Background While the primary goal of ranking applicants for surgical residency training positions is to identify the candidates who will subsequently perform best as surgical residents, the effectiveness of the ranking process has not been adequately studied. Methods We evaluated our general surgery resident recruitment process between 2001 and 2011 inclusive, to determine if our recruitment ranking parameters effectively predicted subsequent resident performance. We identified 3 candidate ranking parameters (United States Medical Licensing Examination [USMLE] Step 1 score, unadjusted ranking score [URS], and final adjusted ranking [FAR]), and 4 resident performance parameters (American Board of Surgery In-Training Examination [ABSITE] score, PGY1 resident evaluation grade [REG], overall REG, and independent faculty rating ranking [IFRR]), and assessed whether the former were predictive of the latter. Analyses utilized Spearman correlation coefficient. Results We found that the URS, which is based on objective and criterion based parameters, was a better predictor of subsequent performance than the FAR, which is a modification of the URS based on subsequent determinations of the resident selection committee. USMLE score was a reliable predictor of ABSITE scores only. However, when we compared our worst residence performances with the performances of the other residents in this evaluation, the data did not produce convincing evidence that poor resident performances could be reliably predicted by any of the recruitment ranking parameters. Finally, stratifying candidates based on their rank range did not effectively define a ranking cut-off beyond which resident performance would drop off. Conclusions Based on these findings, we recommend surgery programs may be better served by utilizing a more structured resident ranking process and that subsequent adjustments to the rank list generated by this process should be undertaken with caution.