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Decision Making Recruitment
Decision making. We all engage in it, and we all want to be good at it. It is woven into our fabric like breathing. You engaged in a few today already. And you engaged in it when you chose to read this paper. And you engaged in it when you chose to read up to this point. It is the only true master we all serve. But what is decision making really? Is it just some brain states about a particular issue? I leave this for the philosophers to mull over.
Complete freedom from decision making is death. Hammond et al. (1988:137, cited by Laureate Online Education, 2008:9) states that In the past, decision makers have relied mostly on instinct, common sense, and guess work. Most decision makers still do. Vecchio(2006:184-187) discusses two models of decision making - classical and administrative - and three group decision making approaches - interacting groups, nominal group technique(NGT), and Delphi technique. But when you decided to put on that red dress, white shirt, or blue tie this morning, to take the bus, to wink/smile at a total stranger, to make/offer your colleague/boss a cup of tea, did you apply any of these models or techniques? Or when you and your partner decided to meet up for lunch at your favourite sushi restaurant, were any of these models or techniques at work? I suppose not.
In this paper, I shall analyze the recruitment process at my company using these decision making models and techniques. My company is UK-based although it has subsidiaries in other parts of the world. To keep this paper short, I shall limit my discussion to the UK context. I shall further comment on the recruitment process and briefly discuss the factors I think differentiate good decision makers from poor ones.
The recruitment process
The decision making here is one of the most important decisions for any company. Second I think only to what goods and services to produce that customers most want. Getting the right person into the right role is crucial. You get this wrong and you could be in big trouble. Recruitment costs will hit the roof and the company could soon find itself out of business. So keeping these (indirect) costs down is important.
Not only is the cost of hiring a company concern, you may find that once the person has been hired, getting rid of them or modifying their contracts may not be so easy. (See for example Willow Oak Developments (WOD) v Silverwood (S) & ors 2006, where WOD wanting to prevent staff taking customers to competitors decided to vary existing employment contracts. S and other employees, having been sacked, sued WOD claiming unfair dismissal. Or Draper (D) v Mears Ltd (M), where D, having been sacked for gross misconduct, brought an action claiming M did not follow the statutory dismissal and disciplinary procedure.)
The decision to hire cannot therefore be taken lightly. The process of hiring is not just time consuming and costly, but stressful. And there is the added threat that if you get this wrong, you could invite the long arm of the law into your company. Especially with the recent widening of discrimination legislation (in the UK), decision making during the recruitment process has become even more crucial.
So what goes on in my company? Recruitment in my company now takes place as per our new recruitment policy, modified to include all protected groups (those with certain religious beliefs, those undergoing gender reassignment and those covered by age discrimination and disability legislations). It is fairly long and complex but I shall limit my analysis below to when the curriculum vitaes (CVs) leave Human Resources (HR) to a department and when the department sends a decision to HR. This process varies from department to department and manager to manager but the basic phases are:
- CV filtering
- CV review
- CV filtering phase
HR usually sends the CVs to the lead interviewer. This is usually the manager whose department has the job opening and often the person who provided the job description to HR. The lead interviewer goes through the CVs and selects the ones he or she wants to take forward or are worthwhile pursuing. This process is very subjective and there are no written guidelines (other than that the selection process should not violate general principles covered in the company recruitment policy).
It is unclear what decision making model the manager employs here. I can only suppose that he or she employs a bit of both models.
A look at the feedback sent to HR, for a number of CVs aside at this stage, confirms the conjecture that a bit of both models are employed, although the administrative model is clearly favoured. The reasons in the feedback include the following factors:
- Salary expectations. (After all the manager only has a limited budget.)
- A candidate's recent job is too dissimilar to the job they are applying for. This may mean the candidate may not hit the ground running and more time spent in training and hand-holding. (But of course the candidate could be a fast learner.)
- The stage of the project for which the candidate is wanted.
- CV is too 'sexed-up' or contained too many unexplained gaps.
- A candidate's experience is too narrow or too wide. Or a candidate is too qualified or not adequately qualified.
- A candidate may not fit in. This is usually further qualified by saying there may be a language or cultural barrier.
- CV has too many 'we did' and not enough 'I did'
Given that for each job, there are usually about twenty or so CVs to sieve through and to narrow them down to five or six, it is reasonable to suppose that most managers use the administrative model. It is in the manager's interest to be rational (after all the person would be working for them, on their budget, etc.) but given the quality of information about the candidates in CVs, a manager purporting to use solely the classical model would be economical with the truth. (Fibbing or just exaggerating one's achievements is not an uncommon element of CVs.) It is more reasonable to suppose that bounded rationality (Vecchio, 2006:186) is at work here.
A candidate who has had a career path similar to the manager's is likely to be put forward. This bounded discretion (Vecchio, 2006:187) or representativeness heuristic (Kahneman and Tversky, 1980 cited by Vecchio, 2006:188) is a very common phenomenon in this phase.
It goes without saying that a manager uses many heuristics in deciding who is put forward and who gets rejected. For example, a heuristics could be that candidates who have been out of work for more than six months would be rejected (regardless of the reasons) or a candidate must know a particular programming language (even though there is sufficient time for a candidate to learn the language or a candidate knows another programming language of the language family.)
The output of this phase are CVs kept for further consideration (in the next phase) and feedback to HR. HR needs feedback for each CV just in case the candidate writes to them demanding feedback. (In fact, HR sends feedback to candidates even if they want this information or not.) And I suppose for their own internal quality control.
