Why Cut Scores Are Not Based on Your Top Performers

What does your hiring process look like? Do you try to solicit, identify and acquire a superstar every time a position is available? Or do you just try to find a good fit for the job and your company? While the former is an admirable goal, you may miss out on accomplishing the latter in the process.

Hopefully, you test job applicants early in the screening process in order to choose only the most qualified candidates to put through your interviewing process. Of course, cut scores for those tests will need to be set in order to know who to move forward with and who to move to the “no thank you” pile. On what should those scores be based?

There are those who think that cut scores should be based on top performers. After all, they’re the kind of people you want more of, right? In reality, however, your cut scores should be based on the minimum qualifications for the job. There are significant potential pitfalls if you set them based on your top performers:

1. By setting the bar too high, you will likely screen out many qualified candidates.

2. Superstars are not homogenous; that is, they can vary greatly from one to the next with regards to skills and behavioral traits. This variation can make it difficult to create a meaningful average that can be used to determine cut scores.

3. Your definition of a top performer may be biased and include skills or abilities that really aren’t job relevant.

4. Benchmarking based on small sample sizes opens the door to potentially puzzling and misleading conclusions.

So instead of that approach, you’ll want to have a more robust – and proven - method for setting those scores.

First, make sure a job analysis has been done for the position. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network (O*NET) is a good place to start in order to understand what skills, abilities, and traits particular jobs require. After the analysis, you’ll know the exact skill level required for the job, and cut scores will be set with those in mind.

The probability of getting top performers increases when you use a systematic process that draws from critical competencies. You will also be following best practices to help create a legally defensible process.

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