Selection of people for work

Selection procedures

Organisations look for people who will benefit them; people with traits, qualities and skills that they are looking for. The aim of selection procedures is to choose the best person for a particular job, without discrimination against any certain group. Usually, selection procedures allow a relatively unbiased and objective method of selecting a new employee without including their gender, religion, ethnicity, etc.

The selection procedure occurs before people are employed.

Different criteria may be looked at, such as: performance potential, loyalty and commitment, skill set and other abilities.

There are different assessments used to select people for work:

  • Reviewing a CV, experience and academics
  • Application forms
  • Letters of application
  • References
  • Psychometric tests
  • Interviews
  • Work sample (trial)


The main purpose of applications and CVs is to collect biographical data, for example: address, education, work experience and accomplishments. Research has showed that this data can be a very good predictor of future job performance.

Written materials like these are sometimes the first interaction between an applicant and an employer. Application forms have different formats, usually depending on the job requirements. Bias-inducing questions are generally avoided, such as marital or financial status. However, sometimes such questions (e.g. religion) are included so as to respect the different backgrounds of people and accommodate everyone. Nowadays, people have claimed they were discriminated against because of their names.

The main weakness of applications is that it is difficult to judge with balance: do you choose someone with little education but lots of experience, or vice versa? It is also difficult to gain a whole picture of the applicant; what is their communication like? Are they confident? Are they easy to get along with?

Since it is difficult to quantify information on application forms (e.g. the issue of experience vs. education), “weighted application blanks” are used. Weighted applications assign a different weight to different information, depending on which information is thought to be more important.

Selection interviews

Interviews are a conversation between an interviewer and interviewee; a selection interview is used when the interviewee is applying for a job. They may be structured, unstructured, or semi-structured. Structured interviews follow a fixed format of questions which the applicant will answer. Unstructured interviews are quite informal as there is no standard form; it just depends on what the interviewer decides to ask and which points to pursue. Semi-structured interviews use a fixed set of questions but allow elaborations and give space for extra information, such as follow up questions (e.g. “Oh, why did you decide to do that?”)

Semi-structured and unstructured interviews sometimes make space for bias because it means that different applicants are interviewed differently. However, they allow the interviewer to get a better picture of the applicant by asking further questions and behaving more naturally. Structured interviews reduce bias because every applicant is interviewed in the same way, but they are quite limiting in their collection of data.

Interviews can also have different aims, for example: one interview may be specifically to test the interviewee in a certain domain whereas another interview may be to gather biographical data. Three main types are generally used: biographical interviews, situational interviews,  and competency-based interviews. Biographical interviews are generally a semi-structured interview of the applicant’s past experiences. Situational interviews involve hypothetical job-related situations. Competency-based interviews use questions relating to important job behaviours and strategies.

Group interviews are also commonly used when the interviewer’s want to assess a person’s social abilities and mannerisms among their other skills. In such interviews, a group of people are interviewed together or asked questions that engage them in discussion. Stress interviews involve an applicant being put into a stressful, challenging situation that tests a certain ability or skill.

Some problems with interviews are as follows:

  • Interviewer bias can occur (their tone, attractiveness, behaviour, etc.).
  • The interviewer’s judgements might be unreliable.
  • Snap judgements (jumping to conclusions) can happen.
  • Demand characteristics or social desirability may be provoked in the interviewee.
  • Contrast effects (different candidates are compared or categorized) can occur.
  • Some interviews lack standardisation.
  • Some questions unrelated to the job may be easier for some to answer than others (e.g. “What are your hobbies?”)

Use of psychometric tests

Psychometric tests are standardized procedures used to test a specific ability, trait or skill. Instead of being used for professional jobs, such as doctors and nurses, psychometric tests are used for jobs that are relatively specific, such as pilots and clerks.

Tests can have different formats, namely: speed tests, power tests, paper and pencil tests, and performance tests. Speed tests have a fixed time limit and the focus is on the number of items completed in that time frame. Power tests focus more on the percentage of items answered or carried out correctly regardless of time. Paper and pencil tests require written work while performance tests involve the manipulation of physical objects.

