Developments in the systematic approach to recruitment and selection HR Management

Systematic Approach to Recruitment and Selection

The key stages of a systematic approach can be summarised as: defining the vacancy, attracting applicants, assessing candidates, and making the final decision. Another way of expressing this is as a series of questions:

  • Who do we want?
  • How can we attract them?
  • How can we identify them?
  • How do we know we have got it right?

In addition, a supplementary question that is increasingly asked is:

  • Who should be involved in the process?

Here we describe the main components of each stage, and indicate ways in which recruitment and selection activities are changing to meet current and future demands.

  • Who do we want?
  • Authorisation

Securing authorisation ensures that the need to start the recruitment process is agreed by management as being compatible with the organisational/departmental objectives: that is, necessary, timely and cost-effective. At the same time, it provides an opportunity to consider options other than recruitment and selection, for example:

  • to debate the potential for restructuring workloads/departments and redeploying existing staff;
  • to delay or eliminate expenditure on staffing and recruitment budgets.

Neither of these opportunities is risk-free: redeployment of surplus staff may mean that the incoming jobholder is not necessarily the ‘best person for the job’ and result in management resentment against the system; inadequately thought-through restructuring or short-term cost-saving measures may damage the department and organisation in the long term, as opportunities fail to be exploited for lack of suitable human resources.

These decisions may be made on an operational or strategic basis. The latter emphasizes the contribution of effective staffing levels to the achievement of organizational goals and may include long-term human resource development (HRD) objectives and succession planning alongside the immediate requirement to fill a post.

  • Defining the job and the person

The traditional approach involves writing a comprehensive job description of the job to be filled. This enables the recruiter to know exactly what the purpose, duties and responsibilities of the vacant position will be and its location within the organization structure. The next step involves drawing up a person specification that is based on the job description, and which identifies the personal characteristics required to perform the job adequately. Characteristics are usually described within a framework consisting of a number of broad headings. Two frequently cited frameworks are the seven-point plan (Rodger, 1952) and the five-fold grading system (Munro Fraser, 1954), illustrated in Table .

Both frameworks are somewhat dated now, and some headings can appear to be potentially discriminatory (e.g. physical make-up and circumstances), but nevertheless they continue to form the basis of many person specifications in current use. It is common to differentiate between requirements that are essential to the job and those that are merely desirable.

Person specification frameworks

Person specification frameworks

The person specification is a vital part of the recruitment and selection process as it can form the basis of the recruitment advertisement, it can help determine the most effective selection methods and, if applied correctly, can ensure that selection decisions are based on sound, justifiable criteria. However, the compilation of a person specification needs to be handled with care. Predetermined criteria can contribute to effective recruitment and selection only if full consideration has been given to the ecessity and fairness of all the requirements.

Preconceived or entrenched attitudes, prejudices and assumptions can lead, consciously or unconsciously, to requirements that are less jobrelated than aimed at meeting the assumed needs of customers, colleagues or the established culture of the organisation. Examples of this might include insistence on a British education, unnecessary age restrictions, or sex role stereotyping. The job-based approach to recruitment and selection can be inflexible in a number of ways. For example, the job description may fail to reflect potential changes in the key tasks or the list of duties and responsibilities may be too constraining, especially where teamworking is introduced.

This concentration on a specific job and its place in a bureaucratic structure may be detrimental to the development of the skills and aptitudes needed for the long-term benefit of the organisation. In order to accommodate the need for greater flexibility and the desire to encourage working ‘beyond contract’, some organisations have replaced traditional job descriptions with more generic and concise job profiles, consisting of a list of ‘bullet points’ or accountability statements. The recognition that jobs can be subject to frequent change can also reduce the importance of the job description and increase the relative importance of getting the ‘right’ person.

This approach has the potential for greater flexibility as it enables organizations to focus ‘more on the qualities of the jobholder and the person’s potential suitability for other duties as jobs change’ than on the job itself (IRS, 1999b). Findings from the Workplace Employee Relations Survey (Cully et al., 1999: 60–61) show that skills, experience and motivation were the most common selection criteria used by employers. Recent research into call centre recruitment and selection found that a positive attitude was more important in candidates than their ability to use a keyboard (Callaghan and Thompson, 2002).

In many instances, a combination of the job-oriented and person-oriented approaches may be adopted, in order to recruit people who can not only do the job but also contribute to the wider business goals of the organisation. One way to achieve this is via the use of competencies. The term has many definitions but most refer to ‘the work-related personal attributes, knowledge, experience, skills and values that a person draws on to perform their work well’ (Roberts, 1997: 6).

Competency-based recruitment and selection involves the identification of a set of competencies that are seen as important across the organisation, such as planning and organising, managing relationships, gathering and analysing information, and decision-making. Each competency can then be divided into a number of different levels, and these can be matched to the requirements of a particular job.

Feltham (in Boam and Sparrow 1992) argues that a competency-based approach can contribute to the effectiveness of recruitment and selection in three main ways:

  • the process of competency analysis helps an organisation to identify what it needs from its human resources and to specify the part that selection and recruitment can play;
  • the implementation of competency-based recruitment and selection systems results in a number of direct practical benefits; and
  • where systems are linked to competencies, aspects of fairness, effectiveness and validity become amenable to evaluation.

