Brain power

The behavioural science of recruitment and selection

CIPD, a professional body for HR and people development, has produced the research report A head for hiring: The behavioural science of recruitment and selection.

Recruiting and selecting the right people is fundamental to the success of any organisation, but finding the best way to do this is a challenge. The report advises that:

Ultimately, any recruitment and selection process demands complex and speedy decision making from both sides.

Behavioural science has a lot to say about the way in which people make decisions in these types of settings. Our behaviour does not always fit a rational actor model but it is still systematic and predictable.

Harnessing knowledge about how people actually behave can improve outcomes for organisations. The report looks at:

  • Ways to attract candidates best suited to the job and the organisation’s broader needs.
  • The evidence behind the use of key selection and assessment tools, as well as the biases and judgement errors that may occur on the assessor’s side when using these tools.
  • The candidate’s experience during the recruitment process. Not only does the candidate experience affect our ability to decipher who is best, it also can have knock-on effects on an employer’s brand and their ability to attract talent in the future.

From the research, 18 tips for better recruitment practice are provided:

Attracting candidates

  1. Take a fresh look at person–organisation fit, considering both current and aspirational organisational culture.
  2. Test the wording of your job adverts to see how it affects who applies.
  3. Personalise your outreach efforts to encourage applicants.
  4. Make it easy for people who show interest to apply directly.
  5. Vary where and how you do outreach.
  6. Push for transparency in outreach even when using networks for recruitment and selection.
  7. Systematise your use of social media in recruitment.


  1. Group and anonymise CVs when reviewing them.
  2. Pre-commit to a set of interview questions that are directly related to performance on the job.
  3. Focus interviews on collecting information, not making the decision.
  4. Make sure tests are relevant to the job and fit for purpose.


  1. Include people in hiring decisions who have not been involved in assessing candidates.
  2. Stick to what the scores tell you for final decisions.

Recruitment strategy

  1. Spread assessments and decisions across days, but keep all other conditions similar.
  2. If discussing unconscious bias, emphasise the desired behaviour of assessors, rather than the problem.
  3. Evaluate your assessment practices.

Candidate experience

  1. Avoid creating stereotype threat in the assessment process.
  2. Ask for feedback from rejected and accepted candidates.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine ( and currently also teaches in the University of NSW (UNSW) Foundation Studies program in China. He has expertise and experience in a wide range of areas including knowledge management (KM), environmental management, program and project management, writing and editing, stakeholder engagement, communications, and research. Bruce holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction and a Certificate of Technology (Electronics). With a demonstrated ability to identify and implement innovative solutions to social and ecological complexity, Bruce's many career highlights include establishing RealKM Magazine as an award-winning resource for knowledge managers, using agile and knowledge management approaches to oversee the implementation of an award-winning $77.4 million river recovery program in western Sydney on time and under budget, leading a knowledge strategy process for Australia's 56 natural resource management (NRM) regional organisations, pioneering collaborative learning and governance approaches to support communities to sustainably manage landscapes and catchments, and initiating and teaching two new knowledge management subjects at Shanxi University in China.

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