Bringing the right people into an organisation is critical for the ongoing success of an organisation. However, many organisations still follow out-dated recruitment and selection methodologies. This means that they may not be selecting (or even attracting) the best candidates for the job. They may even be inadvertently discriminating against particular groups of candidates, thereby missing out of the wealth of benefits diversity can contribute to organisations. In this article we will take a look at four straightforward steps that organisations can take to make their recruitment processes fairer and more effective.
1. Use job descriptions/person specifications
Any role within an organisation should be clearly described in a Job Description. This will set out what the incumbent will be expected to do once they have been recruited, and lists their main duties and areas of responsibility. This should be complemented by a Person Specification. This sets out the knowledge, skills and experiences that a person would need in order to be successful in the role. It usually includes education/qualifications, specific skills or abilities required, and any behavioural requirements or attitudes necessary for the job, such as ‘enjoys working with others’.
Recruitment processes should be closely linked to the requirements of the Job Description/Person Specification, and candidates should only be assessed on those elements that are relevant for the job. It is good practice to list these elements and plan, in advance, how they will be assessed during the selection process. If a characteristic is not essential to the performance of the role it should not be assessed.
2. Use valid assessment tests
Not all selection methodologies are equal, and some are particularly ineffective for identifying candidates who could be successful in the role. The best assessment tests are valid and justifiable, this means that there is a direct and objective link between performance on the test and the ability to perform in the role. To enable comparison between candidates, each must be presented with exactly the same selection tests.
Selection tests that tend to have a high degrees of validity include:
• Structured interviews, where the questions relate directly to the requirements of the role, and where answers are assessed against pre-defined measures of competence.
• Assessment centres, where the tasks mimic as closely as possible the requirements of the role.
• Psychometric ability tests, which assess whether a candidate have the intellectual ability to be successful in the role.
The use of valid assessments in this way will ensure that the best candidate is selected for the role, regardless of their personal characteristics and background. This is important because humans are not always great at making objective decisions because of their cognitive biases.
3. Be aware of your cognitive biases
Sometimes we all make quick judgements about others based on superficial impressions rather than taking the time to really evaluate all of the evidence. These judgements are affected by our own deeply held beliefs about the world and the people we meet. These are known as cognitive biases and it’s particularly important to be aware of them during recruitment processes to ensure that we are making objective and fair decisions.
Common cognitive biases are:
• ‘Like me’ bias – a preference for candidates who are most like you e.g. people from a similar background.
• Halo and Horns effect – a tendency to allow a strength or weakness in one area to colour your impression of the candidate in all areas. For example, if a candidate gives an impressive answer to the first question, this may lead an interviewer to believe that they have greater overall strengths than they do.
• Confirmation Bias – looking for information that confirms our first impression of another person or what we already know about them.
• Primacy and recency effects – we are most likely to remember the first and last things that the candidate said. It is important that decisions are based on the content of the whole assessment.
The first step to overcoming cognitive biases is recognising that they exist. Developing a familiarity with the key biases and reflecting on a personal level about potential bias can be a useful starting point. Well-designed and valid assessment tests are also critical for overcoming bias because they remove some of the scope for it to arise. Another useful technique, is for candidates to be assessed by more than one person.
4. Monitor outcomes
It is important to monitor the outcomes of recruitment processes to check that good decisions are being made. There are two main areas this monitoring should focus on.
Firstly, are the candidates being selected going on to be successful in their work. The purpose of recruitment processes is to select candidates who will be effective in a particular role, it is therefore important to evaluate whether that is the case. If not, then the recruitment processes is ineffective and needs to be changed. This can be evaluated by comparing the areas of strength and weakness identified in the selection process with the on-the-job performance of the candidate.
Secondly, monitoring the outcomes of recruitment processes helps evaluate whether any group of people are being adversely impacted by the tools used. For example, if all differently abled candidates are declined at the initial CV sift stage, then there is a need to look at the criteria being applied at this point and to ask ‘Is this fair?’. It is illegal to discriminate against people with any one of the ‘Protected Characteristics’ highlighted in the Equality Act 2010, and monitoring of recruitment outcomes enables organisations to ensure that their processes are fair and have no adverse impact.
Ed Mellett is an entrepreneur, careers professional and founder of practicereasoningtests.com. Upon graduating from Manchester University he recognized a gap in the market for an interactive careers website tailored specifically towards students and graduates, and in 2007 co-founded and launched wikijob.co.uk. Now in its 11th year, wikijob attracts more than 400,000 unique users per month and is a must-visit resource for students considering their careers post-university. In he founded wikifestivals.com, a wiki resource and global community for festival fanatics. His other interests include AI, neuroscience and psychology.