Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Candidate Reduction Strategies

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Candidate Reduction Strategies

Article excerpt

Human Resources Managers are attempting to administer civil service selection systems to effectively meet the often competing needs of job seekers, taxpayers, hiring supervisors, and the many requirements of the legal, social and professional environments. As jobs become scarce and applicants more plentiful, the debate intensifies over whether to take steps to reduce the number of candidates who participate in examinations. The various stakeholders have widely polarized viewpoints on this subject. While acknowledging the unresolved philosophical issue, this paper explores available strategies for applicant reduction, which do not unfairly discriminate against any legally protected group. These strategies should be thoroughly evaluated and incorporated into an agency's selection procedures only after careful consideration of their impact on the overall objectives of the agency's civil service system.

Human Resources departments today are charged with a variety of rapidly evolving responsibilities including ensuring a steady stream of highly qualified applicants for available jobs. In the public sector, this activity is usually accomplished through a civil service system that ensures fairness and open access for candidates through a framework of rules and procedures. In many cases, these rules have been in place for fifty or more years, and oftentimes they have outlived the useful purpose for which they were established.

There are many competing perspectives and pressures on today's civil service systems. "The general public continues to want more and different kinds of services."1 Job seekers want greater access to testing and employment opportunity information. Taxpayers want cost containment and greater efficiencies. And, hiring supervisors and managers want immediate access to highly qualified individuals. Hiring managers seek relief from rules and procedures that they view as hindering accomplishment of their work objectives by hampering their ability to fill job vacancies on a timely basis. Legal and social environments continue to require that selection procedures be reasonable and fair and that employers make efforts to ensure a diversified applicant pool and employee workforce. Finally, the professional environment tells us that there are definitely preferred ways to identify potentially outstanding (successful) employees, and these methods are not always the cheapest or the fastest.

Human Resources Managers, "work in a political environment in which the public's demand for services historically outraces the resources it provides."2 As jobs become scarce and applicants more plentiful, monetary and staff resources required to operate a selection program within a civil service structure become greater. Today, in most civil service exams, the number of applicants greatly exceeds the employers' actual hiring needs. Thus, numerous applicants who do not realistically have an opportunity to be considered for employment are processed through an often lengthy application and examination procedure. In addition to the employer expense, this process creates great frustration on the part of applicants.

This situation has resulted in a debate concerning the appropriateness of taking steps to reduce the number of candidates who participate in examinations. The debate centers around two philosophically opposed viewpoints: (a) competition should be free and open to all who are interested, with the aim of identifying and hiring the very best and the brightest; and (b) jobs should be filled with qualified (not necessarily the best qualified) applicants in a cost efficient and timely manner. Does an employer search for the absolute best or run an economically driven process? In many cases, these objectives cannot be accomplished simultaneously.

Regardless of one's personal view in this philosophical debate, it should be pointed out that candidate reduction is frequently used as a pretext for avoiding the spirit of a merit system. …

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