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This chapter is from the book

Selection

Objective: Gain an Understanding of Selection

Selection is the commonly used term, but probably a misnomer for what the organization attempts to accomplish during this stage of the employment process. Selection is the process used to choose individuals with the right qualifications to fill job openings in the organization. The more strategic term is placement, which means the process of ensuring that the right person is placed in the right job. Placement includes two separate but integrated concepts:

  • Person-job fit This is the process of ensuring that the knowledge, skills, and abilities of the individual match the requirements of the essential functions of the job.
  • Person-organization fit This is the process of ensuring that the personality and value system of the individual match the culture and objectives of the organization.

Person-job fit is especially critical when jobs and organizations are stable and the emphasis is on quality, productivity, and efficiency. However organizations and jobs are often not stable in today’s dynamic and volatile world. If the nature of the job is constantly changing and the goals of the organization are flexible and fluid, person-job fit does not provide the workforce flexibility needed. In such situations, person-organization fit becomes increasingly important and facilitates creativity, innovation, and organizational and workforce flexibility and adaptability. In reality, both are important and the relative importance of each in the placement process depends on the situation.

The selection process follows a relatively consistent pattern in most organizations, although the complexity and number of steps vary based on the sophistication and needs of the organization. However, prior to the start of the selection process, a determination must be made as to the basis on which selection and placement is to be made. To do this, the organization must develop selection criteria that link those criteria to on-the-job performance. Finally, the organization must evaluate its selection processes. These topics are discussed in the following sections:

  • Development of selection criteria
  • The selection process
  • Evaluation of the selection process

Development of Selection Criteria

As previously discussed in this chapter, the selection process and all its components are tests in terms of the Uniform Guidelines for Employee Selection Procedures. Criteria used for selection must be both job-related (discussed in this chapter) and valid (discussed in Chapter 2). The question then becomes how to achieve compliance with the law, avoid adverse impact on protected classes, and develop a process that accurately predicts on-the-job performance.

As discussed earlier in this chapter, the process begins with quality job analysis. Job analysis provides information necessary to determine what the critical elements of performance are with respect to the job. Those elements can be defined in terms of quality of work, quantity of work, and so forth. In general, the selection process cannot directly measure job performance because the individual would have to actually be in the position, often for an extended period of time, to be able to measure that individual’s performance. However, the organization can develop selection criteria that are believed to be correlated with the job performance elements. Criteria are often defined in terms of characteristics that the individual must possess such as knowledge, motivation, ability, intelligence, interpersonal skills, and so forth.

Unfortunately, selection criteria are not often directly observable, so the organization must develop predictors that can be used to evaluate whether the desired criteria are present in the individual. Predictors are such items as experience, education, certifications, test scores, references, background checks, past performance, interview results, and so forth. The predictors are used in the selection process as depicted in Figure 3.2. Predictors are those items used to determine the presence of desired attributes (selection criteria) in an individual because those selection criteria are directly correlated with job performance. Each step in this linkage must be a valid predictor of the next step.

Figure 3.2 Relationship of predictors, selection criteria, and job performance.

The selection process should be designed to make correct decision and avoid incorrect ones. Appropriate selection and validation of predictors, selection criteria, and job performance elements facilitates the acceptance of qualified candidates and the rejection of unqualified ones, but also prevents the acceptance of unqualified candidates and the rejection of those that are qualified.

The Selection Process

A threshold question in designing the selection process is determining how the applicant should proceed through the process. Two options are most frequently used:

  • Multiple hurdle approach In a multiple hurdle approach, the applicant must pass each step in the selection process. Failure at any step disqualifies the applicant from further consideration.
  • Compensatory approach In the compensatory approach, applicants complete the whole selection process and their scores in each stage are added up to determine final ranking.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. The multiple hurdle approach is efficient, eliminating candidates at each step of the process. However, it might result in the elimination of outstanding candidates who are excellent in all areas except for one. The compensatory approach allows for a fuller examination of every candidate and enables a candidate to compensate for a weakness or poor performance in one stage. However, it is more time-consuming and expensive. The ultimate decision as to which type of approach to use likely revolves around the importance of the job, the availability of candidates, and organizational time and resource constraints. Most organizations use the multiple hurdle approach.

Figure 3.1 earlier in this chapter can be used as a broad outline of a typical selection process that includes

  • Initial applicant contact
  • Prescreening
  • Application forms
  • Applicant testing
  • Interviews
  • Background and reference checking
  • Conditional job offer
  • Medical/drug testing
  • Offer and acceptance

Each stage in the process is discussed in the following sections.

