Objective Pre-Employment Interviewing: Balancing Recruitment, Selection and Retention Goals

By Slowik, Stanley M. | Public Personnel Management, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

Objective Pre-Employment Interviewing: Balancing Recruitment, Selection and Retention Goals


Slowik, Stanley M., Public Personnel Management


Not that many years ago, while designing the on-campus recruitment interview for one of the larger federal agencies, I discovered that nearly 90 percent of the candidates recruited for positions as chemists, physicists and electrical engineers were being disqualified during the selection process. The average agency evaluation cost was $34,000 per candidate. Oddly enough, neither the cost nor the high rejection rate were perceived as serious problems. Rather, the fact that it was taking three to six months to discover the 10 percent who met the organization's high standards, and the reality that these coveted applicants were not willing to wait months for the government to make a job offer, finally caused the agency to change its recruitment and selection methods. In short, the recruiters felt that their mission had been accomplished when they found candidates whose professed skills, knowledge and abilities -- on paper -- met the organization's requirements.

The sad truth was that most of their candidates were being disqualified for misrepresentation about drug, integrity and disciplinary problems, which had nothing to do with their skills, knowledge or abilities, and the entire system was being overwhelmed by applicants who were unqualified due to counterproductive but work-related behaviors. The evaluation and selection time problem was solved by having the recruiters incorporate some of the selection function elements into their mission in the form of a modified on-campus recruitment interview. Since the single most common reason for qualified applicants to pick one employer over another is which employer makes the first job offer, the agency was able to gain a significant advantage over both its public and private competition, in addition to saving enormous amounts of money and better utilizing recruiter time.

Conversely, I have worked with thousands of background investigators, human resource interviewers, and oral board panelists who have become so focused on the selection and credential verification process, that applicants often report that they felt like criminal suspects in a police interrogation! Even when this type of intimidation is successful in correctly identifying qualified candidates, the "best of the best" frequently select alternative employment, commenting that they were alienated by the techniques, and were never told one good reason why they should have considered, or waited for, a possible offer.

In addition, there are specific predictors that can be discussed during both recruitment and selection that can have a direct effect on resolving retention problems. In essence, recruiting, selection and retention issues can be managed effectively by correctly targeting the information that predicts hiring mistakes and high turnover while encouraging candidates with potential to view the employer and possible job offer favorably.

There are three basic components to Objective Pre-employment Interviewing: identifying, defining and quantifying information targets; the interpretation of applicant behavior during the interview; and interviewing techniques to encourage more accurate information, even when applicants perceive that accurate information will result in disqualification. Objective Pre-employment Interviewing first determines that each information target being considered for the interview is, in fact, a bona fide occupational qualification and/or essential job function (see Table 1).

In identifying information targets to consider, employers sometimes fail to include the activities and behaviors that actually predict hiring failures. For any given industry or profession, historically, why have some employees been disciplined or fired? If you'd like to reduce these failures in the future, this author feels that you need to realize, for many government positions, employees are seldom dismissed for incompetence, which is traditionally evaluated by exploring the applicants' skills, knowledge, abilities and experience. …

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