Recruitment and Selection Process Issues

On dealing with the premiss that the practice of recruitment and selection is a long way from the recommendations of personnel textbooks, distinction must be taken into account between explicit recommendations and guidelines, on one hand, and, on the other, implicit suggestions stemming from the author’s own stance. The implications of distancing from, or identification with, such explicit recommendations and implicit suggestions will be viewed in this paper as well as forms of overt and covert resistance, or adhesion, assumed in actual practice. Also central to the argument is what the whole issue means in terms of both existing problems and potential future problems for the employer and the candidate, for organizational management, the labour market and macro-economic welfare and progress in general.

Employment decisions have traditionally been regarded as a privilege exclusive to management. Many of the US personnel textbooks emphasize this aspect and describe the process in terms of ‘hurdles over which prospective employees have to try to leap to avoid rejection’ (Torrington and Hall, 1991:283). In the UK recruitment and selection is an issue which has in the past kept a low profile in personnel textbooks, though the trend has changed (e.g., Torrington and Hall, 1991, Keith Sisson, 1994), which appears to point out to an evolution from the paternalistic perspective according to which recruitment tends to be dominantly viewed from the angle of providing candidates for the selector to judge.

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Recommendations are being made with respect to the various stages of the process of recruitment and selection, from approaching and seeking to interest potential candidates to determining whether to appoint any of them. Codes of practice and guidelines for their implementation have been produced with emphasis on different aspects, e.g., on recruitment starting with a job description and person specification, by IPM; on fair and efficient selection, by EOC (1986); on avoidance of sex bias in selection testing, by EOC (1992); on avoidance of improper discrimination, by ACAS (1981) and negative bias against age, by IPM (1993); on non-discriminatory advertising, by CRE and EOC (1977, 1985); and on the use of cognitive and psychometric tests, by IPM and BPS (1993).

Moreover, legislation promoting equality of opportunity has underlined the importance of

using well-validated selection procedures (Torrington and Hall, 1991), and directives such as those issued by CRE (1983) and EOC (1985) emphasize the need to comply with anti-discrimination legislation and this way enhance opportunities to disadvantaged groups. Greater formality will both make the concealment of racial and sexual discrimination more difficult and will permit more effective retrospective surveillance by senior management and bodies such as the CRE (Jenkins, 1982), thus to some extent remedying the weakness of much of the EO literature in not frontally addressing the different types of discriminatory decision, be it determinism, particularism, patronage or rational-legality (Jewson & Mason, 1986). As a counter-argument, however, the definition of the employer’s role as that of implementing and monitoring formal procedures can be seen to absolve senior staff of the responsibility for further investigation of the causes of continuing inequality (Webb & Liff, 1988).

In fact, case studies have shown that such directives can be misused and their intention subverted as often happens with respect to IPM’s recommendations on job description and person specification (Collinson et al., 1990: 96-108), and, furthermore, the legal

definition of ‘justifiability’ is sufficiently vague for the legislation to be ineffective; and the workforce can be manipulated into becoming management’s accomplice in discrimination (ibid.: 70-71). Some recommendations are, in themselves, not socially and politically neutral enough to avoid ambiguity and, as such, encourage covert discrimination. Highlighting the causes behind the problem, EOC points out that gender discrimination is embedded in ‘myths’ (EOC, 1986:2), while we are also reminded that motherhood still remains a stigma (Curran, 1988) as the general ideology of gender still associates feminity with nurturing, and hence with servicing, which is translated directly into specific occupational terms (Murgatroyd, 1982). Accordingly – inspite of what has been achieved – women still face ‘bottleneck’ on the way to top jobs in personnel, a situation which has been aggravated by a recent regression in the previous upward trend for women, the latest figures standing at 44% of all personnel managers but only 9.5% of personnel directors (PM Plus, 1994). Getting into the boardroom is not the same as getting into the ‘club’, a ‘glass ceiling’ made difficult to shatter (BM, 1994) by the club members themselves who may also try to psychologically manipulate women into consenting and thus becoming accomplices of their own fate.

At least on their face value, for the past two decades personnel textbooks have been recommending equal opportunities in recruitment and selection. Rodger’s ‘Seven Point Plan’ (Rodger, 1970) and Fraser’s ‘Five-Fold Framework’ (Fraser, 1971: 64-80) are checklists which emphasize the need for a logical link between job description and person specification. Yet, Rodger’s headings ‘circumstances’ and ‘acceptability’ ‘have strong potential to be used as a cloak for improper discrimination’ (Sisson, 1994:189). In instances like this one the author of the personnel textbook is – consciously or unconsciously, intentionally or unintentionally – an accomplice of reluctant management. Recommendations become a vehicle of subversion of the proclaimed spirit.

Even when guidelines appear to be socially and politically sound, the identification of requirements remains subjective when it comes to draft a job description as judgement greatly depends on conclusions which are based on one’s conceptualizations. The effect of prejudice and bias is, therefore, difficult to control, and unfairness in shortlisting is difficult to restrain.