Initial Applicant Contact

Recruitment methods were discussed earlier in this chapter. Often candidates express interest by showing up at the employer (such candidates are called walk-ins) or by telephoning and inquiring as to current or potential job openings. Other candidates might mail or fax unsolicited resumes. These types of inquiries must be handled appropriately by the organization. Employer branding concerns (discussed earlier in this chapter) require that these inquiries or submissions be handled in a professional and courteous manner. Yet the requirements for applicant flow tracking (also discussed earlier in the chapter) make additional clerical work. Many employers do not accept unsolicited resumes and require all applicants to follow standard application procedures, accepting applications only when openings are currently available.

Prescreening

Prescreening is the process of determining whether candidates meet the basic qualifications for the position. Many employers prescreen applicants prior to the application process. For example, if the employer accepts walk-in applications, it might determine at that time whether the candidate is qualified for its jobs. If not, the walk-in is not provided with a job application. In that way, the employer does not incur the time and expense of processing the application and can avoid the need to track the candidate for applicant flow purposes.

Other organizations prescreen on receipt of the application. They then reject those candidates that do not meet the minimum qualification standards for the job.

Application Forms

Application forms serve multiple purposes:

  • Provides a record of interest in employment
  • Provides information to determine the qualifications of the individual
  • Provides information that can be used in the employment interview
  • Provides the basic data needed for initial preparation of the personnel file
  • Clearly puts the employee on notice regarding the selection process and the nature of the employment relationship in that it typically contains one or more of the following notices:
    • That employment is at-will and either the employee or employer may terminate the relationship for any legal reason at any time
    • Notifies the applicant that falsification of information on the application is grounds for immediate termination
    • Notifies the applicant of any tests, including medical and drug tests, that will be required during the selection process
    • Advises the applicant that references will be checked

Application forms are tests and must not be discriminatory. Unless there is a business necessity or bona fide occupational qualification applications must yield information that would permit the identification of the applicant’s protected class status.

It is possible to use applications to rank order applicants in terms of qualifications for the job. This type of applications is called a weighted or biodata application form. Scores are assigned to specific answers on the application form. Those scores are then added together to come up with an overall score that can be used to rank candidates. These processes often can be done by computer software that scans the application for key words and assigns points when they appear. Although these types of systems are efficient, they must be valid predictors of performance and job related to avoid adverse impact issues.

Employers must make a determination as to whether to accept resumes as applications. Even though resumes could contain rich data about the candidate, they might also contain information such as age, race, or religion—information that the selecting official should not know. Frequently, candidates attach pictures to their resumes, again providing information that cannot legally be used in most selection processes. Good HR practice, if resumes are to be accepted, is to

  • Redact (black out) information that cannot be used in the selection process.
  • Require the applicant to also complete an application. In that way, the candidate is provided with the notifications described earlier and the organization is assured of getting the required information necessary to consider the qualifications of the individual.

Applicant Testing

Many organizations use a variety of types of tests to improve the validity of the selection process. Valid tests that are job-related can be powerful predictors of subsequent on-the-job performance. Types of tests used in the selection process are discussed in the following sections.

Cognitive Ability Tests

These types of tests measure an individual’s mental abilities and acquired knowledge. Examples of cognitive ability tests are those that test memory, analytical ability, verbal capabilities, mathematical ability, and reasoning.

Physical Ability Tests

These test measure an individual’s physical skills and mobility. They are often important indicators of the ability to perform manual types of jobs, such as work on assembly lines. Examples of physical ability tests are those that measure strength, flexibility, balance, and stamina.

Work Simulation Tests

These tests require the applicant to perform a representative sample of the tasks that are part of the responsibility of the job. To the extent that the test is representative of the actual job, these types of test can be excellent predictors of future performance.

Personality Tests

Certain personality traits can be specifically correlated with performance on the job. If predictive validity has been proven, these tests are excellent tools.

Assessment Centers

Assessment centers are processes not places. They consist of a variety of tests and exercises that are scored, often by multiple raters. Assessment centers can be used as developmental tools or in the selection process. Because of the expense involved, they are frequently used only for selection and development of higher-level positions.

Honesty / Integrity Tests

Although polygraph tests are generally prohibited as pre-employment tests in the private sector, honesty and integrity tests are not. They are particularly useful in the selection process when individuals will have access to money, such as retail cashiers and bank tellers. The downside to using such tests is that they send the message to the applicant that he or she is not trusted.

Drug Tests

Drug tests can be used as a pre-employment test. Many employers elect to wait until a conditional offer of employment is made. Drug testing is discussed in the following section on post-offer employment practices.

