Using Saville Wave for More Effective Recruitment Interviews

I previously wrote about using psychometric inventories (more frequently called personality assessments) for better decision-making in recruitment. Many readers have asked me to be more specific and to discuss a specific instrument to better aid their understanding of how the process might work. This posting is in response to those requests.

The instrument I’ll use as an example is the Saville Wave personality questionnaires – there are two versions users can opt for: Professional Styles which is used in more senior level recruitment and development, and Focus Styles which is suitable for general talent shortlisting, hiring and development. Both are based on Wave Styles and the resulting report explores an individual’s motives, preferences, needs and talents in critical work areas.

The Saville Wave personality questionnaires are considered to be the most powerful predictors of workplace performance and potential, and one of its key strengths is that it is the only psychometric tool to identify alignment between work motives and individual talent. So not only does it indicate a person’s ability (skill or talent) in terms of an important work-related behaviour, but it also indicates their willingness or motivation to perform that work-related behaviour. If a particular behaviour is required for success in a specific job, it is neither effective nor efficient to hire someone who is skilled in that behaviour but is unwilling to or dislikes doing it!

Another strength is that the same Saville Wave personality questionnaires can be used for recruitment, on-boarding, career and performance development, leadership potential, etc, which means that everybody involved, whether HR recruitment, HR talent management, line managers, or senior management, are talking and understanding the same language. This has proven to give companies greater consistency and alignment in their people management.

So how does it work?

Saville Wave reports are structured into four clusters of Thought, Influence, Adaptability and Delivery.

  • The Thought cluster is focused on developing ideas, from analysing problems and showing interest in underlying principles through to being more expansive and divergent in thought by being creative and strategic.
  • The Influence cluster relates to communication and working with others. It is concerned with establishing positive relationships with people and demonstrating positive leadership behaviours.
  • The Adaptability cluster covers areas of emotional, behavioural and social adaptability, respectively.
  • The Delivery cluster is focused on implementation and delivery of results, from ensuring high standards of delivery through to proactively making things happen.

Each of the four cluster has three sections, and each section has three dimensions, giving a total of 36 dimensions. These 36 dimensions of work related behaviours form the Focus Styles reports and include the most important behaviours in all work contexts. The Focus Styles report is the one most widely used.

However, each of these 36 dimensions are further comprised of three underlying facets of work related behaviours to provide 108 facets in total in the Expert Styles reports. The more detailed Expert Styles report is mainly only used in high level positions

You can view an example of an Expert Report here. This shows the 36 dimensions as well as the full 108 facets of work-related behaviours that are examined in the personality questionnaires.

For recruitment purposes, a company will determine which of the 36 dimensions are the most important behaviours required to do a particular job well – they usually also identify which are required to do the job exceptionally well. How people rate and rank themselves against these particular dimensions are highlighted in the report. A useful feature of the Wave reports is that they have an in-built mechanism to detect manipulation or people pretending to be something they are not – such behaviour will show inconsistencies in responses and will be highlighted in the report.

There is an Interview Guide version of the Wave report which goes further than the Focus Styles or Expert Styles reports. This identifies areas an interviewer needs to explore in more detail with a candidate, and even provides a list of increasingly probing questions to ask the candidate about these areas of concern. This ensures that all important areas of performance are explored with candidates, and any crucial area that a candidate seems to be challenged in are properly investigated.

An example of an Interview Guide can be viewed here.

Hopefully this brief article has provided a useful example of how a psychometric instrument such as the Saville Wave can take a lot of the ‘hit and miss’ out of recruitment interviewing. While a Wave report can cost about SGD $200, this is insignificant when you consider that the real costs involved in a bad hiring decision are roughly three times the annual salary of the position. Furthermore, the use of a professional instrument such as Saville Wave provides a professional experience for candidates which starts a good relationship with a potential employee and protects the company’s brand.

Personality Assessments to Make Hiring Decisions More Effective

Getting the hiring decision wrong can be expensive for the organisation, frustrating at a minimum but with possible serious consequences for the hiring manager, and have a negative effect on the career and self-esteem of the mis-fitting new hire who won’t be able to perform well.

Bad hiring decisions occur for a variety of reasons but are usually due to a lack of real clarity on what type of individual is required for the vacant position. What behaviours are essential for a person to have to do the job well and which are desirable? If a person is lacking in one or two required behaviours, will they be able to acquire them or not? What kind of person will fit into the company’s work environment and culture? What potential has the candidate to develop in this role?

These are all important questions that need to be answered in reaching a decision to hire. However, even a well-prepared interview and trained interviewers would not be able to surface this level of required information. They may also struggle to identify the behaviours critical to the role. Other processes to assist the interviewers are required. There are two things that can ensure more focused interviews and more effective hiring decisions.

