Selecting the best candidate
Whatever form the applications take, there may be a need to sift them before moving on to the interview stage. Such a sift serves to match the applicants as closely as possible to the job and person specification and to produce a shortlist of people to interview. To avoid any possibility of bias, such sifting should be undertaken by two or more people, and it should involve the direct line manager/supervisor as well as personnel. The sifting stage can also help the organisation by providing feedback on the advertising process and the suitability of the application form. It can also identify people who might be useful elsewhere in the organisation. If references or medicals are to be taken up before the invitation to interview stage, it should be made clear on the application form/information pack sent to the applicant. See References and checking for further information.
Some jobs require medicals to be given at the commencement of employment, and employers may seek preliminary information on a separate medical questionnaire at the time of recruitment. This applies mainly in driving work and industries where there is an exposure to certain chemicals. Any employer who needs advice should contact the Employment Medical Advisory Service (part of the Health and Safety Executive) in their area (16) or visit http://www.guide-information.org.uk/.
If your organisation believes that pre-employment health screening is necessary, you must make sure it is carried out in a non-discriminatory way: for instance, do not single out disabled people for medical assessment. If a report from any individual's doctor is sought, then permission must be given by the individual, and they have the right to see the report (Access to Medical Reports Act 1988).
The candidates who best match the specifications may then be invited for interview. The invitation letter should tell candidates that they should advise the organisation in advance if any particular arrangements need to be made to accommodate them on arrival or during the interview; for instance, ramp access or lighting levels. The invitation letter should also clearly state whether the organisation will pay the candidate's reasonable travel expenses for the interview.
Who makes the decision?
In some companies there will be a personnel or human resource specialist who will undertake most of the sifting and shortlisting. It is very important that the line manager/supervisor for the job also be involved, both at the job and person specification stage and at the interview stage. The final selection will thus normally be a joint decision, except in those very small companies where only a line manager/supervisor is available to do the recruitment of staff.
Gaining the commitment of the immediate manager/supervisor by involving them in the selection process can be vital to ensuring that the new employee is settled successfully into the organisation. It may be useful both for the candidates to see the environment in which they would be working, and, if they are to be part of a team, for the current team members to meet the candidate.
There is a variety of methods available to help in the selection process - including interviews, tests (practical or psychometric), assessment centres, role plays and team exercises, to name a few. Usually a range of methods will be used by the organisation depending on the type of job to be filled, the skills of the recruiter and the budget for recruitment.
Most jobs are filled through interviews. The interview has two main purposes - to find out if the candidate is suitable for the job, and to give the candidate information about the job and the organisation. Every candidate should be offered the same opportunities to give the best presentation of themselves, to demonstrate their suitability and to ask questions of the interviewer.
A structured interview designed to discover all relevant information and assess the competencies of the applicant is an efficient method of focusing on the match between job and candidate. It also means that there is a consistent form to the interviews, particularly important if there are a number of candidates to be seen.
Unstructured interviews are very poor for recruiting the right person. The structured interview is most likely to be effective in obtaining specific information against a set of clearly defined criteria. However, not every manager is skilled at interviewing, and may not be able to judge efficiently the applicant's skills and competencies. Ideally all interviewers should receive training, including the equal opportunities aspects of recruitment and the relevant legislation.
Interviews need not be formal. The length and style of the interview will relate to the job and the organisation. Some vacancies may call for a formal interview panel, some for a less formal, one-to-one interview. The interviewer(s) should consider the job and the candidates when deciding on the nature of the interview.
All interviews, whether formal or informal, need careful preparation if they are to be successful. Each candidate should leave with a sense of being treated well and fairly and having had the opportunity to give of their best.
Preparing the interview
The interviewer should prepare by:
- reading the application form, job and person specifications to identify areas which need further exploration or clarification
- planning the questions. In some interviews it is appropriate to ask only one or two questions to encourage the candidate to talk at length on certain subjects. In others it may be better to ask a series of short questions on several different areas. If there is more than one interviewer, different people can cover different topics, eg job knowledge, training, qualifications. Do not ask for personal information or views irrelevant to the job. Do not ask potentially discriminatory questions such as 'Are you planning to have children in the next few years?'
- being ready for the candidates' questions, and trying to anticipate what additional information they may seek.
Conducting the interview
Conduct the interview in an environment that will allow candidates to give of their best. Arrange for there to be no interruptions, divert telephone calls, welcome the candidate(s), and show them cloakroom facilities, etc.
If possible, let the candidate have a brief tour of the place of work. This is particularly useful in the case of people new to the job market (school-leavers, returning men and women), who may have little or no experience of what to expect in a workplace. It may also prove valuable in offering an additional opportunity to assess the candidate's interaction with possible colleagues.
Consider whether any adjustments need to be made to accommodate an interviewee who has indicated a disability on the application form - it is easy to overlook simple adjustments that may be reasonable to make:
- candidates with hearing impairment may not only need to be able to clearly see the interviewer as they are talking, but may need communication support if they are not to be placed at a disadvantage
- is there an alternative to steps for access to the building? Can the interview take place elsewhere, where access might be easier for someone with a physical disability?