Interviews

Organizations might use one or more interviews in the selection process. The purpose of interviews is to determine both person-job and person-organization fit, and to clarify information found on the application or gathered throughout the application process. If an organizations uses more than one interview, the first interview is normally used as a screen early in the selection process. HR is frequently responsible for performing the initial interview, and it is used to screen out those candidates who are obviously unsuitable for the position for which they applied. Subsequent interviews are conducted at higher levels of the organization, usually with management participation. They are used to evaluate the potential of viable candidates.

The interview is a traditional mainstay in the selection process. However, its validity is questionable. Yet few managers feel comfortable in selecting individuals without an interview. To maximize validity, interviews should be structured, directive, behavioral, or situational, and conducted by more than one interviewer. There are numerous common problems in the interview process that could lead to incorrect determinations. Also there are certain types of questions that either do not elicit the responses required to evaluate the candidate or should not be asked because they might create the potential for adverse impact and EEO complaints. These issues are discussed in the following sections.

Types of Interviews

There are numerous types of interviews that can be used in the selection process. It is up to the SPHR to guide the organization in selecting the type(s) of interview that best allows it to make a determination as to the potential of candidates to perform on the job. Types of interviews include the following.

Structured Interview

Structured interviews are those that include prescripted questions that are asked of all candidates. Interview structure runs on a continuum from highly structured to unstructured. At the far end of the structured interview continuum, the interview is totally scripted and the interviewer is not free to divert from the script. In addition, potential answers to each of the mandatory questions are often evaluated and given a score. The interviewer then must determine which of the potential answers is most like the one that the interviewee gave and assign it the predetermined score. At the other end of the continuum, the interviewer is free to ask any questions that come to mind. In practice, structured interviews tend to be less restrictive than the example given, but still require that a number of prescripted questions be asked. A structured interview is more valid and defensible than other interview types when making selection decisions because all candidates are asked the same questions and comparisons can be made between the answers given.

Directive Interview

An analogous but somewhat different concept to structured interviews is the concept of directive interviews. Directive interviews are those in which the interviewer maintains control of the flow of the questioning. It also is on a continuum from strict control by the interviewer to a nondirective approach at the other end, which is essentially a free-flowing conversation with little or no direction. In this situation, the interviewer essentially relinquishes control of the interview to the interviewee. Obviously, there is some correlation between the concepts of directive and structured interviews. A structured interview must also be directive.

Behavioral Interview

Although the term behavioral interview is commonly used, the term behavioral refers more to the type of questions than to the type of interview. For example, a behavioral interview might be structured and directive, using behavioral questions. Behavioral questions are those that ask the individual how the individual handled a particular situation in the past. For example, a candidate for a managerial position could be asked how he or she handled a situation in the past when an employee was habitually late for work. The concept behind behavioral questioning is that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior in the same or similar situation. The weakness in this approach is that behavioral questions do not take into account any learning that might have occurred after the situation.

Situational Interview

Situational interviews, like behavioral interviews, also refer to the type of questions being asked. Situational interviews ask candidates to explain how they would handle a particular situation when confronted with it on the job. The concept behind situational questions is that answers to these types of theoretical scenarios are good predictors of future performance. The weakness in this approach is that candidates can often fake it by giving the answer they believe the interviewer wants.

Stress Interview

Stress interviews are appropriate when the essential functions of the job are performed under demanding conditions that require quick thinking and control of one’s emotions. A stress interview is one designed to create anxiety and place pressure on the interviewees to determine how they respond. Stress interviews are appropriate for certain types of jobs such as public safety and customer complaint-handling. The risk in this type of interview is the negative image that the interviewees might get about the organization, leading them to withdraw from consideration or refuse a subsequent offer of employment.

Mass Interview

A mass interview is one in which more than one interviewee is interviewed at the same time. The mass interview is infrequently used, but when used, often involves some sort of problem-solving exercise that is given to the interviewees to work through. Each candidate is evaluated on characteristics such as leadership, interpersonal skills, and teamwork.

360° Interview

A 360° interview is one that is conducted by a panel of interviewers representing various constituencies in order to get a broad perspective in the evaluation of the candidate. For example, this type of interview might include the supervisor, a peer, a customer, and a subordinate if the interview is for a supervisory position. The concept behind the 360° interview is that the candidate is evaluated from a broad perspective. The potential problem with this concept is that each of the stakeholders might come to the interview with a different perspective as to the characteristic needed to do the job effectively.

Panel Interview

A panel interview is one in which more than one interviewer conducts the interview. Panel interviews are generally considered to be more valid than other types because more than one perspective is included in the evaluation process.