The first is a process to identify the most essential behaviours and skills required to do the job. This can be further divided into the minimum requirements – i.e. those behaviours and skills, and at what level, are required to simply do the job satisfactorily; and behaviours and skills that are desirable and would enable the job holder to perform well. A properly trained career advisor can facilitate this process either in a small group working in a structured way, or by an even simpler online job profiler tool.

The second process to ensure more effective hiring decisions is to use personality assessments (psychometric inventories). The better ones will identify and rate a candidate’s work behaviours both in terms of their ability in using them and their actual desire or motivation to do so. There is little point in hiring someone for an essential skill or behaviour is they don’t like to use it or have little motivation to do so. One of the underlying principles of these kind of assessments is that past behaviour is a good indicator of future performance.

For jobs that require special abilities such as verbal analysis or written communication, numerical ability and analysis, special awareness, or abstract reasoning, aptitude assessments can be used. The better ones will analyse both the level of current performance and the actual speed of doing so – quick mental analysis may be important in some jobs such as an air traffic controller or a stock or financial trader.

The results of a personality assessment will not only reveal a person’s strengths and possible weakness, and whether they possess the required behaviours for a position, but will also highlight areas that the interviewers need to probe further in a discussion with the candidate. Such lines of questioning will ensure that the interviewers will delve sufficiently deep to reveal the level of skill or behaviour that the candidate truly has. It will also identify areas that the candidate might need extra training in or inform their development plan. There is even a personality assessment that actually identifies specific questions to ask a candidate.

These additional ‘processes’ described above provide a balanced structure for a job interview. No longer do the hiring managers have to think about what questions they should ask candidates – the output of the personality assessments indicate what the interviewers need to discuss with the candidates.

Beware of Narcissists when conducting a job interview

Narcissism – “the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes. The term originated from Greek mythology, where the young Narcissus fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.”

According to a recent study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, narcissism can help candidates greatly when it comes to job interviews.

In simulated job interviews, individuals showcasing narcissistic behavior scored much higher than more down-to-earth, modest or reserved individuals.


Narcissists are usually good at self-promotion during job interview, which they do by:

  • Actively engaging in the conversation.
  • Speaking at length.
  • Using ingratiation tactics such as smiling, gesturing and complimenting.

This enables them to show off their skill sets more effectively, and to project implied self-confidence and industry expertise.

Peter Harms, an assistant professor of management, who led the study at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, had this to say: “This is one setting where it’s OK to say nice things about yourself and there are no ramifications. In fact, it’s expected. Simply put, those who are comfortable doing this tend to do much better than those who aren’t.”

The study, which was done in two parts, focused on the effectiveness of narcissistic behaviors (that are typically considered maladjusted in day-to-day activities) in a job interview situation.

In the first leg of the study, participants were filmed in simulated interview situations. It was found that narcissists were more likely to self-promote. What was more surprising, however, was how the individuals behaved when challenged by the interviewer; non-narcissists applicants began to back off, while narcissists only increased their attempts to self-promote and prove themselves.

According to Harms, this was because, “When feeling challenged, they tend to double down. It’s as if they say ‘Oh, you’re going to challenge me? Then I’m not just great, I’m fantastic.’ And in this setting, it tended to work.”

The second part of the study had 222 evaluators rate videos of interviewees with similar job skill levels, but varying levels of narcissistic tendencies. Consistently, raters were significantly more likely to prefer those with narcissistic behaviors.

Harms said the raters’ behavior showed that “what is getting narcissists the win is the delivery. These results show just how hard it is to effectively interview, and how fallible we can be when making interview judgments. We don’t necessarily want to hire narcissists, but might end up doing so because they come off as being self-confident and capable.”

The study aims to increase awareness of this bias. Researchers hope the results will help interviewers understand when an applicant shows true promise, and when they are simply being narcissistic. Unless, of course, those behaviors are welcomed in the job they are applying for.

Harms offered this final piece of reflection on the study: “On the whole, we find very little evidence that narcissists are more or less effective workers. But what we do know is that they can be very disruptive and destructive when dealing with other people on a regular basis. If everything else is equal, it probably is best to avoid hiring them.”

Before hiring your next candidate, find out if they have purpose

Purpose-oriented employees are those that:

  • Have the potential for leadership.
  • Actively recruit other valuable talent.
  • Refer others to their organisation.
  • Value their colleagues and are dedicated to helping them.
  • Feel that their job is satisfying.

According to a new study, such employees make up around 28% of the workforce and are extremely valuable.

Employees who are purpose-oriented see work in the same way they do the rest of their lives, as personal fulfillment and a chance to assist others. They don’t view their ‘personal life’ and ‘work life’ as separate things, which should never cross paths. They bring their whole self to work.