These competence frameworks can be used for more than just recruitment and selection. The application of the same competencey framework to all areas of HRM can ensure consistency and aid vertical and horizontal integration (for further details on competencies and competency frameworks, see Whiddett and Hollyforde, 1999).

Occasionally competencies can be identified at national levels. For example, in answer to calls for increased effectiveness of non-executive directors in the wake of corporate scandals in the USA and UK, Derek Higgs, appointed to lead an independent review of the role and effectiveness of non-executive directors in the UK, identified a set of competencies to be assessed via assessment centres, psychological testing and competency- based interviews, to ensure that appropriate non-executive directors make up at least half of organisations’ boards (Dulewicz, 2003).

What a competency-based approach may discover is that recruitment is not always the answer. There is usually a variety of strategies for achieving a particular competency mix and no ‘right’ solutions. For example, if specialist skills are scarce, an organisation may choose to replace the skills with new technology, train existing staff, or hire specialist consultant when needed in preference to employment of permanent staff (Feltham, 1992). Where recruitment and selection is deemed appropriate, a competency-based approach achieves a visible set of agreed standards which can form the basis of systematic, fair and consistent decision-making.

  • Agree terms and conditions

Decisions on terms and conditions are made at various points in the process. Some of these are often not negotiated (e.g. hours, reward) until the final selection stages. There is a case for deciding the salary band (if not the specific amount) and other elements of the reward package before attracting candidates. This can take time (for example, if the position has to be processed through a job evaluation exercise), but potential candidates may fail to apply without some indication of the reward offered, as this often gives an indication of the level and status of the position.

The alternative is to wait and see who applies and then negotiate terms and conditions with the favoured candidate. This is a less restrictive approach, and may provide a better chance of employing high-calibre people who match the long-term aims of the organisation.

However, it can be problematic on a number of grounds: the organization may project a poor image if it appears to be unsure of what is on offer or may damage its reputation by being perceived to pay only what it can get away with. Furthermore, this reactive approach could lead to breaches of equal pay legislation. In practice, the approach adopted is likely to be determined by the organisation’s reward strategy, including the relative importance of internal pay equity and external competitiveness and the emphasis on individual and collective pay-setting.

  • How do we attract them?
  • Recruitment methods

Organisations can choose from a wide variety of methods, including the use of:

  • informal personal contacts, such as existing employees, informal grapevine (word of mouth) and speculative applications;
  • formal personal contacts, such as careers fairs, open days and leaflet drops;
  • notice boards, accessible by current staff or the general public;
  • advertising, including local and national press, specialist publications, radio and TV, and the Internet;
  • external assistance, including job centres, careers service, employment agencies and ‘head-hunters’.

The relative popularity of these different methods are shown in Table.

Percentage of organisations using particular recruitment methods

Percentage of organisations using particular recruitment methods

Decisions about the most appropriate method (or methods, as many organisations will use more than one) are likely to be influenced by the level of the vacancy and its importance within the organisation. The CIPD survey (2002a) found that recruitment for managerial and professional posts was most likely to be via advertisements in specialist journals and the national press, whereas the local press was more popular for clerical and manual vacancies.

Other factors to be taken into account when choosing the most appropriate method include the resources available within the organisation (in terms of personnel and finance), the perceived target groups, and the organisation’s stance on internal versus external recruitment. Human resource management literature emphasises the need to have well-developed internal labour market arrangements for promotion, training and career development, which would suggest that many openings can and should be filled internally (Beaumont, 1993). However, a number of organisations, particularly those in the public sector, have policies that require the majority of posts to be advertised externally.

  • Design of advertisements

The most popular formal recruitment method continues to be press advertising. Good communication from the employer to potential applicants requires thought and skill, and many organisations use the services of a recruitment agency for the design of the advertisement and advice on the most effective media.

The aim of the advertisement is to attract only suitable applicants, and therefore it should discourage those who do not possess the necessary attributes while, at the same time, retaining and encouraging the interest of those with potential to be suitable. Taylor (2002) suggests a number of key decisions faced by recruiters in the style and wording of advertisements:

  • Wide trawls or wide nets – i.e. whether the advert aims to attract a wide range of candidates or only those with very specific qualities. For example, an advertisement for the Royal Marines currently showing in UK cinemas claims that 99 per cent of candidates won’t make it.
  • Realistic or positive – in terms of the language used and information provided on the job and the organisation.
  • Corporate image or specific job – the emphasis most likely to appeal to the target audience can depend on a number of factors, e.g. whether the organisation is a household name or has a good reputation in the area, or whether the type of job is well known or highly sought-after.
  • Precise vs. vague information – variations are especially apparent in relation to salary information: some organisations (particularly in the public sector) provide very precise information, e.g. ‘salary up to £23 889 dependent on qualifications and experience (pay award pending)’, whereas others include little more than ‘competitive salary’.
  • Electronic recruitment

Over recent years there has been a growth in the use of electronic methods by both recruiters and job hunters. Overall, 75 per cent of employers now use some form of electronic recruitment, especially e-mail response to enquiries and the acceptance of CVs sent by e-mail. Around half of employers post vacancies on their corporate website and about a third use the Internet to provide background information for candidates.

