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Questioning The Use Of Selection Criteria Responses In Recruitment Part One Of A Two Part Series

Peter Gibson Principal Consultant at Aston Carter Brisbane and specialist recruiter in executive search discusses his opinion on the use of selection criteria responses in recruitment.

Selection Criteria have formed a common element of public sector (and many private sector) position descriptions for many years now and have become an integral component of the candidate selection process through written responses to those criteria. However, over the past decade, that practice has been changing, especially in the executive ranks.

Most organisations employing selection criteria have tended to group them under headings within a framework, such as the Queensland Public Service Commission’s success profile of leadership and management behavioural competencies – Vision, Results and Accountability, and the Australian Public Service Commission APSC’s Senior Executive Leadership Capability Framework – Shapes strategic direction, achieves results, cultivates productive working relationships, and Communicates with influence.

Whether by design or not, these frameworks reflect the competency concept developed in the 70s and 80s, with the book The Competent Manager: A Model for Effective Performance by Richard E. Boyatzis, John Wiley & Sons, 22 Jan. 1982. In his book, Boyatzis described a competency as ‘an underlying characteristic of the person that leads to or causes effective or superior performance’ (Page 21). Similarly, the Australian Public Service Commission describes selection criteria as ‘the personal qualities, skills, abilities, knowledge and qualifications (if any) a person needs to perform the role effectively’. 

Competencies are not behaviours, which is why the frameworks referenced above will generally have a range of behavioural descriptors sitting under each selection criteria (or competency), with differing behavioural descriptors at various role levels and/or role types (eg individual operators versus managers of teams). These behavioural descriptors translate the abstract concepts of selection criteria or competencies into tangible and visible behaviours.

Therefore, the concept of selection criteria has a sound basis to it, especially when supported by the behavioural descriptors. So why do I question the value of written responses to them in a recruitment process?

The real value of selection criteria or competencies supported by behavioural descriptors lies in their ability to articulate what is required for success in a role – either the individual’s current role from a performance development perspective, or for future different or more senior roles, from a potential identification or selection perspective.

However, because they cover a broad range of roles with vastly differing responsibilities, without understanding the context in which they must be applied in any particular role – the competencies alone are of limited value, to the candidate or the assessor. Where behaviours relevant to the challenges inherent in the role are communicated, they are of great value … but I would challenge anyone to critically evaluate someone’s behaviours based on what they have written about their behaviours – much of which is merely the individual’s opinion of their own capability.

In part two Peter discusses his opinion on a solution and how it could be applied.

Article attributed to Peter Gibson Principal Consultant at Aston Carter Brisbane