The Recruitment and Selection Process

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Interviewing, in one form or another, is one of the most commonly used techniques in recruitment and selection of employees.  Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most subjective, and HR professionals constantly strive to increase objectivity of the selection process.  One way of increasing objectivity is through application of various profiling/testing techniques.  It is worth spending just a little time examining these common objective assessment tools.

  • Behavioural profiling using either a behavioural type instrument such as Myers Briggs or a behavioural trait analysis such as the DiSC model.  The type profile takes a broader view of the behavioural styles and patterns and then examines how characteristics might be applied situationally; the trait profile is situationally sensitive at a response level.  Such instruments are often, misguidedly, referred to as ‘Personality Tests’ – however, they don’t analyse personality and they are not tests.
  • Aptitude Testing using either a single test or battery of tests is another frequently used tool.  An aptitude is a measure of an individual’s capacity to be able to take on new learning and/or ability – it is a measure of potential rather than current knowledge or skill.  The aptitudes relevant to many common job functions have been widely researched and there are various organisations providing ‘off the shelf’ packages to test one or a combination of the standard aptitudes.  Generally there are considered to be 9 clearly distinct aptitudes:

Aptitude Definitions

General Learning The ability to “catch on” or understand instructions and underlying principles; the ability to reason, and make judgements.

Example: Closely related to doing well in school.

Verbal The ability to understand the meaning of words and to use them effectively. The ability to understand relationships between words and to understand the meaning of whole sentences and paragraphs.

Example: Writing a play or reading a newspaper article and being able to understand what you read.

Numerical The ability to perform arithmetic operations quickly and accurately.

Example: How well you can use numbers or balance an account book or read a graph.

Spatial The ability to think visually of geometric forms and to comprehend the two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional objects. The ability to recognise the relationships resulting from the movement of objects in space.

Example: making a dress from a pattern or parallel parking your car.

Form Perception The ability to perceive pertinent detail in objects or in pictorial or graphic material.  Ability to make visual comparisons and discriminations and see slight differences in shapes and shading of figures, widths and lengths of lines.

Examples: inspecting a piece of glass for scratches or using a microscope or when using different colours in an advertisement.

Clerical Perception The ability to perceive detail in verbal or tabular material. Ability to observe differences in copy, to proof read words and numbers and to avoid perceptual errors in arithmetic computation. A measure of speed or perception is required in many industrial jobs even when the job does not have verbal or numerical content.

Examples: Using math in lab experiment or reading meters or following orders in medical reports or doing accounting or making room reservations.

Motor Coordination The ability to coordinate eyes and hands or fingers rapidly and accurately in making precise movements with speed. Ability to make movement responses accurately and swiftly.

Examples: Operating a machine, being an athlete or typing a letter or assembling a product.

Finger Dexterity The ability to move fingers, and manipulate small objects with fingers, rapidly or accurately.

Examples: Playing a musical instrument or sewing a dress or cutting someone’s hair.

Manual Dexterity The ability to move hands easily and skilfully. Ability to work with hands in placing and turning motions.

Examples: Driving a fork-lift truck, turning knobs and levels on a control panel, or climbing ladders to paint houses.

It has been suggested that, including aptitudes, there are about 50 human abilities/characteristics that can be tested, such as general intelligence, emotional intelligence, verbal, numerical and diagrammatic reasoning, spatial and mechanical aptitude, speed & accuracy of information processing; and well over 30 aspects of personality, ranging from sociability, tough-mindedness and anxiety, to flexibility, personal organisation, resilience and creativity. In addition tests can be used to measure things like memory, reaction time and colour vision.

  • Intelligence testing – in line with generally accepted standards, measurement of intelligence is another common selection tool.  Until the mid 1970’s it was generally believed that ‘intelligence’ (IQ) was a single human faculty that could be measured and given a relative value.  However, work by Howard Gardner and others determined a range of seven distinct measurable intelligences that exist independently of each other and from which an individual’s intellectual profile can be constructed.  In this respect intelligence can best be defined as a ‘problem solving’ capacity – this differentiates intelligence from aptitude, which can best be described as a ‘learning’ capacity.   Gardner’s original seven intelligences are:
  • Linguistic intelligence: a sensitivity to the meaning and order of words.
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence: ability in mathematics and other complex logical systems.
  • Musical intelligence: the ability to understand and create music. Musicians, composers and dancers show a heightened musical intelligence.
  • Spatial intelligence: the ability to “think in pictures,” to perceive the visual world accurately, and recreate (or alter) it in the mind or on paper. Spatial intelligence is highly developed in artists, architects, designers and sculptors.
  • Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to use one’s body in a skilled way, for self-expression or toward a goal. Mimes, dancers, basketball players, and actors are among those who display bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
  • Interpersonal intelligence: an ability to perceive and understand other individuals — their moods, desires, and motivations. Political and religious leaders, skilled parents and teachers, and therapists use this intelligence.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence: an understanding of one’s own emotions. Some novelists and or counselors use their own experience to guide others.