Problem with Interviews

There are common problems in perception that occur in interview that might cause the interviewer to make an incorrect determination of the candidate’s potential. Interviewers receive training regarding these errors so that they can avoid them in the interview process. Common perceptual errors include the following:

  • Snap judgments Interviewers often make up their minds regarding a candidate in the first few minutes of the interview. Such a quick decision precludes a full evaluation of the candidate’s characteristics.
  • Stereotyping Stereotyping involves evaluating persons based on their demographic characteristics rather than their individual capabilities.
  • Similar to me The candidate is evaluated based on having a similar characteristic to the interviewer. For example, candidates from the same college as the interviewer are evaluated higher than those from other colleges.
  • Negative emphasis Unfortunately, in the culture of the United States negative information is given more credence than positive information. One negative piece of information often precludes selection for the position and cannot be offset by many positive characteristics.
  • Halo/horn effect Frequently all the candidate’s characteristics are evaluated based on an evaluation of only one characteristic or trait. A positive evaluation is referred to as the halo effect, whereas a negative evaluation on all traits based on a negative evaluation of one trait is referred to as the horn effect.
  • Contrast error It is important that candidates be evaluated against objective criteria related to job performance (predictors). However, interviewers frequently evaluate candidates against the prior candidate rather than the objective criteria. This can cause errors in the evaluation. For example, an average candidate interviewed after a poor candidate might be evaluated higher than average.
Interview Questions

Questions used in interviews should be designed to gather information need to make a determination as to whether to offer the individual a position. Questions that are poorly formulated do not assist in that endeavor. Questions that lead to answers that would identify the protected class of an individual, in the absence of BFOQ or business necessity, are illegal and should be avoided. The following types of questions do not lead to responses that facilitate evaluation of the candidate:

  • Questions that are not job-related Questions not directly related to the job decrease the validity of the interview and do not assist in gather information regarding the candidate.
  • Bipolar questions Bipolar questions are those that can be answered with yes or no. They provide little or no definitive information.
  • Leading questions Leading questions guide the respondent to the answer. The interviewer then does not know whether or not the answer is truthful.
  • Illegal questions Questions that would identify protected class status are illegal. The following areas of questioning should be avoided unless they constitute a BFOQ for the specific job or are directly job-related:
    • Age
    • Sex
    • Race
    • National origin
    • Disability
    • Ancestry
    • Number of children
    • Marital status
    • Arrests
    • Height and weight
    • Date of college degree or high school graduation
    • Religious holidays observed
    • Birthplace
    • Medical history

Background Investigations

Background investigations are frequently the last step in the selection process prior to making a job offer or conditional job offer to the applicant. Background investigations serve two purposes. First they provide accurate information on the individual that is needed to make a final decision regarding employment. Second they provide evidence that the employer conducted due diligence in its hiring practices, which could be beneficial in the event the organization is sued for negligent hiring. A side benefit of background investigations is that candidates are less likely to apply or to falsify applications when they know background checks will be done. Background investigations incorporate one of more of the following processes:

  • Reference checks Employers typically attempt to get information from prior employers regarding the nature of the applicant’s prior employment. Former employers frequently are reluctant to provide any derogatory information on prior employees because of fear of litigation for defamation of character, libel, and slander. Checking of personal references is also usually done, but is unlikely to reveal information of value.
  • Criminal record checks Limited criminal background checks are available through local or state law enforcement agencies. Decisions based on criminal record checks must be job-related because certain protected classes have disproportionately higher criminal conviction rates and decisions that are clearly not job-related might create adverse impact.
  • Credit checks Credit checks should be performed when the nature of the job involves responsibilities of a financial nature (payroll, accounts receivable, and so forth) or handling money (cashiers, bank tellers, and so forth). As is the case with criminal record checks, certain protective classes have higher incidences of bad credit than others.
  • Third-party background checks Many organizations elect to have reference, criminal history, and credit checks done by third parties.

Conditional Job Offers, Medical Exams / Drug Testing, and Offers and Acceptance

These issues are discussed in the section on post-offer employment practices. In addition, medical examinations and drug testing were discussed in relation to the provisions of the Americans with Disability Act earlier in this chapter.

Evaluation of the Selection Process

Strategies and methods used to evaluate the selection process are essentially the same as those used to evaluate the recruitment process, which was discussed earlier in this chapter and is repeated here. The selection process should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on protected classes. The Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures calls for a bottom-up approach to evaluation. If adverse impact is indicated at the end of the selection process, the whole process must be dissected into its various stages to determine at what level or levels adverse impact occurs.

The organization should evaluate its selection process effectiveness in terms of the performance and retention of individuals hired. Predictors and criteria should be consistently evaluated for validity and predictive capacity.

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