This section looks at the process of selecting candidates. A variety of methods are available and consideration needs to be given as to which are suitable for a particular role. These include: Application forms and CVs, Online screening and shortlisting, Interviews, Psychometric testing, Ability and aptitude tests, Personality profiling, Presentations, Group exercises, Assessment centres and References.

Application forms and CVs

The traditional approach to applying for jobs is to complete a fairly lengthy application form (online or hard copy). This may be off-putting for some candidates. Therefore, application forms, if used, should only address the really important areas to allow shortlisting to take place. The benefit of using an application form from the organisation's perspective is that it ensures that the same information is gained from all candidates, which helps to achieve a level of consistency in the short-listing process.

The use of CVs is becoming less common. The benefit to the applicant is clear - an existing CV can be updated and tailored in a fraction of the time that it takes to fill out a traditional application form. The problem for the employer, however, is that information will be presented how the applicant sees fit, and may make short-listing less consistent. CVs are certainly more difficult to sift through if information is presented in a variety of ways through different CV formats. There are also equal opportunities considerations as the consistency produced by the use of application forms is more likely to engender fairness in the recruitment process.

However, if certain jobs are hard to recruit to and competitors generally ask for CVs rather than application forms, organisations may consider accepting CVs. If this is the case, other safeguards may be used, for example, deleting indications of sex and race before the CVs are passed to short-listers, and more careful evaluation of decisions made in the recruitment process. Organisations should ensure that short-listers understand the need to not directly discriminate and that awareness training is put in place to help short-listers recognise and challenge their own prejudices and beliefs. Recruitment processes must ensure that decisions about shortlisting are made on the basis of the applicant's ability to undertake the job. For example, short-listers may be asked to provide information on the reasons why certain decisions were made, in order to demonstrate that the decision was not related to irrelevant personal characteristics.

Online screening and shortlisting

Online applications to jobs can generally be split in to two types; an application form that is sent to an email address within the prospective company, or an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). The latter places the application into a database that can to used to filter the candidates and handle the various processes of application stages. This section explains the usage of an ATS within the recruitment process.

Initial screening of applications is usually based on an assessment of a candidate's experience and qualifications against the job's requirements. Online systems, like an ATS, can filter applications automatically against set criteria, such as keyword searches. It may also provide a scoring mechanism.

The use of online screening may be a useful way of filtering quickly through a huge volume of applications, or sorting applications. If there are a number of jobs that have been advertised at the same time, you could, for example, search for applications with the same job reference number. This approach, however, does require that all applications are received online.

It may be difficult to ensure that the keywords or criteria used in the search do not overlook any applications which could potentially match the person specification. Some organisations that use this approach have had to develop long application forms in order to ensure that the candidate includes all appropriate information in sufficient detail for their application to be selected through the word search. Other organisations only use the keyword approach as a first step in attempting to select candidates and then go through the applications again manually to double check that all appropriate applications have been selected.

If such a method is the only one used, organisations should be aware of the implications of the Data Protection Act. The Employment Practices Data Protection Code recommends that, if an automated short-listing system is used as the sole basis for making a decision, applicants should be informed. An employer should make provisions to consider representations from applicants about this and to take these into account before making the final decision.

There is an initial cost in implementing online screening and shortlisting, such as the cost of software and training. These costs need to be balanced against potential benefits, such as improving the speed of the recruitment and selection process.

Interviews

Structured interviews are the most effective type of interview. The interview process is formed through identification of the key requirements of the job and a list of questions is drawn up. A panel of interviewers works through each set of questions with each candidate and scores them on their answers. At the end of the interview process the overall scores are considered and the best candidate chosen. If additional selection methods are chosen, this is fed into the overall process at the end, and again, the best-fit candidate is offered the job.

Even where the interview is structured, this does not mean that follow up questions cannot be asked to probe more deeply into a candidate's skills and experience. An interview which does not do this, but instead sticks to a rigid list of questions, will not allow the interviewer to obtain the information required to make a proper decision.

Members involved in the interview process should be trained in interviewing skills and the sorts of questions they should or should not ask.

Psychometric testing

A range of attributes are best tested through psychometric testing. This term is often confusing, but in essence, means that a 'mental measure' is used. Therefore, psychometric testing covers ability testing, aptitude testing and personality profiling.

Ability and aptitude tests

The term 'ability tests' is used broadly and in this context will encompass aptitude tests too. Ability tests may cover a range of areas including:

  • General intelligence;
  • Verbal ability;
  • Numerical ability;
  • Spatial ability;
  • Clerical ability;
  • Diagrammatical ability;
  • Mechanical ability;
  • Sensory and motor abilities.

Personality profiling

An individual's personality may affect their suitability for some posts. However, personality profiling does not have a 'right' or 'wrong' answer and individuals may be sifted through identifying particular behaviours that are better suited to the job than others. It is therefore important for those undertaking the selection process to be clear on the characteristics required to perform well in the job.

Presentations

Presentations are frequently used as a selection tool, particularly in senior jobs. The applicant is provided with a topic and given a time-frame to deliver a presentation on that topic. In some organisations the presentation topic is sent with the interview confirmation. It is now often given to applicants on the day of the interview and the applicant has a set period to prepare the presentation before the interview.

Group exercises

Candidates are given a topic or a role-play exercise and are invited to discuss the topic or role-play in a group. During the discussion/role play, observers who are looking for specific attributes award marks to each candidate. This of course means that you may need four or more candidates to make this a meaningful exercise and enough people to mark the candidates properly.

Assessment centres

Assessment centre techniques date back to the Second World War where they were used to select officers. Assessment methods are based on the principle of multiple testing processes. This may include ability and aptitude testing, group exercises, in-tray exercises, presentations as well as personality profiling. The important issue for all testing is to ensure that there is clarity about what is to be tested and that the test is appropriate. An assessment centre should be devised to specifically examine important aspects of the job and measure how well individuals are likely to perform in the job.

An assessment centre should be fair and unbiased. It should also give individuals without a 'traditional' academic background the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and abilities. Good practice indicates that individuals attending assessment centres should have practical equalities support. For example, assessors should be of mixed gender and where possible of mixed ethnic origins if this is appropriate. 

References

References are also used as a selection method. Occasionally, unsatisfactory references may affect decisions to appoint individuals.

Which methods are most reliable?

A significant amount of research has been done on how reliable various methods are. A summary of research on how well methods predict future job performance shows that, where perfect prediction is 1.0, the following selection methods score as follows:

Assessment centres promotion (0.68)
Work samples (0.54)
Ability tests (0.54)
Structured interviews (0.44)
Integrity tests (0.41)
Assessment centres performance (0.41)
Personality tests (0.38)
Unstructured interviews (0.33)
References (0.13)
Adapted from: Anderson, N. & Cunningham-Snell, N. 'Personnel Selection' in Work and Organisational Psychology, Chmiel, N. (Ed), Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 2000.

Which methods are suitable for a particular job?

When determining which selection method is most appropriate, it is necessary to consider the requirements of the job, through analysis of the job/role description and person specification, and what skills, experience and aptitudes are being sought. Some organisations make reference on the person specification as to how they will assess that requirement during the selection process, so that potential candidates are aware of the methods the organisation will use. Of course, more than one selection method may be appropriate for a particular job.

It is also important to evaluate the success of the selection method to ensure that it is effective. This can be done through seeking the views of candidates who have undertaken the selection process and/or analysing recruitment statistics and turnover rates. It is also helpful to review the selection methods that were used the last time that the job was vacant and check that they are still relevant and useful to the current selection process, particularly if there have been changes to the job or a requirement for new skills.

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