Introduction to selection methods of candidature


The various stages of the selection process provide information for decisions by both the employer and the potential employee. While employment decisions have long been regarded as a management prerogative there is considerable evidence that the two-way nature of the process is now being widely acknowledged, and Lievens et al. (2002) sug­gest that labour market shortages have promoted a concern for the organisation’s image and the treatment of applicants during the recruitment and selection process. We must also be concerned not only with the job to be done, but also with the work and the organisational context that is offered.

Throughout the selection process applicants choose between organisations by evalu­ating the developing relationship between themselves and the prospect. This takes place in the correspondence from potential employers; in their experience of the selection methods used by the employer; and in the information they gain on interview. Applicants will decide not to pursue some applications. Either they will have accepted another offer, or they will find something in their dealings with the organisation that discourages them and they withdraw. When large numbers of candidates withdraw it may be because the information provided by the organisation was sufficiently detailed, accurate and realistic that they were able to make a wise decision that they were not suited to the organisation and that time would be wasted by continuing. On the other hand, it might be that potentially admirable recruits were lost because of the way in which information was presented, lack of information, or the interpretation that was put on the ‘flavour’ of the correspondence.

The frame of reference for the applicant is so different from that of the manager in the organisation that the difference is frequently forgotten. It would not be unrealistic to suggest that the majority of applicants have a mental picture of their application being received by the company and immediately being closely scrutinised and discussed by powerful figures. The fact that the application is one element in a varied routine for the recipient is incomprehensible to some and unacceptable to many. The thought that one person’s dream is another’s routine is something the applicant cannot cope with.

If they have posted or emailed an application with high enthusiasm about the fresh prospects that the new job would bring, they are in no mood for delay and they may quickly start convincing themselves that they are not interested, because their initial euphoria has not been sustained. If candidates get as far as interview they will also be influenced by recruiter behaviour in deciding whether to accept a job offer, if one is made. Papadopoulou et al. (1996), for example, demonstrated that candidates were influenced by the recruiter’s ability to supply adequate and accurate information, as this is what they had expected from the interview. In addition they were influenced by the way the recruiter managed the interaction, as well as the content, so the recruiter’s con­trol of the interaction, their listening ability and in particular their ability/willingness to allow the candidate to present themselves effectively are all important.

Some of the points that seem to be useful about interacting with the candidate are:

  • Reply, meaningfully, fast. The printed postcard of acknowledgement is not a reply, neither is the personal letter or email which says nothing more than that the applica­tion has been received. Web-based selection can speed things up considerably, and we look at this in more detail later in the chapter.
  • Conduct correspondence in terms of what the applicants want to know. How long will they have to wait for an answer? If you ask them in for interview or assessment centre, how long will it take, what will it involve, do you defray expenses, can they park their car, how do they find you, etc.?
  • Interviewers should be trained to ensure that they have not only full knowledge of the relevant information, but also the skills to manage the interaction effectively.


Unless the criteria against which applicants will be measured are made explicit, it is impossible to make credible selection decisions. It will be difficult to select the most appropriate selection procedure and approach, and it will be difficult to validate the selection process. Selection criteria are typically presented in the form of a person specification representing the ideal candidate, and cover such areas as skills, experience, qualifications, education, personal attributes, special attributes, interests and motiva­tion (IRS 2003). Although the IRS found that person specifications were used by three- quarters of the organisations in their study, Lievens et al. (2002) challenge the use of traditional person specifications as jobs become less defined and constantly change. Three perspectives can be used to determine selection criteria – organisational fit, team/functional fit and job fit.

2.1. Fit with the organisation

The organisational criteria are those attributes that an organisation considers valuable in its employees and that affect judgements about a candidate’s potential to be successful within an organisation. For example, the organisation may be expanding and innovat­ing and require employees who are particularly flexible and adaptable. Previously, these organisational criteria were rarely made explicit and they were often used at an intuitive level. However, Townley (1991) argues that organisations are increasingly likely to focus on more general attitudes and values than narrow task-based criteria. Barclay (1999) explains how fit with the organisation is often expressed in terms of personality, attitudes, flexibility, commitment and goals, rather than the ability to do the specific job for which the person is being recruited. Such organisational criteria are important where jobs are ill-defined and constantly changing. There are also some groups who are recruited

into the organisation rather than into specific jobs or even a specific function – new/ recent graduates, for example, and, here again, organisation criteria are important.

