Human Resources - Raising Recruitment Standards - Articles

By: Hr Direction  05-Apr-2012
Keywords: Human Resources, Hr, Cv

"When you have being playing the game as long as I have you can pick them straight away."

Most experienced managers involved in selection and recruitment aren't quite life members of the 'gut feeling' club but would not be human if they did not suffer from interviewer bias. This inherent characteristic is essential in surviving each day but unfortunately a detrimental attribute when recruiting.

In everyday life, time is a scarce resource and therefore decisiveness is a necessary attribute. When picking a taxi driver late at night or deciding whether or not to offer a hitchhiker a ride, we have little choice but to use the few visual cues we are presented with. We are generally forced to default to first impressions and inherent stereotypes.

Rarely is one afforded the luxury of a process that can be scientific, comprehensive and considered, as we have available in recruitment, for what is essentially a yes/no decision. The interviewer is suddenly presented a license to interrogate. So foreign is this opportunity that little wonder our instinctive tendencies continue to dominate and propel us towards or away from an applicant in those first few moments.

Irrespective of the spoken message during any social interaction, research and experience tells us we are heavily influenced by visual cues - physical attractiveness, presentation, choice of clothing, and non-verbal cues- smiling, nodding, eye contact, and posture. Yet few would argue with the academics that confirm that none of these practices are predictive of performance.

The primacy effect is when first impressions, whether positive or negative, become overly significant and lasting. It is all too common for interviewers to make up there mind about an applicant in the first few minutes and spend the rest of the interview instinctively honing in on any confirmatory information that justifies their initial evaluation, rather than maintaining a more neutral approach throughout.

Preferring applicants that appear similar to themselves is one of the most common and humanistic interviewer traits. Values and principles are so entrenched and so important to us that incongruence is hard to stomach even when not relevant to the position. Studying at a common school or university, shared interests and common attitudes can have an overbearing and unjustifiably positive impact.

It has been found that interviewers that 'connect' with interviewees will elicit positive verbal and non-verbal cues that assist in bringing out the best in the applicant but unfortunately the converse also holds true. "That's a fantastic answer- thanks for that," will increase confidence and enthusiasm while "ummm.. lets move on to the next question," is unlikely to have the same effect.

As a shy young intermediate student an original attempt to introduce humor into a serious speech topic - peace, was rewarded but with high scores for not only content but also delivery, the reality being the delivery was anything but spectacular. This common form of bias is the halo effect or when negativity dominates the horn effect. Halo/horn effect is evident when a noteworthy applicant quality or attribute has such a significant impact that it unduly influences the assessment of all other non-related criteria.

Often applicants that might present as particularly nervous or uptight or perceived as too casual might be considered unsuitable on that basis alone, despite presenting strong evidence of a wide range of favorable qualities and attributes. Similarly an applicant that arrives late to an interview should be appropriately penalized but still given a genuine chance of redemption.

The reliability of interviewer ratings is also affected by interviewers inability to discard contextual factors. Research has consistently found that applicant ratings are significantly effected by the success or otherwise of preceding interviews and the urgency or lack of, to make an appointment. Known as the contrast effect an applicant that is interviewed immediately after a highly rated applicant is likely to be rated significantly lower than if s/he had followed a poorly rated applicant. Equally when pressure mounts to make an appointment it can be amazing how the same candidate that might not have originally made the grade can suddenly be in favor.

Eliminating the devil within and reducing the detrimental effect interviewer bias has on the recruitment process is no easy task. "Hello my name is Roger and I am a biased interviewer" would be a little over the top but acknowledging that none of us are totally exempt from these fundamental human tendencies is important. We must seek to truly understand the different forms of bias and appreciate that to allow them to run rampant will only contribute to poor employment decisions.

The leading weapon against bias is structure. One of the most widely accepted findings in Industrial Organisational literature is that structured interviews are more valid that unstructured. The same questions for all applicants, that target relevant work behaviours closely linked to job competencies, should not be open for debate. Likewise a scoring system that requires each of the key competencies to be rated with an overall total used to determine the outcome will combat interview bias.

A conservative interviewer might consider a nose piercing inappropriate and find it difficult to put this aside as a personal disagreement on fashion and remain focused on the applicants job relevant skills and attributes. However if organisational fit, e.g. wearing the 'right' clothes and, conducting one self 'professionally', is important, include these behaviours as a key competency with an appropriately reflective weighting. The applicant will then only be appropriately penalized for their perceived poor judgment.

