10 February 2017

Can years of education predict work performance?

I received a lot of positive feedback in response to my last blog Why many CEOs fail: They talk smart but don't act smart.

Clearly many people in the recruitment sector have witnessed the same thing whether inside their own company or inside a client’s company.

Looking at the recent actions of President Trump, it’s obvious how his campaign rhetoric (I decline to label his talk ‘smart’) is proving very difficult to put into effective action (Tip for President Trump – effective work performance almost always relies on strong influencing and teamwork skills; it’s very hard to get things done unless you can gain consistent co-operation from others).

There are a couple of things you can do to ensure that you are not mistaking a smart talking candidate for a candidate who has delivered excellent results.

Three years ago I wrote about how to conduct an interview with such candidates in Is your candidate just very confident or really a charismatic narcissist? which I recommend you read.
Before an interview is even booked, I suggest you ensure that when reviewing any resume you do not make any assumptions about the candidate’s capability based on their total number of years of education.

As you all know there is a massive tertiary industry in Australia that relies very heavily on the fees of students who are encouraged to believe that additional years of study, to acquire a post-graduate diploma or post-graduate degree, will automatically lead to greater job opportunities and better remuneration.

The accuracy of this belief will depend very heavily on the industry that you want to work in and the type of job you want but in reality the most important thing is how effectively the acquired education can be converted into greater competence on-the-job, ultimately flowing through to a higher level of job performance.

Over the years I have met some very disappointed former students and graduates who discovered that all the time and money invested in gaining further education had not been sufficiently recouped via a better career or a higher paying job.

Research provides substantial evidence that total years of education is a very low predictor of job performance.

This is the result of the meta-analysis conducted by researchers Frank Schmidt and John Hunter, published in the Psychological Bulletin in 1998.
 
I read about this study on the blog of Bob Sutton (one of the co-authors of the book I quoted in my last blog; The Knowing-Doing Gap).
 
Sutton explains Schmidt and Hunter’s work as follows:
 
These two very skilled researchers analyzed the pattern of relationships observed in peer reviewed journals during the prior 85 years to identify which employee selection methods were best and worst as predictors of job performance. (A meta-analysis)… reveals the overall patterns revealed by the weight of evidence, rather than the particular quirks of any single study.
 
The authors examined 19 predictors and rank-ordered them by the validity coefficient, an indicator of how strongly the individual assessment method is linked to performance
 
The top 4 strongest predictors of work performance (and their respective coefficients) were: 
1. Work sample tests (.54)
2. General Mental Ability tests (also called Cognitive Ability tests) (.51)
3. Structured interviews (.51) 
4. Peer ratings (.49)
At the other end of the list of 19 predictors were the following 4 weakest predictors of work performance (and their respective coefficients):
16. Years of education (.10)
17. Interests (.10)
18. Graphology (.02) e.g., handwriting analysis.
19. Age (-.01)
Yes, equal third-last was years of education as a predictor of work performance.
Our industry provides a very high-profile example: Neither Geoff Morgan nor Andrew Banks completed an undergraduate degree yet, I suspect, their individual wealth would dwarf the combined wealth of 99 per cent of MBA graduates our business schools have produced since MBAs were introduced.

The other factor to consider when interviewing a candidate with a lot of education is that they are likely to have “…interesting information and ideas; and hav(e) a good vocabulary”  to quote the authors (Pfeffer and Sutton) I referenced in my last blog. This extensive education will enhance the likelihood that they talk smart and, according to the research, reduce the likelihood that they act smart.

Always assess a candidate against the competencies required to do the job at the level of performance required – make no assumptions about the candidate’s capabilities based on their years of education or how smart they sound.

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