Feeling the Right Personality. Recruitment Consultants' Affective Decision Making in Interviews with Employee Candidates

By Kinnunen, Taina; Parviainen, Jaana | Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, September 2016 | Go to article overview

Feeling the Right Personality. Recruitment Consultants' Affective Decision Making in Interviews with Employee Candidates


Kinnunen, Taina, Parviainen, Jaana, Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies


Introduction

It's a gut feeling ... so I don't necessarily have to interview so much. I see really quickly in the interview what kind of personality the guy has ... when he walks in, how he behaves, shakes hands and so on. (Timo, a male consultant)

Together with headhunters, recruitment consultants are gatekeepers for the labor market, whose business rests on their ability to deploy 'fitting' personalities in specific organizational cultures with core aims and values, performance norms, communicational customs, routines, symbols, and emotional etiquettes (cf. Downey et al., 2011; Finlay & Coverdill, 2000; Gardner et al., 2012; Tienari et al., 2013). Depending on the contract with the client company, consultants either utilize their own databases or announce vacancies in a wide range of media to find their potential recruits. After receiving applications, the final list of potential recruits is assembled by determining which candidates fulfill the formal criteria of education, work experience, or other specific skills. References may also be requested and facts on the CVs may be checked. Some clients also reveal their prerequisites in terms of the recruited employee's age, gender, and ethnicity, although open discussion of these 'taboo' issues is normally avoided (also Koivunen et al., 2015).

Many studies have implied that the body has a central role in recruitment criteria (e.g., Adkins, 1992; Caven et al., 2013; Meriläinen et al., 2013; Nickson et al., 2003; Tipper, 2004). Informal discrimination concerning bodies of different ages, ethnicities, and genders, in particular, has been analyzed by several researchers (e.g., Combs et al., 2012; Dean, 2005; Kadefors & Hanse, 2012; Loretto & White, 2006; Nilsson, 2011; Tienari et al., 2013). However, discussion of recruitment criteria applied in recruitment interviews is scarce (Meriläinen et al., 2013). In any event, we know that the employers look for labor processes that are based on embodied capacities or attributes possessed by workers since managerial strategies aim to maximize customer satisfaction (Nickson et al., 2001, p. 170). 'Looking good' and 'sounding right' not only contribute to the matrix of skills demanded by employers but also function to materialize an organization's style or brand. However, too little is still known about how recruitment staff make their judgments of job applicants' embodied capabilities, such as 'person-to-person' skills in the new 'style-labor market' (Nickson et al., 2003). In particular, the existing literature does not say much about the embodied labor of recruitment consultants themselves and how it is intertwined with their recruitment criteria (Humle, 2014; Meriläinen et al., 2013).

In order to meet the expectations of their client companies, recruitment agencies have developed different evaluation methods to test candidate personality traits, abilities, and competencies (e.g., Downey et al., 2011; Gardner et al., 2012). Nevertheless, employees are seldom selected by mere CVs and standardized tests. One consultant said that psychological tests can only 'smell outlines' of different personalities and should only serve as a 'basis for discussion'. In the second phase of the recruitment process, which this article addresses, consultants rely on their '(gut) feelings', 'intuition', and 'first impressions' in assessing the personality of candidates, as the 10 Finnish recruitment consultants interviewed for this article described. Consultants clearly talked about the affects that different kinds of candidate appearances and behaviors generate in them. But how are those affects utilized precisely; what kinds of decisions are made on the basis of them? What do consultants actually mean by 'impression of personality'; what kinds of embodied appearances and gestures do they pay attention to?

This article discusses the employee selection process as a form of organizational decision-making activity. Specifically, our purpose is to develop the notion of 'affective decision making' (ADM, e. …

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