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Research Questions

  1. What are the attributes that AFSPECWAR can use to assess and select future operators?
  2. Should AFSPECWAR differentially weight these attributes to reflect their relative importance to the job?
  3. How can raters improve the accuracy of their candidate assessments?

Air Force Special Warfare (AFSPECWAR) operators conduct some of the most physically and mentally challenging missions in the U.S. military. Operating in these career fields and job environments benefits from specialized assessment and selection.

Assessing and selecting personnel begins with identifying job-relevant attributes for AFSPECWAR. Based on several sources from civilian and military domains, the authors identify eight attributes: Communication, Drive, Integrity, Physical Fitness, Problem Solving, Stress Tolerance, Teamwork, and Trainability. They then explore the relative importance of these attributes and whether certain attributes should be weighted more heavily than others when making a final selection decision. Although this process for identifying, weighting, and evaluating the job-relevant attributes is resource-intensive and requires engagement from many subject-matter experts, the outputs are foundational for establishing effective talent management practices. Selecting candidates who are suitable for the job and the environment has the potential to improve performance, increase satisfaction and commitment, and reduce turnover.

The authors also highlight approaches for improving the accuracy of ratings and identify potential gaps in current AFSPECWAR assessment and selection practices, which can be addressed by adopting best practices for designing and implementing assessment centers. Closing these gaps will further strengthen AFSPECWAR's objective to effectively assess and select individual members of the U.S. Air Force who have the attributes needed for training and job success.

Key Findings

Eight attributes are important for assessing and selecting AFSPECWAR candidates

  • The job-relevant attributes are Communication, Drive, Integrity, Physical Fitness, Problem Solving, Stress Tolerance, Teamwork, and Trainability.
  • These attributes are rated as important, very important, or extremely important by officers and enlisted personnel from all AFSPECWAR specialties.
  • Attributes are foundational to a talent management system.
  • There are multiple approaches to measuring attributes. One approach is an assessment center, which allows multiple raters to observe candidates through simulations, structured interviews, and standardized tests.

Differentially weighting the attributes will unlikely change selection decisions

  • Subject-matter experts were found to allocate different weights to the key job-relevant attributes.
  • These differences were sometimes large enough to affect a change in candidates' rank order but not large enough to change the likelihood of a candidate being selected.
  • Consequently, equal weight (unit weights) should be assigned to relevant attributes.

There are multiple approaches to promoting and improving rater accuracy

  • A focus on the attributes and corresponding behaviors reinforces transparency, objectivity, and defensibility in the process of evaluating candidates.
  • The attributes can be further differentiated by defining specific facets for each, which facilitates a shared understanding of the key distinctions between attributes.
  • Raters must be trained on how to use rating scales to evaluate candidates accurately.
  • Rater performance should be monitored to ensure that raters are consistently providing accurate ratings.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and conducted by the Workforce, Development, and Health Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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