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9 Factors that Predict Job Performance

Juste Semetaite Juste Semetaite Last Updated:

Imagine you need to go for a car race and you have a choice of two cars. A huge family-sized SUV and a sharp-looking two-seater sports car. Which would you choose to win a race?

Naturally, the sports car, because the way it looks is a decent predictor of how it performs.

If you’re hiring and you have dozens of candidates to choose from, predicting who’ll perform best on the job seems nearly impossible. Because a great-looking CV is a pretty lousy predictor of future job success. To make matters worse, the key predictors for success differ from role to role.

Today, we’ll show you all you need to know about performance prediction – what it is, the pros and cons, and how to do it yourself.

Tl;DR – Key Takeaways

  • Employee performance prediction is a process where a hiring team uses various techniques to determine if a candidate is going to perform well in a job.

  • It is possible to predict job performance based on various factors, such as general cognitive ability tests, job-relevant skills assessments, creative problem-solving tests, and many others.

  • Traditional job performance predictors such as resumes, interviews, and reference checks are biased and can lead to a bad hire.

  • Skills assessments have the most predictive power and give you an objective view of what the candidate is capable of, including their cognitive ability and practical, real-world abilities to deliver high-quality work.

  • The main difference between the best and worst predictors of job performance is the tendency to rely on demonstrated skill vs. subjective interpretation of skill. For instance, a coding challenge has far greater predictive power than insights gleaned from a traditional interview.

  • Using hiring tests such as Toggl Hire in the recruitment process helps you eliminate bias and quickly test for a wide range of hard and soft skills. Within minutes, you’ll know if a candidate will perform well on a job.

data-driven hiring
Predict job performance with job-relevant skills assessments

What is employee performance prediction?

Employee performance prediction is a process where an employer uses tools, techniques, and processes to determine if a candidate they are looking to hire will perform well in an actual work setting.

This process aims to evaluate every important predictor to select the best candidate for the job – the one who is objectively the most likely to be a top performer in the role, according to criteria set by the job requirements.

Some examples of methods used to predict job performance include:

Businesses often use predictive analytics to predict employee performance in the talent management process.

This is the process of using historical data about an employee to predict their future growth trajectory and job performance. For example, using information from their performance reviews, personal development goals, and growth potential to determine whether a candidate is a good promotion material.

Is it possible to predict future job performance?

In short, yes. It’s possible to predict if someone is going to meet and exceed your job requirements.

Research has shown that cognitive ability immediately impacts job performance, with varying degrees of effectiveness based on the specific job.

In this psychological research, scientists looked at candidates’ cognitive abilities in three jobs related to aviation: flying, navigation, and air battle management. In all three instances, cognitive ability, combined with job-specific knowledge or skill, played a significant role and could be used to predict job performance.

However, it is important to remember that predicting job performance is not an exact science. As too many factors are at play and every candidate is a person for themselves, predicting job performance every time is not always possible.

Sometimes, you can predict that a candidate will perform well in a particular role, but the circumstances in your business (the team, the pace of work, technologies, etc.) are simply not conducive to them delivering great work.

However, if you focus on the most important aspects of predicting performance, such as testing job-relevant skills, you can improve your chances of grabbing an amazing candidate who can succeed with everything listed in your job descriptions.

Why can’t traditional recruiting predict future job performance?

While they have been used for decades, candidate screening methods such as resumes, traditional interviews, and reference checks have shown to be pretty bad predictors of job performance. Simply put, they don’t focus on the objective, measurable outcomes.

For example, research has shown that pre-hire work experience is not a great indicator of how employees perform on the job or during training.

But let’s go into a bit more detail and look at why traditional recruitment methods fall short when trying to predict performance and hire the best talent for the job.

Resumes can be misleading

Resumes have been a part of the hiring process for decades and for a good reason. It’s a neat way to highlight all the essential information about a candidate – previous experience, education, professional achievements, and key competencies.