2.2. Functional and team fit

Between the generality of the organisational criteria and the preciseness of job criteria there are functional criteria, such as the definition of appropriate interpersonal skills for all members of the HR department. Criteria may also be important when the new appointee will have to fit into a pre-existing work team. For a useful discussion of person/group fit see Werbel and Johnson 2001.

2.3. Individual job criteria

Individual job criteria contained in job descriptions and person specifications are derived from the process of job analysis. Although it is reasonably easy to specify the factors that should influence the personnel specification, the process by which the specification is formed is more difficult to describe. Van Zwanenberg and Wilkinson (1993) offer a dual perspective. They describe ‘job first – person later’ and ‘person first – job later’ approaches. The first starts with analysing the task to be done, presenting this in the form of a job description and from this deriving the personal qualities and attributes or competencies that are necessary to do the task. The difficulty here is in the translation process and the constant change of job demands and tasks. The alternative approach suggested by van Zwanenberg and Wilkinson starts with identifying which individuals are successful in a certain job and then describing their characteristics. There is also a trend towards making the person specification appropriate for a broad band of jobs rather than one particular job.

In addition to, or sometimes instead of, a person specification, many organisations are developing a competency profile as a means of setting the criteria against which to select. Competencies have been defined as underlying characteristics of a person which result in effective or superior performance; they include personal skills, knowledge, motives, traits, self-image and social role (see Boyatzis 1982). The advantage of compe­tencies is that they can be used in an integrated way for selection, development, appraisal and reward activities; and also that from them behavioural indicators can be derived against which assessment can take place. For a fuller discussion of the nature and role of competencies, see Chapter 17. Woodruffe (2000) and Whiddett and Hollyforde (2003) provide useful practical sources of information on how to use competencies in the selection process. It should be noted, however, that using com­petencies as the only selection criterion is considered to be limiting and unhelpful (see, for example, Brittain and Ryder (1999) and Whiddett and Kandola (2000)).


It is unusual for one selection method to be used alone. A combination of two or more methods is generally used, and the choice of these is dependent upon a number of factors:

  • Selection criteria for the post to be filled. For example, group selection methods and assessment centre activities would be most useful for certain types of job, such as managerial, professional, supervisory and those who will be part of self­managing teams.
  • Acceptability and appropriateness of the methods. For the candidates involved, or likely to be involved, in the selection. The use, for example, of intelligence tests may be seen as insulting to applicants already occupying senior posts.
  • Abilities of the staff involved in the selection process. This applies particularly in the use of tests and assessment centres. Only those staff who are appropriately qualified by academic qualification and/or attendance on a recognised course may administer psychological tests.
  • Administrative ease. For administrative purposes it may be much simpler, say, to arrange one or two individual interviews for a prospective candidate than to organ­ise a panel consisting of four members, all needing to make themselves available at the same time. Web-based testing may save much administrative time, particularly when there are large numbers of candidates.
  • Time factors. Sometimes a position needs to be filled very quickly, and time may be saved by using telephone or video-based interviews, or organising individual inter­views rather than group selection methods, which would mean waiting for a day when all candidates are available.
  • Accuracy in selection generally increases in relation to the number of appropriate selection methods used (see, for example, IRS 2002a).
  • Tests may cost a lot to set up but once the initial outlay has been made they are reasonably cheap to administer. Assessment centres involve an even greater outlay and continue to be fairly expensive to administer. Interviews, on the other hand, cost only a moderate amount to set up in terms of interviewer training and are fairly cheap to administer. For the costlier methods great care needs to be taken in deciding whether the improvement in selection decision making justifies such costs.

Source: Torrington Derek, Hall Laura, Taylor Stephen (2008), Human Resource Management, Ft Pr; 7th edition.

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