A fifth of organisations accept completed application forms by e-mail (CIPD, 2002c). The impact of the growth of electronic recruitment methods is very variable depending on whether they are used to supplement or replace more traditional approaches.

Corporate and external websites can be used to advertise vacancies in addition to press adverts, while the handling of enquiries and applications via e-mail can lead to a duplication of activity (electronic as well as paper-based systems) rather than a replacement of one system with another. Alternatively, the impact may be more substantial and can alter the process up to and including the shortlisting stage, as illustrated in Table.

Traditional versus Internet-based recruitment

Traditional versus Internet-based recruitment

Neither approach is exclusive and activities can be combined at almost any stage.

For example, a press advertisement may direct readers to a website providing further information or a corporate website may require applicants to request an application form via e-mail or telephone that will then be processed manually (CIPD, 2002c).

Step Traditional Internet

  1. A job vacancy is advertised in the press A job vacancy is advertised on the Internet
  2. A job seeker writes or telephones for All the company and job details are on the more details and/or an application form website together with an online application form
  3. A job seeker returns the application A job seeker returns the completed form and/or CV by post application form electronically
  4. Personnel review the written application Specialised computer software reviews forms or CVs the application forms for an initial match with the organisation’s requirements

Traditional versus Internet-based recruitment

The key advantages of Internet-based recruitment (CIPD, 2002c) include:

  • a shorter recruitment cycle time;
  • it can reduce costs if used instead of more expensive methods;
  • it can reach a wider range of applicants;
  • organisations can display a more up-to-date image;
  • it provides global coverage 24/7.

The key disadvantages (CIPD, 2002c) are:

  • It is most effective when used as part of an integrated recruitment process and many organisations currently lack the resources and expertise to achieve this.
  • It is not yet the first choice for most job seekers.
  • Not all potential applicants have access to the Internet, so using it alongside press advertising might increase costs.
  • It can lead to more unsuitable applications being received which have to be screened out, thus increasing costs.
  • Recruitment documentation

The response to applicants should indicate the overall image that the organization wishes to project. Some organisations prepare a package of documents, which may include the job description, the person specification, information about the organisation, the equal opportunities policy, the rewards package available, and possible future prospects. Some give candidates the opportunity to discuss the position with an organizational representative on an informal basis.

This allows the candidate to withdraw from the process with the minimum activity and cost to the organisation. Much relevant information can now be supplied via the Internet: for example, BT uses a question and answer approach to supply information on a wide rage of issues, including salary and benefits, development opportunities and career prospects (IRS, 2002c). The design of application forms can vary considerably, but the traditional approach tends to concentrate on finding out about qualifications and work history, and usually includes a section in which candidates are encouraged to ‘sell’ their potential contribution to the organisation.

A more recent development is the adoption of a competency-based focus, requiring candidates to answer a series of questions in which they describe how they have dealt with specific incidents such as solving a difficult problem, or demonstrating leadership skills. Some organisations, particularly in the retail sector, include a short questionnaire in which applicants are asked to indicate their preferred way of working.

A variant on the traditional application form, ‘biodata’ (short for biographical data), may also be used. Forms usually consist of a series of multiple-choice questions that are partly factual (e.g. number of brothers and sisters, position in the family) and partly about attitudes, values and preferences (Sadler and Milmer, 1993). The results are then compared against an ‘ideal’ profile, which has been compiled by identifying the competencies that differentiate between effective and non-effective job performance in existing employees.

Biodata questionnaires are costly to develop and need to be designed separately for each job (Taylor, 2002). There are also problems with potential discrimination and intrusion into privacy, depending on the information that is sought. For these reasons, biodata is used by only a small number of employers.

  • How do we identify them?

The stages described above constitute recruitment, and are primarily concerned with generating a sufficient pool of applicants. The focus now shifts to selection, and the next stages concentrate on assessing the suitability of candidates.

  • Shortlisting

It is extremely unlikely that all job applicants will meet the necessary criteria, and so the initial step in selection is categorising candidates as probable, possible or unsuitable. This should be done by comparing the information provided on the application form or CV with the predetermined selection criteria. The criteria may either be explicit (detailed on the person specification) or implicit (only in the mind of the person doing the shortlisting).

However, this latter approach is potentially discriminatory, and would provide no defence if an organisation was challenged on the grounds of unlawful discrimination (see discussion on legislative requirements earlier in this chapter). Potentially suitable candidates will continue to the next stage of the selection process. CIPD guidelines state that unsuccessful candidates should be informed as soon as possible. In practice, written notification of rejection is increasingly less common, and many application forms warn candidates that if they have not had a response by a set date they can assume they have been unsuccessful.

The increased emphasis on personal characteristics rather than job demands may result in some changes to the way shortlisting is undertaken. For example, the use of biodata can provide a clearer focus than more traditional methods, as ‘selectors can concentrate solely on those areas of the form found in the biodata validation exercise to be particularly relevant to the prediction of effective performance in the job concerned’ (IRS, 1994). Other developments chiefly reflect a desire to reduce the time and effort involved in shortlisting from large numbers of applicants.