But at the same time, resumes are very unreliable. Many candidates exaggerate their achievements, hide their flaws, leave out important information, or simply lie about positions they never held.

Last but not least, resumes cannot show you crucial soft skills such as problem-solving, communication, and teamwork. Everyone is a team player on paper, but in reality, every hiring manager knows this is far from true.

Interviews don’t predict job performance

There are people who are amazing interviewers but can’t perform well on the job. After all, there are so many factors that could leave a favorable first impression during an interview:

  • The candidate’s looks and background

  • Their charisma

  • The preparation and research they did beforehand

  • Candidate’s responses tailored to what you want to hear

And it gets even worse when the interview is unstructured and does not follow a plan or a fixed set of questions.

If you “wing” the interview and determine the flow of the interview on the spot, it will come out as highly subjective and biased. As a result, some candidates are not treated fairly, and you end up with a bad hire.

Reference checks may not be reliable

A reference check is a common way to ensure that a candidate’s work experience is legitimate and that they’re a good fit for the role. But, in reality, it’s not an accurate factor that predicts job performance.

The references you call to check on a candidate may not have enough experience with them to give you accurate information. They could be biased or unwilling to talk negatively about a candidate as they want them to get a new job. Or they could talk really badly about them, influenced by a personal vendetta or a highly negative experience with these otherwise great employees.

From personal experience, I just recently had a reference check with a company, and they asked me to list two references from previous companies. Naturally, I listed people I knew would talk favorably about me and give me a glowing review.

In the end, reference checks are extremely biased and are not a suitable way to predict how someone will perform in the workplace.

Skills assessment can provide a more objective evaluation

If you’re looking for something to replace traditional recruitment methods and get an objective look at candidates’ abilities, a skill test comes to the rescue.

With assessment platforms like Toggl Hire, hiring teams can see how the candidate handles practical, everyday tasks they would do on the job. For example, you can test a developer’s technical abilities by giving them a few lines of code to fix on the spot.

skills assessments can predict job performance

This paints an accurate picture of their core abilities and allows you to approach hiring from a data-driven standpoint. With Toggl Hire, both you and the candidate can know if they are a good fit for the role within minutes of completing a test. They get immediate feedback and an unbiased metric showing their likelihood of success.

Combined with traditional recruitment methods, skills tests can reduce risks of bias and give you a holistic overview of what the candidate is truly capable of. When used at the application step, skills quizzes are valid predictors of job performance that give you valuable information about a candidate before you even open up their resume.

What are the Best Predictors of Job Performance?

So, what actually predicts how well someone can do their job? We’ve singled out a few key points to test for and research.

#1 Cognitive ability

Cognitive abilities are skills an employee needs to perform everyday tasks, such as active learning, problem-solving, remembering, paying attention, verbal reasoning, and active listening. In other words, general cognitive ability entails skills that any employee needs to understand, process information, and perform well on the job.

An example of a computational skills test in Toggl Hire" />
An example of a computational skills test in Toggl Hire | Fundamental Math

You can test for cognitive ability early on in the screening stage of the selection process. Just use one of many tests in the Toggl Hire test library to find an appropriate test for your use case.

#2 Technical, job-specific skills

A traditional recruiting process favors candidates with excellent CV-writing abilities who can talk a big game during interviews. But these factors have little to no predictive power to foresee great future performance.

As Adam Grant, a professor of organizational psychology at Wharton and host of the TED podcast WorkLife, put it, a much better approach is to “focus less on what candidates say, and more on what they do“.

A role-based skill test can help a hiring manager predict job performance by assessing an individual’s job knowledge and general cognitive ability in their area of expertise. There’s no better way to get proof of competence than see it demonstrated in a job simulation.

The highest combined predictive validity comes from the use of General Mental Ability and an integrity test. " />
The highest combined predictive validity comes from the use of General Mental Ability and an integrity test. | Source

At General Electric, to identify aircraft engine mechanics who work well with others, managers dump a pile of LEGOs on the table and ask a half dozen candidates to work together to build a helicopter, and score their teamworking skills.

