How to recruit the right staff

Recruitment Selection
Recruitment selection is all about gathering evidence to determine the applicant best suited to the post in question.

This evidence should be closely linked to the criteria set out in the job description and person specification (see here).
The most common method for doing this is by interview. There are, however, a number of other tools at our disposal. There is nothing new in this. In bygone days, if a typist were being recruited, it was common for them to be given a typing test to check for speed and accuracy.

When preparing to see candidates, one of the considerations for managers is which selection methods would provide the best evidence of an applicant's suitability for the job. Below are some of the commonly used approaches.

Ability tests

Certain core skills may be required in a particular job. These may include basic abilities such as literacy and numeracy. There are a number of standard tests for these widely available to purchase. Similarly, standard exercises exist to check other areas such as computer literacy.

In the case of skills that are particular to an occupational sector, specific tests can be designed within the organisation. In this latter case, it is important to devise tests that are not only relevant, but which are also easy to administer and assess. 'Essay' type questions are notoriously difficult, in that they are open to a degree of subjectivity.

Individual activities

Specific exercises can be bought or designed in order to check out particular skills. Common examples of these would include 'In Tray' exercises, information management, and presentations.

'In Tray' exercises are where candidates are typically given a whole raft of jobs that need to be undertaken over a given period, together with the job roles of other people within a team. The task for the applicant is to determine the priorities of the various tasks and who to delegate which tasks to. Clearly, where prioritising and delegation are prime requirements of the job, this sort of activity provides a good indicator of those skills.

Similarly, where collating and providing information is a requirement, activities can be devised to demonstrate this. Candidates would typically be given a whole range of documents and be asked to produce a bulletin summarising that information in, say, 500 words.

Presentations are commonly used as a means of testing someone's technical knowledge. Asking applicants to give a ten-minute presentation on a topic such as customer care might be a case in point. It is vital to remember here (as with other recruitment methods) what it is that you are looking for. If you are looking for a clear sense of customer care, don't judge the person on their presentations skills - unless giving presentations is part of the job role. The presentation is just your vehicle for finding out the applicant's understanding of the topic in hand. Listen and judge them on the content, not their style.

Group activities

As with the above, it is increasingly common for applicants to be asked to engage in group tasks, to see how they interact with others. An example of this would be getting them to read a brief, form an opinion, and then in the group, reach a consensus. This tells you about their ability to understand the situation in the brief, to present their case, and to influence others, whilst understanding the need to negotiate the best way forward.

Psychometric testing

This is a much more formalised approach and seen as being a specialist field. Such tests are normally used as predictors of likely behaviour in certain situations. Many tests covering a wide range of situations, such as working in a team are available for purchase. Normally, only those who have qualified to administer the tests can purchase them.

These are expensive and are normally solely used for more senior roles, or increasingly for assessing graduate intakes.

Assessment centres

These are really just a combination of the above where all applicants attend for a day (sometimes longer) and are put through a series of individual and group activities, often combined with one or two interviews. These are, again, expensive and therefore often only used for more senior posts.

Observation and assessment

When using methods other than interviews, it is important that the observation and assessment is carried out properly. Whilst they clearly go hand in hand, they should be divorced in terms of time. In other words, they are not a simultaneous activity.

First, be clear about what you are looking for within a particular activity and focus on that (see presentations example above). Let's take a group activity. Whilst the activity is in progress the assessors (always have a minimum of two) should position themselves as unobtrusively as they can, but where they can see and hear everything that goes on. During the activity they should simply record the events as they unfold. No judgements should be made at this stage. If you assess while you observe there is a tendency to reinforce your first impressions.

As soon as is practical after the activity, the assessors should sit down and map the observations against the pre-set criteria, in order to determine the individual performance levels.
Recruitment is all about finding the best person for the job. Anything that helps you to do this should be employed. Getting it wrong is expensive.

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