07. Selection techniques
It is a sad but indisputable fact that in any group of people who apply for a job, there will be a number who will not give accurate information about themselves. This may be because they do not understand what information it is that you need, or because they badly want the job, despite not being sufficiently qualified or experienced, and don’t consider the problems they may face should they get it. It is also true that businesses do not give accurate information for similar reasons.
This means that your information gathering and giving process needs to be as accurate as possible. In order to obtain accurate information about candidates, you should use more than one method, in the same way that you used more than one method when preparing the original job criteria; multiple methods give greater accuracy in matching the person to the job. The following list gives you a range of different selection methods, ranging from the most popular and least expensive to the least popular and most expensive. This is not to say that cost necessarily needs to be an important factor in choosing a selection method - expensive methods such as biodata or psychometric testing may be cost effective because of their perceived success rate in finding the right person for the job and because of the reduction in work required by the recruiter. However, selection effectiveness can be achieved without worrying about these issues.
Once you’ve got your pool of candidates the filtering process can begin. If you attracted 80 or 90 applicants, you could filter by having them telephone and answer pertinent questions about their experience or educational qualifications. Of course, you can also screen after shortlisting if you have sufficient good candidates, by asking them to telephone for a brief chat.
Other screening processes could include using the type of information you already have as part of the selection process. If, for instance, you already have a group of good workers doing the same job, you could construct a profile looking at education, experience, etc and exclude anyone who didn’t fit. There are large companies that sell these sorts of profiles based on information from several organisations. This is called biodata and seems to be a good predictor of candidate performance.
Inviting applications by CV makes things easier for applicants, but the resulting tidal wave can be horrendous; trying to sort through a pile of CVs, all with different formats and with widely varying levels of presentation, can be extremely time consuming and can make it difficult to spot key information.
Consequently, many organisations have designed their own standard application form. These generally are divided into a number of sections covering areas such as:
- knowledge, skills and attitudes;
- physical criteria; and,
- any other requirements.
Many people dislike the interview process, both as an interviewee and an interviewer. Although the interview is the most popular form of selection, it is also the least useful in predicting the performance of candidates on the job. Much of the reason that interviews are such a bad predictor is because interviewers simply don’t like being in a face-to-face situation where people are asking them for something (in this instance a job!), or because they have a total misperception of the interview process.
Other problems include those people who were appointed to the post on the basis of 'gut feeling' and those who bring their unrecognised and recognised prejudices to the process of selection. Imagine someone who wouldn’t appoint short people (too pushy), bearded people (something to hide), people who wear suede shoes (unreliable), people who are too thin (personality problems), and people who are the 'wrong' star sign!
Interviews are none the less an important method of exchanging information, but only if they are approached in the right way.
Group selection methods
When working with other people is an important part of the selection process, it could be useful to consider a group selection method. This could involve asking a group of candidates to carry out a task and observing the ways in which they interact. The task need not be particularly complicated. It could, for instance, involve the group designing and delivering a presentation on the changing nature of the world of work.
You could observe the group and look out for the people who seem to demonstrate the sort of qualities that the job requires; those who were verbally skilled, those who showed leadership behaviour, those who mediated when squabbles broke out, etc.
It is important to tell people what sort of qualities you are looking for before you start such an exercise, as if you do not give clear goals, some potentially viable candidates may try to second-guess you and demonstrate completely untypical behaviours. Where clear goals exist, candidates may also show untypical behaviours, but this is very difficult to do successfully.
Realistic job previews
Methods like this are time-consuming and there are serious issues of confidentiality, but if you can screen your shortlist down to two or three candidates, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t bring them in and give them a problem to handle.
You do need to make sure that the problem has a clear solution; preferably, it would be a problem that you’ve already dealt with successfully.
A benefit with realistic job previews is that they can involve more staff in the selection procedure. People tend to work well with candidates whom they have seen and had some say about.
Portfolios are little used in the United Kingdom with the exception of specialist professions, such as photography or graphic design. However, the development of portfolios such as Records of Achievement seems to indicate that this may be changing.
Written references have some drawbacks; perhaps someone wants rid of an employee - they certainly won’t give a poor reference under those circumstances! Poor references could also turn out to be libellous, although one of the main problems is that people just don’t know what you’re asking for. The most accurate references may come from face-to-face or telephone interviews with someone who has had direct experience of the candidate’s work.
If you’re writing, you could ask for a telephoned reply or say that you will telephone them. Where this isn’t possible, enclose a copy of the information that you have collected about the job and ask the referee if the candidate is suitable for this job. To get the best response, allow a decent length of time for reply and do not send a massive form for the referee to complete.
An assessment centre will put candidates through a series of tests, exercises and perhaps interviews, lasting, typically, a day. Candidates are observed by a team of assessors, with others acting as facilitators. Tests and exercises are used which are designed to predict how candidates will perform in the workplace. Realistic job previews, lateral thinking exercises, psychometric tests and practical demonstrations are all popular events in an assessment centre.
Care must be given to select tests that will draw out appropriate skills, knowledge and ability, and assessment must be weighted so demonstration of more desirable attributes wins more 'points' than those that are 'nice to have' but not essential.
Perhaps the most popular of the other methods available is psychometric testing, which offers actual tests in areas such as intelligence and personality characteristics. These include Raymond Cattell’s 16 PF Test, which broadly demonstrates candidates’ emotional stability. The Myers Briggs Test is reasonably user-friendly (it’s short) and purports to identify people by personality characteristics such as extrovert v. introvert and thinking vs feeling.
Finally, there are selection methods which use samples of candidates’ handwriting (graphology), their star sign (astrology) or which select through palmistry. Little evidence exists to support these as adequate predictors of performance.
What is important is to know what you want and to use processes with which you feel comfortable in order to select your candidate.