One option is to encourage unsuitable candidates to self-select themselves out of the process. Advances in technology allow for the provision of self-selection questionnaires and feedback on the answers on corporate websites. A variant on this is to use ‘killer’ questions; these are asked at certain stages of an online application process and the wrong answer will terminate the application at that point (IRS, 2003). Another option is to use a software package that compares CVs with the selection criteria and separates the applications that match the criteria from those that do not.

This has the advantage of removing some of the subjectivity inherent in human shortlisting, but does rely on the selection criteria being correctly identified in the first instance. It can also reject good candidates who have not used the right keywords so needs to be handled with caution. A third option is to reduce large numbers of applicants via random selection. Although there is concern that this may operate against equal opportunities, it is also claimed that ‘randomised selection may produce a better shortlist than one based on human intervention where the wrong selection criteria are used consistently or where the correct selection criteria are applied inconsistently’ (IRS, 1994: 6).

  • Selection techniques

Various selection techniques are available, and a selection procedure will frequently involve the use of more than one. The most popular techniques are outlined here, and their validity and effectiveness are discussed later in the chapter.

Interviews

Interviewing is universally popular as a selection tool. Torrington et al. (2002: 242) describe an interview as ‘a controlled conversation with a purpose’, but this broad definition encompasses a wide diversity of practice. Differences can include both the number of interviewers and the number of interview stages. Over the years interviews have received a relatively bad press as being overly subjective, prone to interviewer bias, and therefore unreliable predictors of future performance.

Such criticisms are leveled particularly at unstructured interviews, and in response to this, developments have focused on more formally structuring the interview or supplementing the interview with less subjective selection tools such as psychometric tests and work sampling. There are different types of structured interview, but they have a number of common features (Anderson and Shackleton, 1993: 72):

  • The interaction is standardised as much as possible.
  • All candidates are asked the same series of questions.
  • Replies are rated by the interviewer on preformatted rating scales.
  • Dimensions for rating are derived from critical aspects of on-the-job behaviour.

The two most popular structured interview techniques are behavioural and situational interviews. Both use critical incident job analysis to determine aspects of job behavior that distinguish between effective and ineffective performance (Anderson and Shackleton, 1993).

The difference between them is that in behavioural interviews the questions focus on past behaviour (for example, ‘Can you give an example of when you have had to deal with a difficult person? What did you do?’), whereas situational interviews use hypothetical questions (‘What would you do if you had to deal with a team member who was uncooperative?’).

Decisions about the number of interviewers, the type of interview and the number of interview stages are likely to take account of the seniority and nature of the post and the organisation’s attitude towards equal opportunities.

Telephone interviewing

Some organisations are now using telephone interviews as part of their selection procedure, particularly for jobs that involve a lot of telephone work, such as call centre operators. Telephone interviews are usually used as part of the shortlisting process rather than to replace the face-to-face selection interview. For example, a short, highly structured telephone interview can be used to identify and discount unsuitable applicants or a longer more in-depth approach can be used to shortlist candidates for a face-to-face interview, particularly for more senior posts (CIPD, 2001a).

Advances in technology continue to facilitate other forms of ‘remote’ interviewing, for example by video link or via the Internet, but take-up is still relatively low.

CIPD (2001a) and IRS (2002d) report a number of benefits and drawbacks to telephone interviewing, including:

  • They can be quicker to arrange and conduct than more conventional methods.
  • They can be cost-effective as an initial screen.
  • They can maintain a degree of confidentiality about the post as these details will only be provided once initial screening is complete (particularly useful for senior posts).
  • They provide an ideal way to assess a candidate’s telephone manner.
  • There are fewer interpersonal distractions.
  • They provide less opportunity to discriminate on grounds of race, disability, age or other non-job-related factors.
  • The lack of non-verbal communication (which accounts for 60 per cent of total interpersonal communication).
  • Interviewers may be biased against people with a particular accent or manner.

Tests

‘Testing is essentially an attempt to achieve objectivity, or, to put it more accurately, to reduce subjectivity in selection decision-making’ (Lewis, 1985: 157). The types of test used for selection are ability and aptitude tests, intelligence tests and personality questionnaires. Ability tests (such as typing tests) are concerned with skills and abilities already acquired by an individual, whereas aptitude tests (such as verbal reasoning tests or numerical aptitude) focus on an individual’s potential to undertake specific tasks.

Intelligence tests can give an indication of overall mental capacity, and have been used for selection purposes for some considerable time. Personality questionnaires allow quantification of characteristics that are important to job performance and difficult to measure by other methods (Lewis, 1985). The debate about the value of personality tests is ongoing, and centres around lack of agreement on four key issues (Taylor, 2002):

  • the extent to which personality is measurable;
  • the extent to which personality remains stable over time and across different situations;
  • the extent to which certain personality characteristics can be identified as being necessary or desirable for a particular job;
  • the extent to which completion of a questionnaire can provide sufficient information about an individual’s personality to make meaningful inferences about their suitability for a job.