Only by approaching the assessment as a series of independent judgments on each of the relevant criteria will bias be eliminated. In many cases our instincts are right but too often our conclusions are out of proportion to the evidence used to make them. The all too common "I can't quite explain it I just didn't take to him," should no longer be tolerated. Instead interviewers should attempt to justify those gut feelings with competency ratings based on evidence from the process.

Putting square pegs in round holes has always been foolish but getting them out again has never been so painful. Not considering oneself immune to these natural human tendencies and a total commitment to structure is a definite step in the right direction.

Simon Panckhurst is Managing Director of HR Direction Ltd - raising recruitment standards. Ph.(03) 977-1972.

1. Professional and Relevant

Your application might be one of 50 the recruiter has to consider. In this mornings paper some articles will have caught your attention and others gone completely unnoticed. Good resumes are professional, concise and relevant. Every word and sentence should have an objective. Give the reader an incentive to your whole application rather than skim through. Include interesting experiences or hobbies that relate to job criteria. Difficult to read fonts, unnecessary shading and boxes or radical formatting might help make an impression but not a positive one.

2. Categorize

Recruiters are looking for evidence of job relevant criteria, usually listed in the job description, e.g. analytical ability, commitment, etc. The reality is that recruiters do not have the time or energy to search through your entire application for evidence of each skill or attribute. By writing each job criteria as a heading and then providing evidence underneath in bullet form you will not only ensure you provide information about each and every criteria but will impress the reader by saving them significant time and hassle.

3. Just trust me.. yeah right! Demonstrate.

Would you chose a cafe solely based on it's own claim it has "fantastic coffee"? What about a cafe that states it imports its beans from a respected supplier and roasts them on site? Slightly more tempted? As honest as you may be, a claim that you exhibit 'strong attention to detail' or that you are a 'team player' is a complete waste of time. Your cover letter and CV is evidence of your attention to detail, ensure it contains no grammatical or spelling errors and you have successfully demonstrated this attribute. From a recruiting perspective "actions speak louder than words" is equally as relevant as in everyday life.

4. Substantiate

While some attributes are easy to demonstrate e.g. strong written communication skills, others, e.g. interpersonal skills are more difficult. As an alternative try as much as possible to substantiate claims you make with quantitative evidence or at least examples. A claim that you are creative is more meaningful when accompanied with detail of a third party acknowledging your creativity, e.g. an award or specific reference in a referee's report or performance appraisal. If this proves difficult in the same way applicants are asked for examples of their achievements in job interviews, provide these as part of your application. "I demonstrated my creativity when at Jake's Garage (May 1998- Aug 2001) by creating a new process for customers wanting a warrant of fitness when staff were preoccupied. This involved.."

5. Concise but obvious

Professional applications aren't condescending but they clear and simple and never leave any doubt in the recruiters mind. Be sure to clearly explain the basic content of qualifications, courses and training. Explain what the organisations your have worked for actually did and the exact duties you performed as an employee. 'Accounts Manager' indicates little in terms of technical expertise, duties performed and level of responsibility. Acronyms and jargon only run the risk of irritating the reader ? be careful not to assume just because it's obvious to you that everyone else will understand. Find someone that doesn't work in your industry to read your applicant and ensure they understand every word.

An effective CV takes considerable time and effort but can be the key to doors that have been so difficult to open.

Simon Panckhurst is Managing Director of HR Direction Ltd - raising recruitment standards. Ph.(03) 977-1972.

My last recruitment effort was not very successful - it ended in a messy and expensive personal grievance after I had to dismiss the non-performing employee. How can I be sure to do better this time?

"Putting square pegs in to round holes, has always been foolish," says Simon Panckhurst, managing director of HR Direction, an HR company specialising in recruitment, " but as you've discovered, getting them out again can be downright painful." Sometimes, says Panckhurst, recruitment looks easy especially when we think we have been in the business long enough to trust our gut instincts. Often our instincts and first impressions prove to be correct, but in the highly charged atmosphere of a job interview, they can blind us to the facts - either positive or negative.

The secret says Panckhurst, is structure. "Use the same questions for every applicant, targeted around the essential skills and attributes and apply a scoring system requiring each of the key competencies to be rated." He recommends having more than one interviewer present in each interview, using this same system of scoring so you can have a healthy discussion when all the candidates have been seen. There is a place for intuition, but says Panckhurst, "recruitment allows for the luxury of being scientific and comprehensive - something to be relied on, when getting burnt can really hurt."

Simon Panckhurst is Managing Director of HR Direction Ltd - raising recruitment standards. Ph.(03) 977-1972.

The Objective

The sole purpose of your job application consisting of your cover letter and CV is to convince the reader to invite you for a job interview.

What information do I include?

