Selection Methods

Adapted from a CIPD article

What is the process of selecting candidates?

Selecting candidates involves two main processes: shortlisting, and assessing applicants to decide who should be made a job offer.

Candidates’ applications may arrive as a curriculum vitae (CV) or an application form. Whatever form they are in, it is important to make sure that all of those who are involved in the selection process, from the shortlisting stage onwards, are aware of the need to avoid unfair discrimination and the potential risk to the organisation’s reputation should a candidate make a tribunal claim.

Technology plays an increasingly important role in recruitment ranging from attracting candidates through to the selection process. Electronic techniques are also being used to slim down the number of potential candidates. In particular, using online recruitment can mean employers receive large numbers of applications from unsuitable candidates, so it can be helpful also to use technology to help manage the application forms.

A range of different methods can be used to assess candidates. These vary in their reliability as a predictor of performance in the job and in their ease and expense to administer. Whatever method is used it is important to ensure that candidates know in advance what to expect from the selection process, for example, the type of assessment they are going to undergo and the length of time it will take. Organisations should also check whether the applicant has any need for adjustments due to a disability.

The role of selection interviewing

Interviews are very widely used in the selection process, as demonstrated by successive CIPD surveys of recruitment practices in their Resourcing and talent planning surveys.
Interviews remain popular because as well as providing information to predict performance, interviews also give an opportunity for the interviewer and interviewee to meet face to face and exchange information.

For the candidate, the interview is an opportunity to:

Ask questions about the job and the organisation
• Decide if they’d like to take the job.

For the organisation, the interview is an opportunity to:

Describe the job and the responsibilities the job holder would need to take on in more detail
• Assess candidates’ ability to perform in the role
• Discuss with the candidate details such as start dates, training provisions and terms and conditions such as employee benefits
• Give a positive impression to the candidate of the company as a ‘good employer’ (who they’d like to work for should they be offered the position).

A poorly conducted interview may leave the candidate with an unfavourable impression of the organisation that they are likely to share with other potential applicants and customers. It is good practice to give feedback to candidates following an interview.

Research Evidence

Research evidence highlights the limitations of the traditional interview as a poor predictor of a candidate’s performance in the job. Information is gathered from the interview in a relatively unsystematic manner, and judgements may be made on candidates for a variety of reasons.

Anderson and Shackleton draw on a wide variety of studies to summarise the reasons why interviews have been criticised in this way. These include:

The self-fulfilling prophecy effect. Interviewers may ask questions designed to confirm initial impressions of candidates gained either before the interview or in its early stages.
The stereotyping effect. Interviewers sometimes assume that particular characteristics are typical of members of a particular group. In the case of sex, race, disability, marital status or ex-offenders, decisions made on this basis are often illegal. However, the effect occurs in the case of all kinds of social groups.
The halo and horns effect. Interviewers sometimes rate candidates as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ across the board and thus reach very unbalanced decisions.
The contrast effect. Interviewers can allow the experience of interviewing one candidate to affect the way they interview others who are seen later in the selection process.
The similar-to-me effect. Interviewers sometimes give preference to candidates they perceive as having a similar background, career history, personality or attitudes to themselves.
The personal liking effect. Interviewers may make decisions on the basis of whether they personally like or dislike the candidate.

Structuring the interview can also help improve its ability to predict performance in the job and a growing number of employers take this approach. A ‘structured interview’ means that:

• Questions are planned carefully before the interview
• All candidates are asked the same questions
• Answers are scored using a rating system
• Questions focus on the attributes and behaviours needed in the job.
There is a risk, however, that this means an overly rigid approach in which there is little opportunity to ask the candidate supplementary questions and the candidate does not feel at their ease.


Psychological Testing

Psychological tests are tests which can be systematically scored and administered. They are supported by a body of evidence and statistical data which demonstrates their validity, and are used in an occupational setting to measure individual differences (for example in ability, aptitude, attainment, intelligence or personality).

With the increase in the use of technology in the workplace, online testing is also growing in popularity – particularly in the recruitment of graduates and where employers are faced with high volumes of applicants.