The CIPD survey (2002a: 15) reports widespread use of psychometric testing: 54 per cent of employers use tests of specific skills and 37 per cent use tests of literacy and/or numeracy. More than a third use personality questionnaires. Tests have the benefit of providing objective measurement of individual characteristics, but they must be chosen with care. Armstrong (2001) lists four characteristics of a good test:

  • It is a sensitive measuring instrument which discriminates well between subjects.
  • It has been standardised on a representative and sizeable sample of the population for which it is intended so that any individual’s score can be interpreted in relation to others.
  • It is reliable in the sense that it always measures the same thing. A test aimed at measuring a particular characteristic should measure the same characteristic when applied to different people at the same time, or to the same person at different times.
  • It is valid in the sense that it measures the characteristic which the test is intended to measure.

Thus, an intelligence test should measure intelligence and not simply verbal facility. (Armstrong, 2001: 473) One recent development has been the growth of interest in online testing. Currently, fewer than 2 per cent of organisations administer selection tests online (CIPD, 2002a) but an IRS survey (IRS, 2002e) reports that 8 per cent are planning to introduce online testing in the future. Online testing has the potential to reduce delivery costs, thus making testing more affordable for lower-paid jobs.

However, there are also some potential disadvantages, including lack of control of the environment in which the test takes place, problems verifying candidates’ identity and the need for candidates (under data protection legislation) to have access to any personal information stored about them (IRS, 2002e).

Assessment centres

An assessment centre is not a place but rather a process that ‘consists of a small group of participants who undertake a series of tests and exercises under observation, with a view to the assessment of their skills and competencies, their suitability for particular roles and their potential for development’ (Fowler, 1992). There are a number of defining characteristics of an assessment centre:

  • A variety of individual and group assessment techniques are used, at least one of which is a work simulation.
  • Multiple assessors are used (frequently the ratio is one assessor per two candidates).

These assessors should have received training prior to participating in the centre.

  • Selection decisions are based on pooled information from assessors and techniques.
  • Job analysis is used to identify the behaviours and characteristics to be measured by the assessment centre.

Assessment centres are used by just over a quarter of organisations (CIPD, 2002a). The assessment centre process allows organisations to observe candidate behaviour in a work-related setting; and the combination of techniques used helps to improve the consistency and objectivity of the selection process. The use of such a sophisticated technique, if handled well, can also help the organisation to display a positive image to potential candidates. The drawbacks primarily relate to the costs and resources required.

For this reason, assessment centres are most likely to be used in public sector organisations and by larger private sector employers. A number of recent trends have been identified in the design and delivery of assessment centres (IRS, 2002f), including: more emphasis on the integration of exercises (i.e. using the same business context and same characters in different exercises); a clearer link between exercises and work content; more candidate friendly (i.e. better briefing on how people will be assessed, more comprehensive feedback); and a focus on core values to identify candidates who will contribute most in rapidly changing circumstances.

Job simulation/work sampling

A key component of an assessment centre is the job simulation exercise, which is designed to be an accurate representation of performance in the job itself. Candidates are placed in situations that they are likely to face if selected: examples include in-tray exercises and role-play interviews. An extension of job simulation is work sampling: that is, giving the candidate the opportunity to perform in the role for a specified length of time.

References

These are used to obtain additional information about candidates from third parties such as previous employers, academic tutors, colleagues or acquaintances. The accuracy of the information is variable; Armstrong (2001) suggests that factual information (e.g. nature of previous job, time in employment, reason for leaving, salary, academic achievement) is essential, but opinions about character and suitability are less reliable. He goes on to say that ‘personal referees are, of course, entirely useless. All they prove is that the applicant has at least one or two friends’.

References can be used at different stages in the selection process: some organizations use them only to confirm details of the chosen candidate after the position has been offered, whereas others will request references for all shortlisted candidates prior to interview. The format may also vary, with some organisations requesting verbal references by telephone and others requiring written references.

In either case, organizations may require referees to answer specific structured questions or provide some general comments on the candidate’s performance and suitability. The most popular types of information requested by employers include absence record, opinion of candidate’s personality and suitability for the vacancy, work history, punctuality and disciplinary record (IRS, 2002a: 752). Many employers consider references to be ‘only marginally effective’ (Industrial Society, 1994), yet there is little doubt that they remain a popular component of the selection process, with approximately three-quarters of respondents to the CIPD (2002a) survey using them.

Other methods

Two of the more unconventional and controversial selection tools include graphology and astrology. Graphology is based on the idea that handwriting analysis can reveal personal traits and characteristics. Although it is not widely used in the UK, its effectiveness as a selection tool continues to be the subject of considerable debate. Having reviewed the available data on graphology, the CIPD concludes that ‘the evidence in favour is inconclusive, anecdotal and therefore prone to bias and misinterpretation’ (CIPD, 2001b). If anything, astrology is even more controversial, and few organisations appear to use it in selection decisions.

  • Factors influencing choice of selection techniques

What determines the choice of different techniques? One could reasonably assume that a key factor in determining the type of method would be its ability to predict who is suitable and unsuitable for the position. In other words, whatever technique is used, people who do well should be capable of doing the job and people who do badly should not.

