Staffing positions in organizations may well represent one of the most important human resources (HR) management functions. Who is hired into the job from outside the organization as well as who is moved to another job internally (e.g., through a promotion decision), or who is moved out of organizations, ideally reflect job-relevant decisions and the maximizing of critical knowledge, skills, and abilities which contribute to an organization's overall effectiveness and its competitive advantage. That is the way we suggest it should be done. In practice, though, how are staffing decisions actually made? Can we apply the assumption of a rational model to staffing decisions, whereby decision makers are knowledgeable about the job in question (i.e., they know what characteristics, skills, and so forth it takes to succeed on the job), gather all relevant information about the candidate's job-relevant qualifications, compare these qualifications to job demands, and select the candidates with the best match? Or, is an alternative model more appropriate to capture the realities of everyday staffing decisions?
These questions have troubled us both for some time, which has led us to seek answers through systematic research as well as from managers, executives, and HR professionals who make these decisions frequently. For example, we have asked numerous recruiters who hire our students into HR management positions, "What is it you are looking for in a high quality candidate?" Interestingly, after several requests for clarification from these decision makers, we have found an amazing degree of convergence on the responses provided. Inevitably, it comes down to a statement of "fit" -- that is, they suggest they are looking for a candidate who fits. Sometimes they elaborate to specify someone who fits the culture, the value system, and so forth, but frequently it is merely stated as someone who fits. When pressed as to more precisely what it means to fit, many are initially hard pressed to provide a response. Again there tends to be amazing convergence across decision makers on a statement that goes something like this: "I can't articulate it, but I'll know it when I see it." Furthermore, we have had similar discussions with HR executives who also have articulated the importance of fit, but typically are hard pressed to define it.
One might find such a statement from a person responsible for making important screening/staffing decisions on behalf of the organization refreshing, enlightened, troublesome, or dangerous, depending on one's perspective. What is perhaps clearer is that such a statement challenges the rational model of staffing that has been so firmly entrenched for so long, and it suggests the importance of a criterion called fit, about which we know very little, as well as the introduction of a political perspective on staffing decisions. Furthermore, it appears that this process and the dynamics involving fit are most obvious through one particular HR staffing technique, the interview.
The purpose of this article is to model the HR staffing process more completely by highlighting the role of fit and blending the rational and political perspectives on staffing decisions. This model is intended to reflect the reality of how HR staffing decisions are actually made. Furthermore, it is argued that the notion of fit, elusive and ill-defined as it typically has been, may be a constructive way to understand the use, and usefulness, of staffing decision tools such as the interview. Finally, the role of political influence behavior as a means of managing the impression of fit also is discussed. The article intends to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how fit actually affects the HR staffing process, and how our evaluation of the effectiveness of staffing decisions might be improved from a consideration of fit. Although a number of issues are raised in this article, such a broad and integrative …