Most tests are designed and developed by occupational psychologists and are accompanied by detailed manuals providing the data to establish the reliability of the test and the normative information against which test results may be compared. This is the information that allows employers to compare their test candidates against the scores of a normal population of similar people. Administering tests and analysing the results is a skilled task. Scoring of tests is often complex and how it is done will depend on what a test is trying to measure. With personality tests there are no right or wrong answers as they are designed to present a profile of an individual.


Assessment Centres

Assessment Centres involve candidates completing a number of different tasks as part of the selection process. An assessment Centre should reflect the reality of the job and the organisation. The tasks set should link with the job description and person specification. It must be fair as a selection process regarding the time taken, the number of tasks set and the opportunities for candidates to show different aspects of their abilities.

Depending on the nature of the job, the tasks might include individual or group work, written and/or oral input (tasks set in advance such as preparing a report or presentation), and written and/or oral outputs on the day such as in-tray exercises, analytical work, individual problem solving, group discussions, group problem solving, tasks which match business activities, personal role-play and functional role-play.

Group exercises should be as real as possible, should set goals and have a limited time, should require candidates to share information and reach decisions and should require the candidates to read the brief very carefully.

The tasks might need to encourage competitiveness or co-operation, to test for creativity or for building on the ideas of others in a productive manner. The opportunity to compete with others will assist some candidates to perform better. In organisations wishing to improve their diversity, elements of competition should be decreased in favour of increased opportunities to co-operate, as these skills are likely to encourage wider participation.

Presentation exercises can be valuable if the job might require this skill and there can be benefit in allowing considerable preparation time for the exercise. If individual work is part of the job, tests for the necessary skills can be used.

There should be a number of senior observers/selectors to ensure greater objectivity through a range of views. Selectors must be trained to observe, record, classify and rate behaviour, and seek evidence accurately and objectively against the job description and person specification. Selectors preferably should also have had some training on interviewing skills and in managing diversity, and have good listening skills. Assessors might also be used to observe and comment on behaviour although they do not necessarily take part in final selection decisions.

Competency Based Interviews (CBI)

A Competency based interview is a particular type of structured interview in which the interviewer’s questioning is designed to reveal the candidate’s qualities or capabilities on a number of competencies related to the specific job being recruited for.
The interview has 3 main objectives, all of which are equally important:

1. The interviewer must establish whether the candidate is suitable for the particular vacancy.
2. The interviewer must ensure that the candidate has an accurate picture of the job (and the organisation) for which they are being considered (here it is essential to be clear about what was covered in the first interview).
3. The interview must be conducted in such a way that the candidate feels they have had a fair hearing, whether or not they are actually offered the job.

“STAR” is a tool to help gather complete behavioural data when interviewing.

S ituation
T ask
A ction
R esult

Situation gives information about the context (what was happening, where was it happening, who was involved, relevant past history)
• I received a telephone call from an angry customer
• As an HR specialist, I made a call to one of the preferred recruitment agencies

Task gives information about the objective or task to be accomplished
• I needed to get accurate information about the complaint so that it could be dealt with
• I was keen to establish a good relationship

Action gives information about what the person said or did
• I asked a range of open questions, used my listening skills and showed empathy I said “ I appreciate your frustration and I will investigate this and resolve the situation for you”
• I explained what the new role was for and what BMI was looking for in this new hire. I then sent a copy of the Job Description and explained the new competencies.

Result gives information about the outcome
• The patient seemed calmer and once I had resolved her issue even wrote a letter of thanks to say how well it had been dealt with.
• The agency confirmed that they now really understood what Sony was looking for and would be able to match suitable candidates to the role.

This can become “STARS” – if you add Solution at the end – i.e. when someone is giving you an example of where something went wrong and what corrective action or improvement was taken.

During questioning the aim is to find evidence to back up the competencies that people have. Examples should flow naturally and do not be afraid of asking for more than one example. Past behaviour is predicative of future behaviour only if it is consistently recurring.