Meta-analyses have overestimated both the primacy of cognitive ability and the validity of a wide range of predictors within the personnel selection arena, according to groundbreaking research led by Paul R. Sackett, Ph.D., chair of the HumRRO Board of Trustees, and the Beverly and Richard Fink Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.
In a world embracing simplicity and certainty, researchers often take great pains to emphasize the tentative nature of their conclusions—well-captured by the phrase, “Statistics means never having to say you’re certain,” and the shopworn joke about psychologists responding to all questions with, “It depends.”
Even so, there must be some things researchers assert confidently, right? Some unassailable, unimpeachable principles strong enough to build decades of research on?
Within the field of industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology, there has been at least one such fundamental truth: cognitive ability is the best predictor of work performance. Rooted in numerous meta-analyses and confidently proclaimed for over half a century, decades of research and hiring and promotion methods have been built on this proclamation.
Thus, it would take a giant in I-O psychology like Sackett to thoughtfully and rigorously revisit the statistical corrections that lie at the heart of meta-analytic methods and challenge 50 years of research. In doing so, Sackett’s work, among other intriguing findings, revealed that structured interviews may in fact be the strongest predictor of job performance—not cognitive ability.
“I view this as the most important paper of my career,” Sackett said, noting that it offers a “course correction” to the I-O field’s cumulative knowledge about the validity of personnel selection assessments. This consequential paper, “Revisiting meta-analytic estimates of validity in personnel selection: Addressing systematic overcorrection for restriction of range,” recently released as an advance online publication by the Journal of Applied Psychology, is co-authored by Charlene Zhang, Ph.D., from the University of Minnesota, Christopher Berry, Ph.D., from Indiana University, and Filip Lievens, Ph.D., from Singapore Management University. Berry received HumRRO’s Meredith P. Crawford Fellowship in 2006.