As per the Workplace Purpose Index study performed by Imperative (a career site and consulting company) – employees with a purposeful mindset benefit your team/company for many reasons, including the ability to work across a range of functions, while outperforming the other 3/4ths of the workforce.

While purpose-oriented people do tend to be attracted toward educational and non-profit sectors, they exist in every industry out there as well.

Aaron Hurst, Imperative’s founder, knows all about being purposed oriented in the workplace. As the author of the book, “The Purpose Economy,” Hurst has written volumes on this topic.

So how do you identify purpose-oriented people to include into your team? Here are some tips:

  1. Ask candidates what they would do if they won 10 million dollars. Purpose-oriented people will talk about things that will impact people’s lives and make them better, as opposed to leisure activities or things they will buy with the money.
  2. You can also ask about their relationship with past co-workers and if they are in touch with many of them. If they talk about co-workers in a very formal business-like fashion and are not in touch with them, then they didn’t really value their colleagues. Also they probably weren’t inclined to genuinely help them.
  3. Find out if they got any of their friends to join their previous companies and why.
  4. Probe to see how satisfied/happy they were at work and if they felt fortunate to work with previous organisations and teams.

Internal vs. External Hires – Should you promote from within or look outside?

Job openings are filled through a variety of methods. Sometimes a new employee is hired from outside sources, and at other times an employee is promoted from within the company.

Professor Matthew Bidwell, a Sloan Industry Studies Fellow, conducted some research to figure out the effect of these two different methods of hiring. The title of Bidwell’s study is “Paying More to Get Less: The Effects of External Hiring versus Internal Mobility.”

According to Bidwell, this subject has importance for managers when they contemplate where they source their employees from, particularly top-level employees.

He documented external hires vs. internal promotions from 2003 to 2009 in order to conduct his study. The organization he chose to monitor was a U.S. investment banking division.

He chose investment banking because he says that organizational performance is often dependent on the skills that are required to succeed in the field. In which case the importance of personnel decisions would increase. Bank also regularly hiring external candidate at all levels, so the setting was a good fit.

So what is the best route? Should you promote from within, or should you hire external personnel? Let’s see what the result of his research demonstrates as far as the costs and benefits of one method over the other.

External hires acquire considerably lower performance evaluations in the first two years on the job, as compared to internal employees who are promoted into comparable positions.

This is In part, because the worker may not develop the needed skill set and therefore, performance is not as worthy as it was projected. External hires also need “catch up” time to get familiar with the company, mainly to understand it’s ways of working and to build relationships. In the interim, the threat of failure is extensive.

In addition, they seem to have higher exit rates, and yet are paid “substantially more.” Approximately 18% to 20% more to be more precise. However, if external hires stay past two years, they get promoted quicker than those who are promoted from within the company.

During his research, Bidwell noted that when hiring external workers, their level of experience and education tended to be more substantial than that of an internal prospect. These components are also the cause of hiring external workers at a higher salary. In addition, external hires may negotiate a higher salary to leave their current position and move into the unfamiliar environment of the new position.

However, in Bidwell’s opinion, experience and education are not necessarily the strongest indicators about how well that candidate will perform their job.

Bidwell’s research paper demonstrates the benefits of internal promotions, which enable companies to staff higher-level positions with existing employees, at a lower rate and with better performance results.

Tips for successful employee selection and hiring

Anyone who has worked with an unsuitable co-worker probably has at minimum a general idea that they can cost a company in terms of lower output, increased training and assessment time, and impacted morale.  Replacing them is even worse as people have to cover for that missing employee in addition to completing their normal duties.  A couple of bad experiences can make people wary of the entire process.

How much does a bad hire cost a company?  Depending on your country of operation it can cost you US $65,000 or more.  A few such cases in a short period of time can have a significant impact on the corporate balance sheet.

So how can a company minimize the chances of hiring an unsuitable employee?  The first thing is to not stretch out the employee selection and hiring process.  A natural reaction is to increase the level of screening, research, and testing in order to weed out the undesirables.

The problem with that is while you are doing your due diligence, your prime candidates are interviewing elsewhere and getting hired there.  What does that leave you with?  You guessed it, a higher probability of hiring another unsuitable candidate, while your best fit is settling in at your competitor telling office partners how non-committal you are.

So where do you start to improve your hiring process?  Begin with your communications strategy, in particular your online presence.  Is your website user friendly?  Is it easy to navigate so prospective employees can quickly find everything they want to know about you?

Think like a job seeker and ask what information you  wanted to know before you were hired at your current employer.  Of course salary is an important consideration, but do you describe ongoing education and cross training opportunities?  Is your workplace providing opportunities for your co-workers to engage each other?  Many people indicate that a positive work environment is a strong factor in deciding where they wish to work.

