Making the best of a bad job

Last week’s exclusive research report, which revealed that HR professionals viewed current recruitment methods for senior roles as resoundingly ineffective, raised serious doubts about whether any selection processes actually work.

Interviews, assessment centres and psychometric tests were deemed to be “not useful” at predicting job success by the majority of the 841 HR practitioners surveyed by Cranfield School of Management, in association with Personnel Today.

More than two-thirds of respondents in the Recruitment Confidence Index (RCI) said one-to-one interviews were ineffectual for senior-level staff, and less than 5% rated competency-based interviews as “very useful”.


Strong reactions

The research provoked some strong reactions. One recruitment manager who contacted Personnel Today suggested that all the respondents “should be relieved of their duties immediately”.

But Rebecca Clake, resourcing adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, said she was not surprised by the results.

“We know from our own research that interviews, particularly unstructured ones, are not entirely accurate at determining success. But they are the most widely used recruitment method,” she said.

Employers that are concerned about selection processes should foster internal development programmes, Clake said. “Recruiting people internally can be a very useful method, ensuring good succession planning is in place and a strong talent pipeline,” she added.

Survey respondents were split on who took primary responsibility for recruitment. A third of the HR practitioners said they had the ultimate hiring decision when selecting senior-level staff, compared with 60% of line managers.

Neil Roden, group HR director at the Royal Bank of Scotland, said recruitment was a “precarious business” which HR should take most of the responsibility for.

“Ideally, HR should put forward three candidates for the final stage of recruitment, and line managers can make their decision from the shortlist. It is a lengthy process and it’s important to get it right,” he said.

The recruitment manager who contacted Personnel Today agreed. “How can we expect line managers to have strong interviewing and selection skills if they only recruit once a year?” he asked. “This is where HR should add value.”

Lynne Duffill, director of HR at Advantage West Midlands regional development agency, agreed that interviews should be overseen by someone in HR. But Duffill said that recruitment was still highly subjective, regardless of the format. “It’s not  a scientific process. It’s all about personal judgement,” she said.

The right measures

Duffill recommended using a ‘time test’ for recent recruits, using the results of an assessment centre as the basis of a development plan. Recruits would be tracked and their achievements benchmarked against competencies, she said.

Mary Canavan, HR director at The British Library, said the process should vary according to the role.

“Critical for effective senior recruitment is being absolutely clear about what needs to be measured – knowledge, skills, behaviours, etc – and then deciding on the best assessment tools to provide this,” she said.

Psychometric tests and assessment centres also fared badly in the RCI. Only 10% of HR practitioners surveyed said they always used psychometric tests, and just 2% regarded them as very useful. Less than 5% also rated assessment centres as very useful.

Mixed methods

But Susan Major, head of the HR division at recruitment firm Robert Walters, said psychometric tests were an important part of the selection process.

“[Psychometric tests] are very good at confirming certain aspects you might be nervous about at the interview stage,” she said.

Most of the HR directors contacted by Personnel Today believed that a range of processes should be used in recruitment to achieve the most accurate outcome.

“I’d rather have three different sources on a potential recruit than just one,” Roden said. But he added that assessment centres would give the most reliable result if one method had to be used in isolation.

Keith Dugdale, head of recruitment at professional services firm KPMG, said that using just one method made the whole process more unreliable.

“If you rely on one technique, the result will inevitably be much more subjective – you need to build up a comprehensive picture of the candidate,” he said.

It is clear that while there are huge cost implications for getting the selection process wrong, there is no one conclusive method for selecting a successful manager.

Whether conducted by HR or the line manager, recruitment is a precarious business, and hiring a senior-level employee remains a “leap of faith”. “There is no magic formula for predicting job success,” Roden said.

For more on the research, see Yardstick

HR’s role in recruitment called into question by shock survey



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