Other main initial steps in the recruitment and selection process offer no guarantee of fairness. Application forms, multi-purpose as advised by Edwards (1983:64), or not, may become a tool of discrimination as they can easily incorporate a discriminatory bias within their highly structured framework. Letters of application and CVs appear to be seen as of little relevance as a measure of performance in manual jobs (Duxfield, 1983:246-7) but to be regarded of great importance and possibly decisive on other kinds of placement (Knollys, 1983: 236-8) where they are left to the assessor’s subjective evaluation. It is generally acknowledged that they are open to discriminatory use by the employer (McIntosh and Smith, 1974). Furthermore, the use of graphology, though controversial, is being practised in Britain (PM,1985).

Inappropriate use of screening tests is another point of concern. The use of cognitive and psychometric tests appears to be quite popular in the UK, bearing in mind that the production of a personality questionnaire has been financed by over fifty companies in this country (Saville and Holdsworth Ltd, 1987). Discerning and cautious use of psychological techniques of selection has been advocated by Rodger (1970; 1971; 1983) while Kline (1993) is particularly concerned with ‘reliability’ and ‘validity’ as key requirements for selection methods to be technically sound as a measure of both immediate suitability of a candidate and also of prediction of his/her future performance, though the former function is more highly valued by Scholarios et al. (1993). Still with respect to psychological testing, Brotherton has drawn a distinction between measures of ‘organizational performance’ and ‘job performance’ and emphasized that successful non-discriminatory selection requires validation based on the latter (Brotherton, 1980).

Low validity interviewing is yet another point of concern. Evidence suggests that the single interviewer tends to be the generalized practice with respect to manual workers (Mackay and Torrington, 1986: 38-40), while in the case of non-manual employees the general practice is the line manager and a personnel specialist to be involved, though this results, in practice, in one-person interviewing as personnel specialists prefer a purely advisory role (Collinson et al., 1990). The final decision tends to be made by one individual – usually a white middle-aged male -, which provides open ground for abuse (Wanous, 1980; Honey, 1984; and Collinson et al., 1990) and shortlisted prospective appointees are let down at the final interview. Not just the outcome but the way interviews are conducted can be arbitrary, and applicants may be subjected to invasion of privacy with questions such as on their personal life and family background or on their political beliefs. Another aspect to consider is that, on the other hand, interviews – particularly on a one-to-one basis – may give the applicant the opportunity to impress beyond fact. In a study of a university milk round candidates admitted to being far from truthfull in their statements (Keenan, 1980). The need to promote ethical awareness in the practice of interviewing has been highlighted not only in order to improve selectors’ fairness but also to control dubious honesty from applicants (Pocock, 1989).

Recommendations on the issue of internal or external recruitment cannot be universally suitable. Courtis (1985:15) does not give priority to internal recruitment which in itself presents the double advantage of being economical and encouraging career development. However, as a counter-argument, internal recruitment can also result in a delimitating effect for the company and injustice to the supply side of the labour market. With respect to methods used when aiming to interest potential candidates, deviation from

guide-lines and supporting legislation can prove to be fruitful as in the case of the US-style ‘head-hunting’ and search consultancy, a practice at first hindered by UK legislation – or its interpretation -, but recently expanding to over eight hundred recruitment and search consultants operating in this country (Clark, 1991). High fees result in it being used mainly at rather senior levels, thus offering the possibility of being a means of neutralizing the tendency for females and certain other sectors of population being met with a career ceiling at middle management level. In principle, beneficial to both interested parties in the labour market, brokerage between them can have double-edged consequencies such as employers falling victim to consultants who both both exploit their privileged access to knowledge of the company’s needs and reuse candidates after they have remained with the firm for an agreed period of time.

A defensive stance against the prescriptions of textbooks is taken by line managers who defend that recruitment can not be scientific but that it is a mixture of what they define as gut and objectivity, as contradictory in terms as this may be. They also stress how they are aiming in the selection process to gauge future job performance. In other words, underlying the practices defended by line managers are certain principles which seem to link to the organization’s culture and overall corporate strategy (Wood, 1986). Acceptability criteria thus prevail over suitability criteria. As an excuse for arbitrary selection, the formalization of the process of selection advocated by IPM, CBI, EOC and CRE with a view to rendering recruitment more efficient, meritocratic, consistent and accountable, is demeaned by general line managers as being bureaucratic encumbrance (Collinson, 1987) as an excuse for arbitrary selection. It is significant, though, that conviction usually appears to be lacking in that the key to competitive advantage is to get the best person for the job, who may be a woman, but the same argument gained credibility in employer-led Opportunity 2000 launched by Prime Minister John Major in the early 1990s (Liff, 1995).

