The iceberg model of staff selection is a way of thinking about the characteristics that might make someone a good choice for a particular position at your business. The visible part of an iceberg is much smaller than the part that remains hidden underwater. Similarly, the objective facts about a potential employee are often much less important than intangible personal qualities he might bring to your company.

Hidden Competencies

Choosing the right person for the job is a difficult yet crucial task for any small business owner, especially if you value creative thinking and innovative solutions over rote performance of standardized tasks. Unfortunately, a resume can only tell you about the skills and knowledge the employee can bring to the job based on her previous education and work experience. It cannot tell you about the deeper and potentially more significant characteristics she might possess, such as personality traits or motivation. In the iceberg theory of staff selection, skills and knowledge are represented as the tip of the iceberg, the part that is visible above the water. Personality traits, self-image, social role and motivation are represented by the part of the iceberg that is hidden beneath the water.

Development of the Iceberg Model

The iceberg model was developed when a Harvard psychologist named David McClelland determined that intelligence tests, aptitude tests and personal references were all ineffective ways to determine whether a person would do well in a certain position or not. He concluded that the factors that allowed some employees to excel were not apparent on the surface, and in some cases were not even known to the employee. Instead of focusing on intelligence or aptitude, McClelland focused on competencies.

Predicting Excellence

In the iceberg theory of employee competencies, the skill-set needed for the job is the most obvious competency, followed by knowledge of the job. The employee's own perception of his role in society is less obvious on the surface but a more significant predictor of his success or failure in the position. Still more important yet less apparent are the self-image, personality traits and deepest motives of the employee. For example, if you're hiring a person to handle the shipping at your company, it's more important to find a meticulous person with a passion for details than a person who has worked in shipping before.

Using the Model

When selecting an employee for a job at your company, the iceberg theory advises you to look below the surface and try to determine whether this employee's core competencies would be a good match for the job. For example, if you're hiring a sales manager, the first thing you need to do is determine if the candidate has the necessary skills such as a proven sales record and the appropriate knowledge such as an understanding of management theory. Then you should look at the less apparent competencies. By asking the right interview questions, you can find out whether the candidate thinks of himself as a leader, a lone wolf, a team player or some other social role. You should try to determine how the candidate thinks of herself as a person and whether that self-image is a good fit for the position. You should try to get a picture of the candidate's personality traits such as aggression, reliability, ambition or desire to please others. The more you can figure out about the underwater parts of the iceberg, the better chance you have of picking the right person for the position.