The type of test tends to be one of two main categories: ability tests and personality tests. Ability tests look at the performance level of a person while personality tests focus on a person’s dispositional features.

Ability tests

  • Cognitive ability tests range include things like cognitive skills, language competency and intellectual abilities.
  • Psycho-motor ability tests involve sensory and motor skills, such as auditory or visual responses and hand-eye coordination.
  • General ability tests look at the functioning in broad categories of major abilities, such as those that are numerical or verbal.
  • Specific ability tests are related to general ability tests but focus more on single factors, such as filing and decision-making.
  • Job skills and job knowledge tests assess specific job-related behaviour, such as alphabetically-ordered filing for a clerk or typing speed and grammar competency for a typist.

Personality tests

  • Personality scales usually measure a person’s general behaviour and approach towards life, people and events.
  • Personality types and traits that may be measured include: extroversion, introversion, anxiety, interest, self-esteem, leadership style and attitude.
  • Motivational skills assess people’s drive, desire and determination.

Personnel Selection Decisions And Job Analysis

The selection of personnel

Personnel selection, the process of selecting the most appropriate workers, involves many decisions that must be made for the employer to hire the best person for a job.


When information has been gathered from applicants, the employer will make their decision after looking at the information from different viewpoints. Experienced decision makers who weigh up the most important factors will generally be able to make a good selection but the possibility of subjectivity during decision-making gives way to bias, errors and inaccuracy.

Different statistical models are now used to help in the decision-making process.

  1. Multiple regression model
    • A compensatory model (higher scores in one part can make up for lower scores in another part).
    • For example: less experience can be compensated for with a strong skill set or high potential.
  2. Multiple hurdle model
    • Hurdles are faced systematically; the first hurdle must be passed successfully in order to reach the next step of the test.
    • For example: if the applicant passes the first ability test, they can progress to an interview stage. If they fail, they are rejected and do not get an interview.
    • This can be time-consuming and costly for the employer.
    • Unqualified people will not have to go through a whole selection process.
    • Some people may be disqualified early on because of tasks they are weaker in, stopping them from showing their talent that they could have illustrated in a later stage.
  3. Multiple cut-off model

    • There is a minimum passing score on every item which must be reached or exceeded for the applicant to be eligible.
    • For example: an applicant must get a minimum of 75% on every ability test.
    • This allows a selection to be made from applicants with at least an approved minimum hold over certain abilities, skills or traits that the employer is looking for.

Biases in selection decisions and equal opportunities

Selecting an applicant based on one personality factor, such as extrovertism, is generally seen as discriminatory. It is also difficult to achieve validity in personality tests, compared with ability tests. However, a lot of employers focus greatly on personality testing; some choose to give more weightage to qualities like “honesty and integrity” over “aptitude and skills”. The application of tests also varies across countries: some countries choose not to give personality tests, some let the applicants see their results beforehand, others simply collect them in.

Since validity and effectiveness of tests can be questionable, the generally unanimous agreement is to take multiple tests that look at different aspects of the applicant. This provides a much more rounded view of the individual, rather than trying to learn all about them through a single test. The grouping of these various tests together creates a test battery – a ‘group of different tests’.

Discrimination itself is, to one extent, reasonable: we want to discriminate between people who are suitable or unsuitable for the job. However, biases relating to things like religion and ethnicity are of a different domain. Discrimination occurs more strongly in interviews. This is because most written applications are not legally allowed to ask for details such as age, ethnicity or religion and applicants are not legally bound to answer. Some even dismiss gender.

In interviews, the applicant is face-to-face with the interviewer. Some studies have found that female interviewers tend to rate female applicants higher than men while other find that men discriminate against female applicants, going as far to ask questions about any plans of pregnancy in the near future. Racism and ageism is also possible, as is ethnic or socio-cultural bias.

Job descriptions and specifications

Job descriptions are written statements that describe the duties, responsibilities, contributions, expected results and necessary qualifications required for a particular job. They are based on objective information and summarize the competence and skills needed to be considered for a job placement. Some job descriptions also include the working conditions, tools and equipment, skill sets and relationships expected to be fulfilled with bosses or coworkers.