Line managers prefer informal sources of recruitment such as word-of-mouth recommendations or purchasing people’s names off the Professional and Executive Register and contacting them directly. This enables autonomy and unaccountability over

the choice of successful applicant, and the stereotyped ideal recruit is white, male, aged 30 to 40, and married, i.e. with wife, children and mortgage. This state of affairs is difficult to change, as line managers are patriarchally elevated as the ‘providers’, the organization’s ‘breadwinners’, thus mirroring the gendered domestic division of labour, while personnel managers and personnel advisers are equated to the ‘unproductive’ female welfare and administrative role (Collinson, 1987). This downgrading and devaluation of the sex-typed ‘female’ role (Legge, 1987) relegates personnel managers and advisers within the organizational culture to a peripheral position and little or no authority (Wood, 1986). The devolution of responsibility for human resources from personnel specialists to line managers seems a rather negative development, but even here it is possible to envisage favourable circumstances inasmuch, as if line managers take responsibility for human resources issues, then EO has a better chance of being treated more seriously (Liff, 1995).

This situation emerges against a macro-economic background in which the dominant trends point to an increasingly more intense competition in a global market-place. In the

UK home labour market, the 1980s period of easy recruitment due to high levels of unemployment has given place to recruitment difficulties with current skill shortages and

forecasts of a significant drop in the number of young entrants and of at least a 50% female workforce. This situation looks bleak for those employers who fail to adopt non-traditional methods of recruitment (Curnow, 1989), for a more proactive recruitment strategy is required as a source of competitive advantage through a quality workforce (Torrington & Hall, 1991), with a move towards a focus on expected outcomes rather than procedures (Liff, 1989).

In other words, EO is not just a problem of implementation, but, in contrast, important

parts of the process still need to be better understood, particularly at the organizational level (Aitkenhead, 1991: 26). However, not just at organizational level. What EO initiatives take place within organizations depends crucially upon how the concept is understood by its members, and when organizational policy is translated into operational procedures it has implications for a person’s activities and hence for his or her cognitive world, and the relationship between organizational procedures and individual cognitive world is two-way (Ibid: 35-41). With respect to conceptualization, a positive trend can be found in voices which value diversity (e.g. Copeland, 1982) and managing diversity (e.g. Greenslade, 1991, Jackson, 1992) inasmuch as this stresses positive aspects of difference with respect to ethnicity or with respect to gender (Rosener, 1990), which suggests a favourable change of perspective in industrial relations (Liff, 1995).

In conclusion, the past few decades have seen the development of recommendations on recruitment and selection which challenge the traditional outlook of employment matters as a prerogative of management decision and the prospective employee as a relatively passive object of employer’s judgement. Personnel textbooks, codes of practice

and anti-discriminatory legislation have put the focus on EO for women, ethnic and other disadvantaged groups. Such prescriptions appear to be seen by the employer as a conflict of interests with his managerial strategy and a threat to his established position of authority and privilege. This has been the reaction of the white male manager. Some of the prescriptions themselves have been informed by the cognitive framework of the white male culture and thus, intentionally or unintentionally, rendered less efficient in their formulation. Others have been, and continue to be, subverted in practice by false compliance. In either case EO principles are defeated, and a self-reproducing phenomenon persists of acceptability over suitability in the recruitment and selection process.

This status quo poses a complex problem which affects, more immediately, both the recruiter and the candidate and, at a larger scale, the whole economic scene. Mainly preoccupied with repressing change, the employer appears to be reluctant to consider that this same change can be to his own advantage, inasmuch as it will promote a recruitment and selection approach which could contribute not only to a fairer but also to a more cost-effective decision making. As far as the employer is concerned, the felt problem appears to be the outside pressure put on him to change, while the real problem appears to be his difficulty in evolving cognitively. Managerial refusal in a more effective staffing will have far-reaching consequencies as it will render organizations inadequate to compete in an increasingly global market, a problem of major repercussions, if a proactive response is not given to the need for a quality workforce

that will guarantee competitiveness through quality goods and services.

On the supply side of the labour market the problem of discrimination has been felt so acutely as to prompt the overall awareness that led to the recommendations in question. A foreseable demographic change seems to favour the previously excluded groups so

far as it may result in more of a seller’s market for labour which should, in turn, encourage the labour buyer to concentrate on outcomes rather than on procedure; and this shift away from the focus on procedure may help reduce antagonism and elusive compliance. Another opening can be seen in the fact that literature has become possible on diversity as a positive asset to be profitably managed, a development which remains, however, problematic so far as it may also be perceived and resisted as a social issue. It is nevertheless a landmark in industrial relations evolution in what it represents of a two-way interaction between the cognitive world of both assessors and assessed, on one side, and, on the other, textbook recommendations and related formal directives. However, ambiguity and ambivalence persist at each stage of evolution and progress towards a more just and effective management of human resources, and evidence presented above – as in the case of Opportunity 2000 – suggests that, paradoxically and dangerously, the promotion of objective recruitment and selection on merit is resorting, for credibility, to being implemented within the traditional recruiter’s framework of conceptualization

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