An individual’s behavioural preferences are strongly predictive of future performance, according to Dr Viki

How developments in neuroscience can help recruitment.

The past year has been a tough time for most businesses and with continued economic uncertainty across all sectors, there is little hope of a sudden end to the situation. Cost saving, downsizing and consolidation have meant that companies are under increasing pressure to recruit motivated, enthusiastic people who are capable of working together and delivering excellent results in a very demanding marketplace. Recruitment budgets are tight and managers must ensure they place the right person in the right role

Successful recruitment involves answering two key questions:

Is the candidate eligible for the role in terms of education, skill, knowledge and experience?

Is the candidate suitable for the role in terms of behavioural preference?

Experience shows that the traditional HR approach tends to deal with the first question effectively, but little if any thought is given to the second question. This is a serious weakness. A candidate can be highly eligible for a role, but also totally unsuitable. It is said that most people get a job on the basis of their skill, knowledge or experience, but most people leave their job, willingly or unwillingly, for behavioural reasons.

A Harvard Business Review study has shown that the level of staff turnover almost doubles when no “job suitability match” has been undertaken. The study also concluded that 80% of staff turnover can be attributed to mistakes made during the employee selection and recruitment process.

Now breakthroughs in neuroscience are coming to the aid of organisational leaders and their HR specialists. Using brain imaging technology, Professor Richard Haier Professor of Psychology, at the University of California School of Medicine, has demonstrated that the brain may need to work as much as 100 times harder when an individual is not using his or her natural behavioural preferences.


Such a demand on the brain requires huge amounts of energy and oxygen. This not only forces the brain to work much harder, but could also over time throw off the person’s homeostatic balance in the area of oxygen usage and distribution. Normally the brain uses approximately 20% of the oxygen taken in through the lungs. This leaves about 80% for the rest of the body where it is utilized in the process of metabolism and in providing energy at the cellular level. As more and more oxygen is demanded by the brain that is not working in its preferred way, less and less is available to keep the rest of the body up to speed. A variety of symptoms can result (e.g., fatigue, digestive problems, listlessness). Indeed, over time, the oxygen imbalance can contribute to the person’s body shifting from anabolic to catabolic functioning.

Even the most impressive résumé and job interview cannot tell you if a candidate is a good match for a specific position. It is important to use a good profiling tool that can help you identify and evaluate a candidate’s natural behavioural preferences to ensure the best fit possible.

We all have natural preferences and we tend to do the things that bring us pleasure and avoid the things that make us feel uncomfortable. If a task matches your behavioural preference you will tend to do well at it; if you dislike a task you will try to avoid it. If you dislike a task that is important to success in your job, you will almost certainly not be highly motivated to perform that task and at some point this will have a negative impact on your job performance.

Traditional recruitment methods place great emphasis on interviews with the candidate. The interview is however, an exceptionally false situation. Everyone acts to some extent out of their normal character – including the interviewer. This is behavioural adaptability in action. Each person involved is modifying their base behaviour to suit an unusual set of circumstances. Only when those circumstances are removed, will they revert to a more normal behavioural pattern.

More and more businesses are now using behaviour profiling tools which peel away as much as possible of this unnatural overlay. Interviewers need to know the true behaviour patterns of the person underneath. There are no good or bad behaviours, but there can be certain behaviour preferences that are important – positively or negatively – in a particular job. If a candidate needs stability and predictability, he or she may well be able to operate in a high-risk business environment, but at what personal cost?

Research has also confirmed that the more time a person spends on areas of non preferred behaviours, the more likely that person is to become stuck in mediocrity. Excellent performers in all jobs think, talk and act differently to average and poor performers. Identifying the behavioural preferences that contribute to outstanding performance is critical to developing a highly effective talent-acquisition strategy. The key to successful recruiting is, therefore, to identify and hire people who are not only eligible to do the tasks that are critical for excellence in the job, but who also really enjoy doing those tasks.

So how do companies identify suitable, talented individuals? Within the recruitment context, successful companies have clearly identified what a ‘successful’ candidate looks like and they go to the market knowing exactly what they are looking for. These companies also use sophisticated talent-based selection tools such as the neuroscience-based PRISM Personal Performance Mapping (, backed up by a comprehensive study of those employees who have a proven track record of success in the relevant roles. The goal is to benchmark and replicate ‘best-in-class’ performers. Studying and understanding the behavioural preferences that contribute to outstanding performance is critical to developing a highly effective recruitment strategy.

Placing behavioural preference at the heart of the recruitment process is based on the principle that an individual’s behavioural preferences are strongly predictive of future performance. More and more companies now recognise that hiring people who possess the natural qualities to deliver consistent high-level performance is critical to their business success. To put it simply, behavioural preference has a huge impact on performance.

By Dr G T Viki, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology, Stanford University

Source material

Haier, Richard. Cortical Glucose Metabolic Rate Correlates of Abstract Reasoning and Intelligence, Studied with Positron Emission.

Haier, Richard. The Study of Personality With Positron Emission Tomography in Personality Dimensions & Arousal,

Harvard Business Review, Vol 59 No 9