroticism isn’t actually ever really good. Having a high score. It’s a tendency to be anxious and stressed over things. And in clinical psychology where I’ve worked in for quite a long time, it’s related to depression and anxiety.

And I wanted to share with you a few of the results condensed because I don’t have a lot of time. What we have found so far, looking at the specific traits and their implications when it comes to jobs and job performance. So we see that openness is related to specific jobs like consultancy and training and easily adapting to change.

No surprise there, right? Conscientiousness…horrible word. Being conscientious is basically a good thing to have if you are not too conscientious. Because then you become too strict and you can’t deviate. But it is good to have whether you’re an engineer, G.P, General Practitioner or plumber. It’d be great.

Extroversion. Extroversion is when you like to go out and be sociable. When you like to meet new people. And obviously, it’s quite good in sales jobs, managers jobs. Agreeableness. Good in teamwork, management jobs. Where do not argue, you don’t have the time to be conflictious or like ending up in conflicts all the time. Which is the opposite of agreeableness. And again neuroticism, right. You tend to experience a bit more work stress than others. And this is not so much related to the job itself but is something that you as a personal experience more.

So if you are selecting and you know you are selecting for let’s say a consultancy company then you can use these scores to select people for these specific jobs. And that’s why I got really interested into it because Container Solution is a consultancy company. So we need people who are easy with clients and are sociable and want to learn new things and are preferably not too neurotic.

All right, so there’s obviously some reservations and these are just two that I just wanna mention today. There are loads more reservations and obviously, it’s being a soft science. So there will always be reservations but these are the two for today, the two mine main ones. And that’s, “But if I fill in the personality questionnaires, I’ll just answer like how I want to present myself.” Yes, you can. You can do that definitely. We know that people can fake.

We also know that it does not so much impact the validity of the test. And the validity of the tests meaning, does the test measure what it’s supposed to be measuring? And we know that because we have specific skills within that test that’s correct for yes answering or no answering. It does affect the probability of being less accurate in your hiring decision. Obviously being just like, “Oh we’re always trying to fix things, but look for solutions. And one of the solutions that we found to be very, very effective is giving a faking warning. “If you fake, we will find out.” And this works. People tend to fake less. Awesome.

The other reservation being that we have found some evidence that certain traits might change over time. And I don’t mean months like in Myers-Briggs you can change from month over months, you can change from trait type to other types, but we’re talking about decades.

And funny enough women tend to become less neurotic over time. Fantastic. But that’s the only we have really found. So we need to do more research into all these effects. These are my two main takeaways. And I hope it’s been interesting for you. I think that you can become more successful in making an accurate selection decision if you do not only base it on costs and how someone will respond to it. And I think personality measures can definitely add an extra dimension especially if you correct it for faking and if you do know what type of person you need for your job. Thank you.

Recent Articles

Matthew Revell


Matthew Revell

Founder of Hoopy, the developer relations consultancy. Need help with your developer relations? Book your free consultation with Hoopy.

Write for us

Upcoming Events

Join our Newsletter for the latest DevRel news