Accuracy

‘None of the techniques, irrespective of how well they are designed and administered, is capable of producing perfect selection decisions that predict with certainty who is or who is not bound to be a good performer in a particular role’ (Marchington and Wilkinson, 1996: 119). Figure shows the accuracy of selection methods measured on the correlation coefficient between predicted and actual job performance, with zero for chance prediction and 1.0 for perfect prediction.

The increased use of more accurate methods such as assessment centres and selection testing can help to improve the effectiveness of the selection process. However, findings from the CIPD survey (2002a) show that assessment centres are considered to be the most influential selection method in fewer than 5 per cent of organisations. In contrast, 33 per cent of organisations consider interviews to be the most important selection method. Nevertheless, doubts about accuracy appear to have encouraged mployers to adopt more structured interview formats or supplement the interview with other selection methods such as tests or work simulation.

Statistics on the accuracy of different types of selection techniques mask wide variations within each technique. Two key criteria to be considered are reliability and validity. Reliability generally relates to the ability of a selection technique to produce consistent results over time or among different people, whereas validity relates to the extent to which the technique is able to measure what it is intended to measure. These have already been discussed in relation to selection testing, but can be applied to other techniques too.

For example, the reliability of interviews can vary if interviewers have differing levels of interviewing skills or different perceptions of the selection criteria. Reliability can also vary when just one person is involved in interviewing, as the conduct of the interview can be affected by the timing of the interview and by how many interviews have been conducted already. In assessment centres, the effectiveness of the exercises in predicting job performance is dependent on the extent to which they represent the performance content and competency requirements of the job they are designed to sample. In practice, the standard of assessment centres can vary from organisation to organisation:

The same can be said of tests that are relevant only if the behaviours and attitudes they measure are those necessary for effective job performance. Additional problems are also associated with the use of tests. Both the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the CIPD have issued codes of practice on the use of tests, which stress that everyone responsible for the application of tests, which includes evaluation, interpretation and feedback, should be trained to at least the level of competence recommended by the BPS (CIPD, 2001c).

The guidelines also make it clear that ‘the results of a single test should 216 Chapter · Recruitment and selection not be used as the sole basis for decision-making’ (IPD, 1997). However, a survey conducted by Newell and Shackleton (1993) found that, although companies used trained personnel to administer tests, the majority did not always give feedback of results to candidates, and some were using the tests to make definitive judgements about people.

The predictive accuracy of selection methods

The predictive accuracy of selection methods

Level of vacancy

IRS (1997: 16) argues that the type of job is ‘the most significant influence on the choice of selection methods for any one vacancy’. Assessment centres, in particular, are more likely to be used for managerial and graduate posts. This may indicate an organisation’s willingness to invest more heavily in future managers than in other parts of the workforce, but may also be due to candidate expectations and the organisation’s need to attract the highest-quality applicants.

A growing number of organisations have started to use assessment centre techniques for non-managerial appointments but the process tends to be shorter and therefore cheaper. For example, easyJet holds half-day assessment centres for cabin crew (IDS, 2002).

Cost of selection techniques

There is no doubt that recruitment and selection can be costly activities, and the costs incurred by some selection techniques can make them prohibitive for all but a few ‘key’ vacancies in an organisation. For example, assessment centres require considerable investment of resources and are particularly demanding in terms of the time commitment required from assessors (IDS, 2002). However, in deciding on the most cost-effective methods, the ‘up-front’ costs need to be balanced against the costs of wrong decisions, which may include costs associated with labour turnover owing to lack of ability. Jaffee and Cohen (cited in Appelbaum et al., 1989: 60) suggest that consideration should include some or all of the following:

  • the start-up time required by a replacement for the jobholder;
  • the downtime associated with the jobholder changing jobs internally or externally;
  • training and/or retraining for the replacement and the jobholder;
  • relocation expenses;
  • the shortfall in productivity between an effective and ineffective jobholder;
  • the psychological impact on the ‘failed’ jobholder and the morale of others in the department.

Custom and practice

A possible explanation for the continued use of interviews is the simple fact that people are familiar with them. Although, at an academic level, the general consensus is that interviews are unreliable, invalid and provide ample opportunity for personal prejudice (Herriot, 1989), at a practical level many interviewers feel that they are good judges of people and can make effective selection decisions, and most of us would probably feel unhappy in starting a job without undergoing some form of face-to-face meeting with our prospective employer.

The CIPD (2003) suggests that key aims of assessment centres are to select, recruit and impress candidates. Evaluate the impact of the following ‘real’ experiences during the recruitment and selection process for impression:

  • Making the decision

The aim of the overall recruitment and selection process is to provide enough information to enable recruiters to differentiate between those who can do the job and those who can’t. The prescriptive approach stresses that the final decision should involve measuring each candidate against the selection criteria defined in the person specification and not against each other (Torrington et al., 2002). The combination of a number of different selection methods can enhance the quantity and quality of information about each candidate, although Anderson and Shackleton (1993) warn of the dangers of information overload in selection.

Even the decision-making process might be affected by the contemporary situation and employers’ increased desire for flexibility. Sparrow and Hiltrop (1994) suggest that the combination of technological change, low economic growth, low voluntary turnover rates and an increasingly legislated environment may lead to new employees having to perform a series of jobs over time with changes not necessarily linked to promotion, which may lead to a different approach to selection:

  • How do we know if we’ve got it right?