Adam Grant, The New York Times

The best thing about rolling out skill assessments as part of your recruitment process? You don’t need to build them from scratch! Head over to our assessment library and browse all tests by skill or job title.

#3 Conscientiousness and emotional intelligence

Conscientious employees have great control of their impulses, know how to self-regulate by controlling negative emotions, and tend to complete their goals. Additionally, emotional intelligence is crucial for any role, as research shows that employees who have emotionally intelligent managers are 4x less likely to quit their job.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace" />
Emotional intelligence in the workplace | Source

You can test for high emotional stability and emotional intelligence using a specialized emotional intelligence test.

#4 Growth mindset

How willing is someone to grow, both professionally and as a person? Seems like a difficult question, but it’s the essential question for a job interview process.

How to recognize growth mindset in candidates

You can ask the candidate about their growth plans for the future and how they see their career playing out in the upcoming year or two. Perhaps they want to stay at the same level, or maybe they’re aiming for a manager position or a C-level role.

However, the best way to gauge if a candidate has a growth mindset is to ask the right situational and behavioral interview questions:

  • Tell me about a professional failure you’ve experienced and what you learned from it?

  • What helps you bounce back when things are not going to plan?

  • What new learning have you recently implemented in your professional or personal life?

And even before the interview takes place, you can get an overview of their career progression from their resume. A rapid pace of advancement in their previous roles signifies that they are hungry and eager to grow even more.

#5 Learning capacity

The world is changing rapidly, and if your candidate is unable or unwilling to learn daily, their workplace performance is not likely to be stellar. Candidates who are great learners pick up new skills quickly and make for an amazing addition to any team.

Learning capacity is a meta skill you can test for at the very beginning of the recruiting process by giving candidates one of Toggl Hire web-based tests. During the interview, you can ask them questions to find out when and how they learn at work.

Some great interview questions to test active learning capacity include:

  • Tell me about a situation where you had no control. How did you adjust to it?

  • Talk to me about a time when you had a disagreement with a coworker. How did that play out?

  • Tell me about a time when you did something different at work. What did you learn from the situation?

#6 Creative problem-solving

This is where you test for job-related skills, one of the best predictors of job success.

You give candidates a specific situation and see how they use their skills and experience to tackle the issue. If they fare well, that means that they are highly likely to perform well in the job too.

You can test for creative problem-solving at different stages of the recruitment process:

  • Skills test – by using a skill assessment platform such as Toggl Hire and giving the candidate a test for a specific role

  • Homework – once screening is done, by giving the candidate a take-home task that they can complete on their own in a few hours

  • Scenario test – by placing the candidate in a specific imagined scenario and asking them about what they would do. You can also do this during the interview.

  • Case study – by giving the candidate a problem you’re facing in your organization and asking them to provide a solution in a few hours of work. However, we highly recommend compensating candidates for their time if you’re hoping to reuse the work they deliver!

#7 Track record of past performance

As simple as it sounds, this is a test of what the candidate did before and how successful they were at it. You can test for it at any stage of the hiring process, from the initial screening and resume review all the way to the interview.

In the screening portion of the process, check the specific duties and achievements of the candidate listed for their previous positions. Once they reach the interview stage, ask them for their specific input on a result they mentioned in their track record.

Coming from a marketing background, I’ve seen many cases where candidates showed off amazing projects, stellar conversion rates, and mind-blowing campaigns in leadership roles. Then the interview comes, and it turns out that the candidate had a minor or insignificant role in them.

If you’re having doubts about a candidate’s “hard work” in past projects, this is where a reference check comes in handy.

#8 Motivation

Motivation can be really hard to assess, but when done right, it can tell you a lot about future performance in potential employees. Motivated candidates push themselves and others to do an amazing job and are an asset to any team.