Traditionally recruitment has focused on 'hard' or technical skills and qualifications. We would often and still do read 'must have 3-5 years experience', 'seeking accounting graduate'. True experience and qualifications are still valued and applicants with them are at a significant advantage over those that don't. In many professions e.g. medicine, law and engineering, a degree is a prerequisite. However, employers are rightly starting to acknowledge the importance of 'soft' skills, e.g. interpersonal awareness (or emotional intelligence) and certain personality characteristics, e.g. conscientiousness. In many cases technical skills and organisational/industry processes can be learnt on the job if the applicant has the ability and the attitude.

The Common Mistake

Typically an applicant preparing a job application does one of two things. They either just concentrate on technical skills, experience and qualifications or they attempt to provide evidence of these other more difficult to define 'soft' attributes but fail. E.g. applicants will often mention a period of employment with an employer and comment "I was responsible for the budgeting, planning and implementation of Project Groundswell that was successfully completed in June 04 within budget." Or worse still "I am a team player" or "I have good written communication skills". This is a complete waste of space and demonstrates a very common but fundamental misunderstanding of the recruitment process.

Conflict of Interest

One problem with such a claim is that it is unsubstantiated. As much as recruiting employers would love to trust all job applicants there is a significant conflict of interest. A job applicant wants to get the job. It is in their best interest to paint a positive picture of their skills and attributes, to put there best foot forward and this is the reason why any competent recruiter is foolish to use this sort of information to predict the applicant's ability to perform. Even if the applicant in this example is being totally honest, it could be true that this was the 5th or 6th project they managed and the first to be within budget. It could be true that the budget was poorly calculated and others would have completed with half the budget. It could be true that the project was heading for complete failure and the applicant required significant emergency one on one mentoring to ensure it's partial success.

Lack of Objectivity

Even assuming the applicant is honest, it is incredibly difficult for anyone to be objective when judging their own performance. Normally performance levels are not well defined, there is no quantitative benchmark, resources and opportunities to perform are varied and there are conflicting issues and distractions. Compounding this some people are over confident, convinced they are a high performer and only slowed by others incompetence, while others might lack confidence or prefer to let others take the credit and play down their achievements.

Measuring Performance

What does 'successful' mean? Is 6/10 a success? Is better than last time a success? Is 'no complaints' a success? Was Ruben Thorne a successful All Black captain? There have been lots of opportunities to witness his performances, there are significant match statistics. Why are there such conflicting views? If someone coordinated a project they claimed was a 'huge success', are they more skilled than an applicant that coordinated a similar project that just met all it's objectives?

What can we conclude?

Clearly such unsubstantiated and subjective applicant claims are futile. All we are able to conclude is that an applicant that carries out some work related activity has the opportunity to learn from that experience and acquire or develop certain skills and attributes.

Demonstrating Non-Technical Skills

Assuming employers are interested in non-technical skills and attributes how does an applicant provide evidence of them? The answer can be borrowed from research conducted on the job interview that faces the same issue. It has long been known in human resources and industrial organisational psychology that past behaviour is the best predictor of future performance. Sorry but few of us really change much without conciseness effort. If you have been late for meetings in the past you will in all likelihood continue to be so.

The focus therefore needs to be on the applicant's behaviour or actions when faced with a clearly defined problem not the applicant's perception of the outcome of their actions. The critical point is for the applicant to explain what they did and to let the reader be the judge. The outcome should not be the focus. Bad luck could interfere and intelligent and responsible actions could result in an unfavorable outcome.

To provide evidence of non-technical skills or attributes an applicant should first determine the two or three that are most relevant for the position. This is often mentioned in the job advertisement or job description. Common examples include, interpersonal skills, a willingness to learn and conscientiousness.

The applicant then needs to clearly describe a problem situation that provides the opportunity to demonstrate their identified skill or attribute. E.g. If the competency is 'interpersonal skills' an appropriate problem might be establishing a good working relationship with a client that is particularly difficult. The applicant then specifically explains what they did to establish this relationship, leaving the reader to decide the merit of those actions.

While you'll hear that a CV should not be longer than 1-2 pages you will never loose the attention of the reader if the information provided is relevant. Identify the relevant skills and attributes and provide a factual account of your actions that demonstrate that attribute the reader won't leave the edge of their seat. 'Soft' skills are very much in vogue, ignoring them completely needs to be seen as the huge oversight it is. Why paint half the picture? Why ignore what could be your principle strengths? The ball is in your court.

Simon Panckhurst is Managing Director of HR Direction Ltd - raising recruitment standards. Ph.(03) 977-1972.

Keywords: Cv, Hr, Human Resources