08 May 2009

Candidate assessment and selection - the rusty skill

This article orginally appeared in InSight issue 74, published on 25 March 2009

Six years ago, in the twilight months of my recruitment career, I recruited the role of Human Resources Director for a large ASX listed retailer. I reviewed over 150 resumes of which a large number were very well credentialed for the role. I phone screened 25 candidates, interviewed 9 and shortlisted 4. The successful candidate came from outside the original shortlist because the client decided to increase the remuneration by about 15% to hire the preferred candidate. 

What I remember most vividly about that assignment was how many high calibre applications I received from the ad in the EGN section of The Age.
 
Aspiring HR Directors were clearly well-practiced in presenting their capabilities in a very effective way. Even though I was a recruiter with 14 years of experience under my belt in screening and assessing candidates, I still found the screening component of that role to be the most challenging part of the whole assignment. 

Fast forward to 2009 and the world of recruitment has just finished experiencing the strongest run of jobs growth in all our respective working careers. The challenge for recruiters has rarely been trying to choose from a vast number of quality candidates. It has been the opposite - despairing at how few candidates, who even closely match the client brief, can be found and enticed to attend an interview with the client. 

As a result the client market of recent times has reluctantly accepted, or at least not penalised, candidate referrals from recruiters of the "looks close enough and there is nobody better to put forward" type. Roles desperately needed to be filled and almost anyone half decent was worth referring. 

One of the consequences of this skills-short market has been that rust has gathered on the core recruitment skill of effectively assessing and selecting candidates and identifying the cream of what may be a strong field of applicants. 

Now that the market has changed dramatically, the spotlight is well and truly on that skill as client tolerance for poorly assessed candidates is very low. Clearly if the client is paying a recruiter a placement fee, a very reasonable expectation is that all the wannabe, liar, try-hard, incompetent or unmotivated candidates are not allowed to slip through the net. 

Here are 6 steps you could take to ensure that all your referrals are of such a high standard that your client won't consider other referrals until your candidates have been interviewed and hopefully hired! 

Step 1  Key selection criteria agreement
Ensure there is agreement between you and the client as to the key selection criteria for the job being recruited. The selection criteria should be competency based, as using non-competency based selection criteria (eg age, gender, years of experience, ‘Australian' experience, family status etc) is both illegal and ineffective at identifying the most suitable candidates. 

Step 2  Screen and interview all candidates against the agreed criteria
Most interviews last less than one hour so it is pointless spending time on areas of the candidate's background that are not relevant for this job. Gather evidence (not opinions) of the candidate's capability in each of the key selection criteria. Use a consistent rating system (eg Significantly Exceeds, Exceeds, Meets, Almost Meets, Does Not Meet), when assessing each candidate against each of the key selection criteria. 

Step 3  Gather further assessment data before shortlisting
Answers to properly constructed behavioural interview questions are a very good start in your assessment process. Other steps you could take include (privacy release permitting) reference checking, skills testing, psych profiling, qualification verification, police checks and confirming the candidate's eligibility to work in the country. 

Step 4  Shortlist by using the key selection criteria
Having rated each candidate against each of the key selection criteria, it should now be clear who should be shortlisted. The advantage of using the rating scale system in Step 2, above, rather than a 1 to 5 numbering scale is that a ‘lesser' rating (eg Meets vs Significantly Exceeds) does not signify ‘worse' as a 3 vs 5 can do in a numeric system. The numeric rating can lead to ‘number inflation' where candidates are rated more highly than the evidence suggests they should be, in order to ensure the candidate is interviewed. 

Step 5 Provide a summary page for each candidate shortlisted
The purpose of a summary front page is to answer all of the client's front-of-mind questions about the candidate before they turn the page to read the resume (when their in-built biases and generalisations will inevitably kick in). 

Apart from your rating of the candidate against each of the key selection criteria, the other things your client might find useful to read on the summary page include: 
  • Reason for Leaving Current/Last Position
  • Current Remuneration
  • Remuneration Sought
  • Motivation for Applying for the Job
  • Background checks completed (references, qualifications, work eligibility, etc)
  • How Candidate Sourced (a good opportunity to differentiate yourself from the bog-standard job board recruiters, as well as the client's own processes, by promoting your innovative sourcing methods).
The other huge advantage of the summary page is that it assists enormously when a candidate's details are referred onto another decision maker or influencer. Almost certainly you will have no opportunity to talk to this person before they pass judgement on your candidate(s) so an effective written summary is your ‘insurance policy' in preventing good candidates being declined for bad reasons by unmet decision makers. 

The summary page is one of the easiest, yet least used, ways in which you can demonstrate your effectiveness in screening and assessing referred candidates and increase your shortlist-to-interview ratio. 

Step 6  Rebut any invalid reasons for rejecting a shortlisted candidate
When you met the client to take in the job brief you will have drawn some conclusions as to where the client was most likely to push back on referred candidates. Anticipate the pushback and be prepared to rebut the client's decision with your evidence-based response. If you passively accept the client's rejection of the candidate then you immediately demonstrate that your shortlist is more of an ambit claim than a carefully assessed and selected group of candidates. Stand up for your skill as a recruiter! 

The current climate is one in which every dollar is hard-won and a critical part of that winning is having razor sharp, water tight assessment and selection skills. I suggest you review your own assessment and selection skills with the purpose of increasing your interview strike rate, your billings and ultimately your annual productivity.

So how effectively did I do my job in assessing those 150 plus applicants for the HRD position at the ASX-listed retailer back in 2003? I take a small amount of pride in recently discovering that my placement, Anita Muller, is still the Human Resources Director at The Just Group.

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