Job specifications are descriptions of the specific knowledge, skills, education, experience and abilities that are believed to be essential to perform well at a particular job. It usually stems off from the job description; this specification describes the exact person who is wanted for the job. It is less detailed than a job description and focuses more on specific characteristics (e.g. education and skills). Job specifications are usually distributed on websites and social media, and are used during interviews or when screening CVs and application forms.

Job analysis techniques

Functional Job Analysis (FJA)

This is a questionnaire that was developed by the Employment and Training Administration (US). It is a qualitative approach concerned with job analysis, particularly the worker’s role. It examines the sequence of a worker’s tasks, and breaks down job roles into seven areas:

  1. Things
  2. Data
  3. Worker instructions
  4. Reasoning
  5. People
  6. Maths
  7. Language

The FJA allows a better understanding of employees and their job roles but its weakness lies with its qualitative nature; this stops it from being standardized.

Position Analysis Questionnaire (PAQ)

This is a structured job analysis questionnaire that focuses on the job’s characteristics and an applicant’s characteristics. It is made up of almost 200 items that have been separated into six areas:

  1. Information input
  2. Mental processes
  3. Work output
  4. Relationships with other persons
  5. Job context
  6. Job related variables

This is an inexpensive, time-effective and standardized – and, therefore, reliable – questionnaire. It is the most commonly used method of job analysis, but is often criticized for being perceived as suitable for every single job.

Performance Appraisal

Performance appraisal

Performance appraisal is, basically, an on-going process in which employee performance in different work-related areas is evaluated.

Reasons for it and performance appraisal techniques

Performance appraisal is conducted for various reasons, mainly:

  • It is a tool of communication between the management and employees.
  • It helps during decision-making for different things, such as: wages, promotions, demotions, terminations, technology, development, etc.
  • It helps to give a clearer picture of an employee’s goals and expected outcomes, as well as providing relevant feedback.

There are different techniques of performance appraisal, including the previously mentioned job analysis questionnaires: FJA and PAQ. Other techniques are described as follows:

Critical Incidents Technique (CIT)
The CIT is a set of procedures that are used to collect observations of human behaviour that are critically significant and meet specific criteria. A ‘critical incident’ is basically an incident that has made a positive or negative contribution, with regards to the employee. For this, information about past events and conflicts are collected from the worker, for example: the worker tells a story about an experience they had regarding successful or unsuccessful performance. The information gathered after analyzing the critical incident is used to solve any future practical problems.

Behaviourally Anchored Rating Scale (BARS)
BARS are scales used to rate an employee’s performance. They usually have a vertical layout with scale points ranging from five to nine. This method of performance appraisal was created to combine the benefits of different methods of evaluation, such as critical incident assessment and quantitative ratings. A written narrative example of good, moderate or poor behavioural performance is given to the employee and their answers are assessed. This method is relatively objective.

Problems with appraisal and improving appraisals

Some common problems with the performance appraisal process are:

  • Leniency error –
    being too lenient and giving everyone a high rating too freely.
  • Strictness error –
    being too strict and giving an incorrect, relatively low rating.
  • Halo error –
    giving a similar rating for every dimension a person is rated on, rather than acknowledging differences between different dimensions.
  • Central tendency error –
    grouping all employees into an average, eliminating high achievers and poor workers.
  • Personal bias error –
    letting personal bias (such as that of gender, race, religion or politics) affect scoring.
  • Proximity error –
    overemphasizing previous knowledge, performance or events when rating.
  • Recency error –
    overemphasizing recent knowledge, performance or events when rating.
  • Contrast error –
    contrasting accomplishments or failures of one employee with another.
  • Attribution error –
    attributing one factor to an external factor.

To reduce the chances of such errors occurring during appraisal, there are different steps we can take.

  • Develop accurate and reliable performance appraisal measures.
  • Use multiple criteria upon which employees can be assessed.
  • Use a variety of methods during appraisal.
  • Train the evaluators to be fair and smart.
  • Use more than one evaluator during appraisals.
  • Conduct effective feedback interviews with employees.