The final stage of the recruitment and selection process concerns measurement of its success, both qualitatively and quantitatively. ACAS guidelines suggest that any recruitment and selection system should be based on three fundamental principles: effectiveness, efficiency and fairness (ACAS, 1983). Effectiveness is concerned with distinguishing accurately between suitable and unsuitable candidates: Mayo (1995) suggests a number of ways in which this can be measured for recruits, including retention rates, promotion rates, and percentage of recruits perceived as having high potential after three to five years.

However, these factors can also be influenced by working conditions and the emphasis on employee development within the organisation. Efficiency is concerned more with the costs of the exercise, and measures here may include average cost per recruit, average time lapsed between various stages, percentage of offers made, and offer-acceptance rate (Mayo, 1995). Fairness is concerned with dealing with all applicants fairly and honestly, but has often been taken to refer to equal opportunity monitoring, and has been limited to record keeping on the gender, ethnic origin and disability of successful and unsuccessful candidates.

In theory, the integration of recruitment and selection activity with other HR initiatives and business objectives should lead to more extensive evaluation. In practice there is little to indicate that this is happening:

  • Who is involved in the process?

Recruitment and selection have long been seen as two of the key activities of the HR function. However, increasingly organisations are choosing to involve other parties such as line managers or specialist agencies, or to outsource the activity altogether.

  • Line managers
    A key feature of HRM is the extent to which activities once seen as the remit of HR specialists are devolved to others, particularly line managers and supervisors. Findings from WERS (Cully et al., 1999) show that around 80 per cent of managers considered they had responsibility for employment relations matters, with 94 per cent of these including ‘recruitment and selection of employees’.

In workplaces (with supervisors and over 25 employees), 30 per cent of private sector and 17 per cent of public sector supervisors had the final say in decisions about taking on the people who worked for them, though relevant training was not given in the majority of cases. It appears therefore that devolved responsibility for recruitment and selection to managers and supervisors is a reality in many UK organisations.

  • Peers

Employees can be involved at various stages in the recruitment and selection process. The most popular level of involvement is to encourage existing employees to introduce candidates to the organisation; almost half of respondents to the CIPD (2002a) survey have either introduced or improved bounty payments to staff for introducing successful candidates. A less common approach is to involve peers or team members in the selection of candidates, as illustrated in the example below.

  • Specialist employment agencies

The specialist skills of the external recruitment advertiser have been used for many years by HR departments looking outside the organisation for design skills and a contemporaryknowledge of successful media. Employment agencies have also traditionally been used for the temporary recruitment of staff cover for periods when permanent staff have been absent on holiday or through unexpected illness.Recently the reasons for using third parties in recruitment have intensified.

The increasing use of non-permanent contracts increases the need for recruitment to temporary or fixed-term contracts. Cully et al. (1999) indicate that temporary workers are used in 28 per cent of workplaces and that fixed-term contracts are now found in 44 per cent of workplaces sampled. ‘Executive search and selection’ are two different methods used for the recruitment of executives. Search (or head-hunting) refers to the recruitment of executives through direct or personal contact by a specialist consultancy acting as an intermediary between the employer and prospective candidate(s). Selection is the identification and shortlisting of a small number of potential candidates, by an intermediary, via recruitment advertising.

The individuals targeted by executive search consultants work at senior levels, and have responsibility at regional, national or international level. Income generated from executive search in 2000 was estimated to exceed $10 billion, of which a third is generated in Europe. The top 15 multinational consultancies are judged to have at least 25 per cent of the market between them (Garrison-Jenn, 1998). Key reasons for using executive search and selection consultants include the need for confidentiality, a lack of in-house recruitment knowledge and skills at this level, and simply a lack of senior management time to devote to the activity.

  • Outsourcing

‘Outsourcing’ is the term used to describe the transfer of a distinct business function from inside the business to an external third party. Outsourcing of parts of the HR function has become more common. Lonsdale and Cox (1998) argue that outsourcing decisions can be classified under the following three headings:

  • outsourcing for short-term cost and headcount reductions;
  • core-competence-based outsourcing, where peripheral activities are passed to third parties and core activities are retained in-house;
  • iterative and entrepreneurial outsourcing, where periodic reviews of critical market activities are undertaken, with subsequent decisions to retain or outsource.

A recent CIPD report shows significant growth in this area, with 15 per cent of organizations outsourcing HR activities for the first time and a further 14 per cent improving their outsourcing activities (CIPD, 2002a). Examples include Cable and Wireless, who transferred 93 people to the outsorucing company, e-peopleserve, in 2001 (IRS, 2002h), BPAmoco (Pickard, 2000) and local authorities in Lincolnshire and Westminster (McLuhan, 2000). If one considers that much initial recruitment is routinely administrative, outsourcing this activity becomes attractive because it can release time for the HR function to spend on more ‘strategic’ matters.

In addition, the anticipated switch of operations to the developing world, discussed earlier in this chapter, has potential implications for HR as well as for general operations. HR ‘offshoring’ activity is estimated to grow at an annual compound rate of 77 per cent over the next five years, with recruitment seen as one of the most promising areas, along with pensions and payroll (Crabb, 2003).