It is common that both interviewer and candidate are nervous. Thorough preparation will help both of you. Be careful not to fill silences by talking too much - the aim of the interview is to draw information from the candidate to decide if they would suit the job. The candidate should do most of the talking.
Nevertheless, the interviewer will want to encourage candidates to relax and give of their best in what is, after all, a somewhat unnatural setting. It is important to keep the conversation flowing, and the introductions and initial 'scene-setting' can help all parties settle to the interview.
The following pointers may be helpful in conducting the interview:
- introduce yourself (and other interviewers if present); this also gives the candidate time to settle down
- give some background information about the organisation and the job - this helps everyone to focus on the objective
- structure the questions to cover all the relevant areas, and don't ask too many 'closed' questions. Open-ended questions (ie ones that can't be answered just by a yes or no answer) will encourage the candidate to speak freely - they often begin 'what', 'why', 'when' or 'how'
- avoid leading questions
- listen, and make brief notes as necessary on salient points
- have a time frame and keep to it, allowing sufficient time for candidates to ask any questions they might have
- make sure the candidate is familiar with the terms and conditions of the job, and they are acceptable. If not, and the candidate is the best one for the job, then some negotiation may be necessary - be careful to avoid inadvertent discrimination
- tell the candidate what will happen next and when to expect to hear from the organisation.
If the job involves practical skills, it may be appropriate to test for ability before or at the time of interview. This is generally acceptable for manual and word processing skills, but less useful for clerical and administrative posts. Telephone skills are increasingly in demand, and candidates for telesales/call centre work will almost invariably be asked to undertake a practical test. Any tests must, however, be free of bias and related to the necessary requirements of the job (17). Consideration in giving any tests must include the objectives of such a test, the efficiency of the method selected, the numbers of candidates (and vacancies), the costs and benefits of such a method.
Psychometric and psychological tests, including biodata
There are numerous tests commercially available which can assist in measuring aspects of personality and intelligence such as reasoning, problem solving, decision making, interpersonal skills and confidence. Although many large organisations have used them for a number of years, they are not widely used, and some tests are considered controversial - for instance, those that assess personality. Any organisation considering the use of psychometric or psychological tests should refer to the guides available, and make sure they have the need, skills and resources necessary (18).
Tests should never be used in isolation, or as the sole selection technique. Where a decision is made solely on the automatic processing of personal data, an applicant may require, under the Data Protection Act 1998, that the organisation reconsider any rejection or make a new decision on another basis.
Biodata (short for biographical data), is a questionnaire format with multiple choice answers. The questions are of a biographical nature and answers are scored according to the scoring key developed by the employer. In general biodata is successfully used only by really large employers, who have a large throughput of applicants (19). Use of biodata, like other tests, needs careful control to avoid any possibility of discrimination or invasion of privacy.
Think carefully before using any test - is it actually necessary for the requirements of the job? Is the test relevant to the person/job specification? What is the company policy about using tests, storing results and giving feedback to the candidate? Marking criteria must be objective, and the record sheets should be retained in accordance with the Data Protection legislation.
Assessment centres, role plays and team exercises
Assessment centres are often used by large organisations making senior management or 'fast-stream' graduate appointments. Exercises, sole and group, may take place over a few days, normally in a residential setting. The individual may also be required to make presentations and to take part in role-plays or team events.
Making the decision
Decide whom to employ as soon as possible after the interview/test/assessment. Use of a structured scoring system helps here, particularly one that is based on the applicants' competencies, and helps avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping, making snap judgements, and 'mirror-image' effects (that is, a subconscious subjectivity - looking for similarities to oneself in the candidate). Structured scoring allows the organisation to weight some elements or competencies if desired, and to compare a candidate's score with the job specification 'ideal' score - although care must be taken when considering the results that a high overall score doesn't mask a low score in a crucial area.
Write up notes immediately after the interview - recording relevant answers and detail. This is not only for the decision-making process but also to provide feedback to the candidate if requested. Bear in mind the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998, which will enable the candidate to ask to see interview notes (20) where they form part of a 'set' of information about the candidate - for instance, the application form, references received and so on, or the full personnel file if the candidate is already working for the organisation. Be aware also that your reasons for appointing or not appointing a particular candidate may be challenged under discrimination legislation.
Inform all the applicants of the outcome as soon as possible, whether successful or unsuccessful. Keep in touch if the decision is delayed.
Try to give positive feedback to unsuccessful candidates on any aspects they could reasonably improve for future success. It is sensible to maintain a favourable view of the organisation among the applicants - there may be future job vacancies for which they would be suitable and for which you would wish them to apply. Failure to get one job does not necessarily mean unsuitability for other jobs with the organisation. You may want to keep CVs or applications on file for future matching. Also bear in mind that applicants and their families may be your customers as well as potential employees, so it makes business sense to treat them fairly and courteously.