Six ways to avoid hiring square pegs for round holes

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Six ways to avoid hiring square pegs for round holes

Blog Post

Written by Sue Berry on 7th February 2018. Revised 25th March 2020.

6 min read

nik-macmillan-280300Hands up if you've ever found that that you've employed a square peg for a round hole.

Perhaps you employed someone and you later found that they don't quite meet the role requirements; they somehow don't fit. Or, you moved someone into a new role and they just didn't perform as well as they used to.

It's frustrating. And you can't put your finger on it.

This happens in many organisations. Managers are left scratching their heads about why they have this mismatch between the person and the job.

Understanding the match

Before we dive in to look at the ways to improve your matching, we need to understand what we are really talking about. There has been a plethora of research that consistently demonstrates that up to 30% of the shortfall in job performance can be attributed to the mismatch between the person and the job environment.

This is known as person-environment (P-E) fit and it differs from job to job.

And the P-E fit must be right for all people in all jobs.

By understanding and assessing how well an employee's personality, intelligence and other personal characteristics and their career requirements match the manager's role requirements, it is possible to predict how well the person will perform in the role.

In an ideal world the employee's personality and other personal characteristics and their career preferences would have already been tested for, and determined - initially before they were hired and again before they are moved or promoted. Using a variety of instruments it is possible to assess P-E fit.

Assessing P-E fit

P-E fit begins by ensuring that the role meets the person's preferences for work type. There are six high level occupational themes that describe work types. These are explained in the annex to this blog below.

A basic preference inventory used in the recruitment or promotion process helps evaluate the candidate at the earliest stage. This assesses the degree of preference for realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional work types.

And jobs suit particular personalities. This is easily seen by discussing some extreme examples.

An introversive person who prefers their own company will likely be unhappy in a role that demands that they interface all day with other people. Conversely, an extroversive person will likely perform less well when expected to continually work alone. Likewise, someone who is expected to be artistic, opening new avenues of exploration in their job, is likely to be uncomfortable working to a strict script that precludes such behaviour. Fundamentally, the manager must know both job and person and be able to describe the person who will excel through P-E fit.

And even intelligence has a part to play. Whilst everyone can learn, expanding their intelligence, the ability to solve complex, abstract and intangible problems is an innate ability. Appointing someone with low abstract reasoning would likely be a disaster if the job environment was highly conceptual.

These three assessments - preferences, personality and intelligence - get you a long way toward understanding the person. And if you've thought about the ideal person for the role, you'll be able to assess whether you have the fit that you need.

You can use TimelessTime's tool to Define your ideal employee.

Six ways to assess P-E fit

There are five simple ways to avoid square pegs in round holes.

  1. Those with valid vocational identity self-select in to careers and hence there's less of an issue that they'll be in the wrong occupation. We discuss in several blogs how to assess vocational identity.

  2. Assess each candidate for each vacancy for their preferences for work of a particular type using a preferences test.

  3. Assess personality to determine how the person will fit in established work relationships within your firm.

  4. Complete an intelligence test and select people whose abilities in abstract, numerical and verbal reasoning match the needs of the job.

  5. Be prepared to train and use other training-like interventions to adjust the attributes of the person or the environment.

  6. Talk to the person about their preferences, how they see their career progress and their past performance in other roles. Ask them what they think about their fit in the role. After all, it's in their interests too to optimise P-E fit.

The fifth point above is significant in promotion and lateral moves. By understanding the business, the individual role requirements and the person as potential jobholder, it's possible to make change. The person's skills and knowledge can be changed, or the environment - the job and how it interacts with others - can be changed.

Avoiding square pegs in round holes

So there you have it. Six ways that you can avoid pushing square pegs into round holes.

It's up to managers to ensure that the P-E fit is the best it can be. The tools and methods discussed above allow this. If you want to review the P-E fit of those you employ next or your business as a whole give us a call. Check out how we improved the recruitment effectiveness of one of our clients using the ideas of P-E fit.

And look out for our workshop on recruitment as part of our quarterly workshop series.

Annex: Career Preferences

The following describes six career preferences for use in P-E fit. These will exist in all jobs to varying degrees.

Activities involving manipulation of mechanical devices and principles of mechanics and physics. High scorers are likely to be technically orientated, repairing mechanical devices, working on cars. They may also enjoy outdoor activities.
Activities involving the manipulation of ideas and scientific principles. High scorers will enjoy applying logical and/or scientific principles to the resolution of experimental problems. They may enjoy laboratory work.
Activities centred around the expression of artistic and creative ideas. High scorers are typically interested in the Arts in the broadest manifestation e.g. art, music, writing, composing, dance, design etc.
Activities centred on interacting with, helping or caring for others. High scorers tend to express an interest in jobs with high social interaction: sales and sales support, charitable work, involving caring for the elderly, children with special needs or counselling, teaching and generally assisting others to achieve their potential.
Activities involving the attainment of objectives through people. High scorers generally express an interest in managing or leading others or taking charge of situations. As such they are attracted to business related situations where they are able to exercise leadership skills.
Activities involving organising, administration and well-established work practices. High scorers enjoy developing and maintaining systems, operating business machines, doing paperwork, bookkeeping and accountancy.