  • Ethical issues in recruitment and selection

Up to now we have focused on recruitment and selection from an organisational perspective. We should not forget that recruitment and selection is a two-way process, and so our final topic for discussion concerns the extent to which any approach respects the rights of individuals participating in the process.

Ethical issues arise concerning the treatment of people during recruitment and selection. To a large extent, whether certain activities are perceived as ethical or unethical reflects the prevailing attitudes within the society or societies in which an organisation operates. However, differences in attitudes also reflect the judgement and positioning chosen by major stakeholders, and can be determined by traditional values inherent within the organisation itself.

  • Recruitment

Providing equality of opportunity for a diverse number of groups is considered important by certain organisations. However, opportunity to apply for positions can be restricted through the (sometimes unnecessary) insistence on previous experience, or prior development of skills and competences.

‘Glass ceilings’ exist in internal labour markets for women and minority groups. In the case of third-party recruitment, particularly executive search, opportunities to widen the net can be forestalled, with organisations frequently relying on the knowledge and networking of one consultant to deliver the chosen recruit, often to a specification that ensures that the status quo is maintained. The continued existence of such practices suggests a society in which those in power tolerate them as rational and sound, and where there is insufficient groundswell of opinion from society at large to insist on change. As Goss (1994) remarks:

In a similar vein, multinational and other organisations that have overseas supplier links have to consider their ethical position in relation to both employment conditions and more particularly targeted recruits. To some extent a similar discussion can be held concerning UK organisations where work is subcontracted to UK agencies and suppliers, on relatively poor conditions of employment, or where schoolchildren (already ‘fully employed’) are recruited in lieu of those already available in the external labour market.

The business decision may be difficult and involve weighing up important economic, financial, marketing and public relations considerations. While component costs may fall dramatically through the use of overseas subsidiaries and suppliers, bad publicity and loss of sales can ensue through dealing with an organisation where, for example, child labour is found to be extensively used, employment conditions are unsafe, or recruits are paid less than a living wage. Model codes of practice have been drawn up, but for many organisations the ethical issues in ‘make or buy’ decisions will continue to be debated.

  • Selection

Issues in selection revolve around areas of individual rights, the potential for abuse of power, issues of control and social engineering, use of certain assessment techniques, and the issues of equality of opportunity implied in the above. The ownership of information about an individual passes in the recruitment and selection process from the individual to the organisation.

While some protection is afforded by data protection legislation, the organisation is perceived to increase its power over the individual by holding such information and by accumulating more through the use of various selection techniques, the findings of which are not always made known to the candidate.If HRM is to be serious in its commitment to the development of all human resources, it may need to face the challenge of wider patterns of social inequality. This means looking not only at disadvantage, but also addressing the issue of who benefits from the status quo.

An individual’s right to privacy is further challenged by the impact of scientific developments assisting the prediction of future employment scenarios. For example, tests now exist to enable organisations to conduct pre-employment medicals that predict the future health of candidates. In the USA, where most health costs are met by the employer, discrimination against apparently healthy people who have, or may have, a genetic defect is common, and health insurance has been found to be refused to one in five of this group (Thatcher, 1996).

With genetic tests becoming increasingly available, will UK employers use them to screen out anyone whom they see as potentially expensive to employ? As certain genes occur more frequently in particular ethnic groups, the issues become even more complex. Apart from questions about the technical effectiveness of various selection techniques, ethical questions remain about their use at all:

Professional guidance in the area of occupation testing exists, both in specific codes of practice (CIPD and BPS) and as part of ethical codes of practice within large organizations in particular. However, research has shown that, while selectors claim to recognize the rights of those being tested (for example, to be fairly treated, to expect counseling where needed, to confidentiality of data, to know the tests used are valid), these rights are not always upheld in practice (Baker and Cooper, 2002). In addition, questions remain to be asked as to whether:

  • the selection of one personality type leads to a weakened ‘inbred’ profile of employees in organisations, incapable of thinking or acting in original ways when the situation demands;
  • an organisation has the right to enforce a unitarist perspective on employees – some selection tests, for example, are designed to filter out those who are ‘prone to unionise’ (Flood et al., 1996), others to ensure that potential employees’ values are in line with the organisation’s thinking:

The use of interviews as a selection method has long been open to criticism on the grounds of subjectivity and stereotyping. Using biodata as a basis of selection has potential for misuse, discriminating against individuals and groups on factors that are beyond their control (education, social class and gender, for example). Graphology attracts criticism for similar reasons of social stereotyping and superficial judgements. In conclusion, the use of both external and internal labour markets and associated selection techniques can raise ethical issues.

Poaching experienced people from the external labour market implies an approach that only ‘takes’ from society, in terms of the costs of education and previous training and development, and the higher wages needed to attract applicants can be perceived as inflationary. Alternatively, one can view the use of the internal labour market through in-house development around organisation-based objectives as somewhat menacing, tying the individual closely to the organisation from which escape is perceived as increasingly difficult and from which the measurement of individual freedom, and the quality of the conditions of employment enjoyed, become more difficult to judge.


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