New old methods in recruitment

This morning an article by Dr Douglas Board in the FT Executive Appointments advocated that topgrading should be revisited by the organisations willing to select candidates with the desired ethics and values. Topgrading is a highly structured and meticulous assessment of candidates against dozens of predefined competencies necessary for the job. The method, originally described by Brad Smart, intends to help organisations fill 90 per cent of their positions with A-players, or the top 10 per cent of workers that the company can afford.

Dr Board rightly argues that hiring the right people takes time. However, the potential job candidates might not have that time to spare. According to the CIPD/Hays survey one-third of organisations across all sectors lose potential recruits due to the length of their recruitment process each year. In addition, onerous recruitment methods might not be suited for young candidates. The findings from our Learning to Work Programme confirm that those aged 16-24 are quickly discouraged by lengthy assessment processes, although the focus of the (4-hour long) topgrading interview on competencies (as opposed to merit-based) might benefit young individuals with little or no job experience. Both small and large organisations are not immune to loss of candidate interest.

In search for recruitment methods that offer speed as well as precision, organisations are fascinated by the potential that Big Data is likely to offer. Recently The Economist reported on software that replaces human recruiters to identify the best job candidates. Reliability of its judgment is still tenuous, however. For example, one criterion used by the robot recruiter was that people with deliberately installed internet browsers (e.g. Chrome) would be better at ‘informed decisions’ compared to those filling out applications from default browsers (e.g. Internet Explorer).

Careful selection is a hot topic in recruitment. It consistently comes up as a theme in the CIPD/Hays Resourcing and Talent Planning survey – an annual benchmarking report recording the views of HR professionals on attracting and retaining talent. The ‘right’ people are believed to be better aligned to the organisational values, and, therefore, be more engaged and perform better.

Yet, is topgrading the right instrument for the job? Whilst behavioural interviews are comprehensive, the rigour of the evaluation is designed only to reflect what the company stands for, and is likely be affected by the subjectivity of the assessor. Many recruiters still talk about hiring for the ‘X factor’ (drive, enthusiasm, standing out from the crowd). Robot recruiters may be not attuned enough to support that judgement.

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