Do you have a social media presence?  Is your corporate Facebook page regularly updated with success stories and significant corporate achievements?  Are your employee contributions in the community recognized? Tweets and Facebook posts about vacancies are easily forwarded and are the way much of the world now communicates, so if you are not doing it, or are doing it poorly, you are not reaching everyone.

How responsive is your web page?  A website that takes too long to load, especially on mobile devices, is annoying and says you are not current.

Some companies struggle with their communications strategy.  How else can you tell people how great this company is and how your employees are happy and content?  While you are improving your communications strategy, look to your employees to be your best ambassadors.  We associate with people like us so existing staff are likely to bring people with similar qualities into the organization.

Put another way, will a good employee risk their status in the company by recommending someone likely to be a lazy malcontent?  Probably not.  The best employees should also have a solid grasp on what it takes to truly succeed in the position more than a human resources person writing a generic description who might not even be in the same location.  Some companies offer a bonus payment system to reward people who bring successful hires into the organization.

There is another way successful employees can help your organization.  Study how they came to be hired.  Many companies in the digital age are surprised to learn how many people heard about an opening via social media.  Pinpoint where each staff member heard about you and concentrate your efforts on the most popular methods.  Successful politicians do this all the time.  They determine which pockets of their constituency exhibit the highest levels of support and they concentrate much of their efforts there during election campaigns.  Conversely they virtually ignore the areas where they stand little chance.

You may find out those big expensive newspaper ads provide little benefit to you.  While you may get some qualified applicants, how much time do you waste sorting through clearly unqualified applicants?  There are software packages that help you keep track of where your hires are coming from and assist with recruitment.

Many human resource directors share how important it is to be proactive in their recruitment of staff.  A lack of communication between departments often results in a situation where one area is planning a firing or expansion that the human resources staff are unaware of.  Like any good HR department, they are constantly on the lookout for good candidates by monitoring social media, appearing at schools and trade fairs, and networking.  On occasion they have to tell an eager candidate there is no opening when actually there is.  They contact that person only to find out they got a job somewhere else.

There are also a few steps you can easily implement in your interview process that help you hire better employees.  Do you match the interview questions with the actual job you are hiring for?  Some people do not do this.  The end result is they generate a large amount of information that has no practical application in the hiring process.  Work with your top employees to develop a series of situational based questions that describe common scenarios seen in that role.  You end up with accurate questions and in many cases help the staff involved feel more emotional ownership of the company, which increases self esteem and productivity.

Companies are also increasing the amount of testing they do during the hiring process.  In addition to psychometric tests, candidates have to complete tasks using common software programs in use at the company or have to write reports that can be graded for depth of knowledge.

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) for Effective Recruitment & Selection

Time and Money

Recruitment and selection of employees can be expensive, especially so when those employed do not stay. The direct costs involved include advertising vacancies, recruitment agencies, and possibly initial training. Then there is the cost of staff time for those involved – not only the time of those involved in writing advertisements, meeting recruiting agents and providing training, but the time already-busy managers will have to devote to sitting on selection interview boards, induction, and various settling-in support activities.

When a new employee decides to leave after a few months, the time and money spent on recruiting them is wasted, and the process has to be repeated to find a replacement – this involves more time and money. Similarly, these costs and time are involved when you need to terminate the employment of a new hire because they didn’t ‘fit in’ or couldn’t do the job as well as expected.

Lack of ‘Fit’

The reason new hires leave or have to be terminated is that there wasn’t a proper ‘fit’ between them and the job or the company. This lack of ‘fit’ results from an incomplete recruitment process, whether in terms of an incomplete person specification, inadequate short-listing or selection criteria, or inadequate training in selection-interviewing techniques for managers involved. Problems with any of these aspects of the selection & recruitment process can result in the wrong person being employed.

Pay Attention to the Process

To recruit a person who is more likely to stay with the company for the medium-to-long-term, serious attention needs to be paid to all stages of the selection & recruitment process. Proper processes and documentation need to be devised including a job description, person specification, and selection criteria for both short-listing of candidates and for final selection. If your company is deficient in any of these, get outside help to remedy the situation.

The Need for Training

Managers and others involved in interviewing candidates for a job must have training (and re-training as required) in selection-interviewing techniques. It is no longer acceptable for managers to hire based only on instinct or ‘gut feeling’. Competency-based interviews (also called behaviour based interviews) produce candidates who have the necessary skills to do the job and interviews like these work best when the appropriate line managers are involved. However, managers require training in order to conduct competency-based interviews successfully as the type of questions asked need to be specifically focused.

Have In-House Capability

Building in-house selection and recruitment capability is cost effective in the long term. Not only are there cost savings to be achieved, but getting the right ‘fit’ of employee increases productivity and morale, and aids staff retention. The most effective way of getting this right ‘fit’ in recruitment is by doing it yourself (DIY).