You can test for motivation at various stages of the recruitment process:

  • Resume screening – their career progression, past performance, side gigs, and achievements

  • Interview – what they seek in their career, what their interests and goals are outside of work

  • Reference checks – how they performed in past jobs and what their peers have to say about their motivation levels

# Culture fit

Culture fit is not very tangible and hard to define for most employees. However, if someone seems “off” culturally, you’ll know it instinctively.

Even better yet, the candidate’s potential new colleagues will know it. This is why we suggest doing peer interviews, where your existing team interviews the new candidate that they will potentially be working with.

Culture fit, role fit, and people fit
Culture fit, role fit, and people fit

In peer interviews, your team can ask the potential hire about specific job-related competencies and potential work situations. At the same time, they can assess the candidate’s soft skills and get a feel for their personality and how they would fit into the company culture.

What are the worst predictors of job performance?

We’ve mentioned some of the best predictors of how well someone performs at work. But what about other predictors that you should stay away from?

1. First impressions and personal factors

Someone’s gender, age, and education level are common ways to get sidetracked in your hiring process. Your first impression of an individual’s personality or any of these personality traits usually determines how you view the candidate throughout the process, leading to biased decisions in performance management processes.

The problem is that all of these factors rely on the subjective impressions of the person interviewing, instead of trying to evaluate specific skill sets that are important for the job at hand.

2. Unstructured interview process

Not just any interviews – but unstructured ones. True HR professionals have a list of questions they stick to in each interview and follow the same process for each candidate.

On the other hand, if you constantly ask open-ended questions and have different processes for each candidate, no two interviews will be the same. As a result, you’re once again relying on your gut instinct and the candidate’s interviewing skills.

3. Academic performance

Top universities and amazing GPA scores are great if you’re running a scholarship program. But this is the real world where candidates have problems to solve at work, and an A in physics is not a quality to look for in a new hire.

Good school grades may tell you something about a candidate’s motivation and growth mindset, but they certainly won’t predict their job success any more than their personality traits.

4. Brain teasers and trick questions

Here is an example of a brain teaser question from Indeed.com:

Michelle’s mom has four children. Her first child is named April, her second child is named May and her third child is named June. What is the name of her fourth child?

Answer: Michelle is the fourth child.

Some hiring managers consider these questions a way to test for essential cognitive ability. In reality, it only shows you if candidates are quick thinkers, which does not correlate with great performance on a job. You don’t get an overview of their general mental ability or predict future performance – you can just see how quickly they think.

Limitations in performance prediction

We’ve come a long way from reading resumes to judge an applicant’s job fit, but even in this day and age, there are still limitations to predicting job performance. These include:

  • Potential bias. Even objective tests such as skills assessments can be biased and subjective if they are not designed and implemented with utmost care. As a result, you view some candidates in a more positive light.

  • Situational factors. Some candidates perform well but are horrible interviewers when they’re not in a predictable environment. Others also perform well but have issues handling unfamiliar situations or competitive circumstances.

Impact of situational factors on job performance
Impact of situational factors on job performance
  • Reliance on candidates’ honesty. Cognitive and personality tests can be amazing, but they all rely on self-reported responses, and many candidates are not honest – even the top performers. Claimed performance is many times worlds apart from the actual performance of your job candidates.

Apply skills testing to better predict future job performance

Remember the example from the beginning? When comparing an SUV and a sports car for a race, the ultimate way to judge which car would be faster would be to take both for a test drive.

This is what skills testing is all about. With Toggl Hire, you can test your job candidates’ hard and soft skills as the first step of the hiring process. Before you even see their resume, you can see how they handle the same tasks and challenges they encounter in their jobs.

Start making better hiring decisions and sign up for Toggl Hire today.

Juste Semetaite

Juste loves investigating through writing. A copywriter by trade, she spent the last ten years in startups, telling stories and building marketing teams. She works at Toggl Hire and writes about how businesses can recruit really great people.

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