In the mid 1990’s Howard Gardner’s work suggested evidence for additional intelligences – a ‘naturalist’ and an ‘existential’ (the intelligence of big questions) intelligence.  In recent years there have been attempts to describe a ‘spiritual’, a ‘sexual’, a ‘digital’ and an ‘attention’ intelligence as well as the much publicised ‘emotional’ intelligence.  Emotional Intelligence (EI) seemed to suddenly burst onto the scene in the mid -1990s, on the back of Daniel Goleman’s best selling book.  Certainly he was instrumental in raising popular awareness of EI, although EI’s background is actually in the 1920s.  However, it was not until 1985 that the name Emotional Intelligence was coined (until then it had gone by different names) and not until 1995 and Goleman’s book that it entered everyday language.

Today few psychologists question EI’s legitimacy and its applications value.  Over time many contributors have added to the strong library of solid literature and evidence that now supports EI as a valid tool in human assessment. 

So, what is Emotional Intelligence?  It is not easy to be exact, as there is no universally agreed definition of Emotional Intelligence.  However, there are three generally agreed principles: 

  • Emotional Intelligence is about how we perceive our own and others’ emotions and how we use this information to manage interaction with others and events that we meet in life.  
  • That behaviours are based on core emotions and because an individual may learn to adapt their behaviours, a measurement of those behaviours would not necessarily give an accurate picture of that individual. 
  • The extraordinarily high predictive value of the results from an Emotional Intelligence psychometric. 

Knowledge testing is a straightforward question and answer technique designed to objectively evaluate an individual’s current command of information relating to a particular topic or subject.  For example, if we were recruiting a new HR Officer we might ask them to complete a written test paper that included basic questions such as:

  • Describe your understanding of motivation theory?
  • What constitutes constructive unfair dismissal?
  • Must an employment contract be in writing?
  • Why should a statement of main terms and conditions of employment always describe ‘normal basic salary’ rather than just ‘salary’ or ‘normal hours of employment’ rather than just ‘hours of employment’?

Of course, the design of such tests needs to be pitched at a level appropriate to the role being filled.  Recruitment of more senior personnel might, more appropriately, use fewer short questions and ask applicants to produce a written answer to one or two in-depth questions, such as: 

  • Describe the primary requirements for a strategic intervention of the HR function in transformation of an organisation from a hierarchical to team orientated management style.
  • Explain the concepts and the practical application of the theory of team growth and development in increasing the effectiveness of the HR team in an expanding multi-National organisation.

Skill testing, like knowledge testing, is a straightforward exercise where we require applicants to physically demonstrate their skill.  The range of tests can be wide, from a simple typing test, through problem solving tests, dexterity tests, and complex team management situations, where an applicant is required to direct a group of individuals in the completion of a task.

The following uses Cornell University’s analysis of interviewing as a framework.

Interview approaches boil down to three main kinds. One kind (we’ll call this the Basic Interview) asks about ‘who you are and what your work style is’.  Another kind (we’ll call this the Competency Interview) probes ‘your skills and your ability to do the job’.  The first focuses primarily on a knowledge base with some minor elements of skill, attitude, behaviour and fluency addressed.  The second mainly approaches the interview from the opposite direction, probing for skill, attitude, behaviour and fluency which, by implication, indicate the presence of knowledge.  Some interviews combine these two approaches to produce the third approach (we’ll call this the Scenario Interview).  Terminology can be confusing for those who are less experienced as some people/organizations use different names for the three basic approaches, as indicated below:

  • Basic Interview (also know as Knowledge based, Task based, Traditional or Resume based interviewing) – In this most widely used interview approach, questions are constructed that pertain to the job and the applicant’s qualifications for it.  Hypothetical questions are often posed about what the individual would do in certain circumstances or situations (usually ones that are likely to arise in the job).  Similar questions are usually asked of each candidiate to allow direct comparisons to be drawn.
  • Competency Interview (also known as Performance or Behavioural interviewing) – This approach is based on the premise that previous behaviour/competency is likely to predict future behaviour/competency.  If the candidate has been successful in demonstrating capabilities and qualities necessary to carry out similar tasks/projects in the past, then they are likely to achieve the same success in the future – competencies such as teamwork, leadership, staying calm under pressure, meeting tight deadlines, as well as specific ‘technical’ competencies can be assessed.  The candidate is asked to select and recount a real experience that describes and demonstrates:
    • Understanding of the knowledge, skill, attitude or behaviour in question by selection of a good past example, situation or task
    • Concrete actions taken by them, why these choices were made and how the actions impacted
    • The outcomes attributable to the specific actions
  • Scenario Interview (also known as Case Study or Hypothetical Question  interviewing) – in using this approach the interviewer asks questions and provides some framework or data from which the candidate is required to suggest an organised approach to deriving a conclusion to a complex  issue or problem.  The Scenario approach examines a candidate’s analytical ability, creativity, problem solving and organisational competencies and their ability to see matters in context and perspective.  It is the thought process that is more important than the right or wrong answer (as often there isn’t one).

Interview styles are simply the way in which we construct the interface between the candidate and the interviewer(s).  These may be chosen for personal preference, organisational policy/procedure or may be dictated by practicalities of geography and situation.  They don’t really require explanation as their construction and the benefits and shortcomings of each will be known by all HR specialists:

  • One to one telephone interview
  • One to one face to face
  • Serial interviews (mostly a series of one to one face to face interviews)
  • Panel interview
  • Group interview
  • Video/telephone conferencing

Chris Warren

Author and Freelance Writer (and HR Specialist)

Note: for some lighter reading you may enjoy my recently published fantasy novel – Randolph’s Challenge, Book One-The Pendulum Swings


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