It is not uncommon for the manager to rope in 'trusted' team members to help out and give informal feedback to him or her in this phase. Strangely, this often takes place after 5pm or on Saturdays. (There is usually a promise of a 'free' round - on the manager - down the pub following this 'favour'.) This informal session - done either in a meeting room or on via emails - takes about an hour to complete. A member allows about three or four minutes per CV and it might be questionable whether this is enough but this initial impression is valued by the manager. (This phenomenon is susceptible to what Janis(1972) calls groupthink.)
CV review phase The manager sends the 'promising' CVs from the previous phase to two or four other team members. (The company policy stipulates that the total number of reviewers should be odd - at least three. This is so that if it came to a vote, a majority would be established.) Ideally, the 'trusted' team members should not be involved. In practice, they are. (There is no rule against this.)Reviewers independently complete a CV review form for each CV reviewed. (The CV review form is derived from an HR template.
Each department has its own.) Completion of CV form entails assigning points against each factor (e.g. technical ability, educational background, etc.). The points on each CV are then totalled. If there is a tie, members vote. The totals (and result of the vote, if there was one) are then used to rank the CVs. All of this is conducted in a meeting room, in a conference call, in a video conference, or via email. This more structured approach is more akin to the NGT and Delphi techniques and avoids most of the problems associated with interacting groups.
Note that this is also unlike the 'strict' Delphi technique where decision makers never actually meet. I do not recall a scenario (or heard of an incident) where the 'strict' Delphi technique was followed.The output of this phase is feedback(CV review forms) to HR. The CV review team is also the provisional interviewing team.
This phase is to meet and decide how to conduct the interview - who should do what, how long it should take, who would be the lead interviewer, etc. It is usually quite brief (fifteen to twenty minutes).
It is also an opportunity for a member to remove themselves from the interviewing team. For example, they could be on holiday or away on business on the dates proposed. Or they could dissent because they were in the minority when a vote was taken. When this happens, it is a real headache and the fix is usually not pretty. Other employees generally get roped in just to make the numbers. They usually have neither the ability (interviewing techniques, sufficient knowledge of the role, and so on, to ask sensible questions) nor the enthusiasm or will to get this right.(In one extreme case a new recruit - two weeks into the job - was asked to assist at an interview. Obviously being a very new broom and eager to please, she accepted. Two weeks in the job, she barely knew where the coffee machine was, let along appreciated the values and the importance the company placed on the interviewing process. She was scheduled to start induction the following week.) The output of this phase is feedback (proposed dates and names of interviewers) to HR.
The interview is largely conducted as agreed in the previous phase. But sometimes some members forget the script. The lead interviewer usually acts as moderator. Post-interview phaseThis usually takes about five minutes. This is just to get first impressions. A quick check that none of the following was afoot:
- Candidate was rubbish or bore no resemblance to the one on CV
- An administrative error had occurred
- Wrong candidate turned up because of a name mix-up
- It was not worth continuing to the next phase. (Candidates sometimes make it clear during the interview that they are not interested in the job.)
If the decision is not to continue to the decision phase, the lead interviewer sends feedback to HR and the process is aborted.
This phase is quite similar to the CV review phase, except the form each interviewer completes is the interview form.
Comment on the process
As you can see, there is a lot of structure to our recruitment process. It resolves a lot of the personality issues that dog decision making in interacting groups. The issue of 'trusted' team members may result in groupthink, however. The process is very time consuming. Sometimes people do not take it seriously: it is not considered part of their day-to-day job and so it is left to last. I have been involved in CV reviews on Saturdays a few times because we needed to give a response to HR the following Monday.
There are some good intentions in the company policy. For example, to provide varying perspectives, the number of interviewers must be at least three. As mentioned earlier, this policy item is followed. But the problem here is the quality of the perspective. Lack of interviewing skills is also an issue. The company policy is pretty silent about the skill sets required by an interviewer. (Even well-intentioned questions - about sex, marital status, age, etc. - at job interviews may be construed as discriminatory according to consultancy Water For Fish, n.d.)
The process (reviewed every two years) has worked so far. We have not been sued yet. And in the last ten years, only one recorded incident of a new recruit leaving during the probation period because the job was not what they signed up for. But he had other characteristics: he did not just fit in. My view is that he was information-starved. The team regularly bonds in the 'second office' (pub) on Fridays. Although it is against company policy to discuss work in public places (e.g. pub) this is precisely where informal memos are exchanged. Not being a pub goer (for whatever reason) he was left out of this all important informal information loop.
An interviewer not given enough time toprepare for the interview, read the job description, analyze all the facets of what the job entails, identify the task interdependencies, seek clarification if the requirements of the interviewing task and/or job description are unclear. Making any sound judgement under these (time-constraint) conditions is not easy.
Factors that differentiate good decision makers from poor one
Good decision makers are open-minded. The validity of their decision making is not threatened by the halo effect (Vecchio, 2006:41), the sunk-cost trap (Hammond et al., 1998:50 as cited by Laureate Online Education, 2008:8), recency error or similarity error(Vecchio, 2006:216). I already mentioned an example of similarity error above where a manager favours a candidate because the candidate has a career path similar to his/hers. Recency error occurs when a decision maker bases decision on recent issues rather than considering all relevant factors that might affect the particular issue in hand.
Good decision makers do not feel pressured to rush their decisions. Perlow et al. (2002:931, as citedby Laureate Online Education, 2008:8) point out that fast decisions are not necessarily good decision.
Good decision makers are consistent. (But as Staw and Ross,1980 cited by Vecchio, 2006:190 point out, this characteristic has its problems. A Kantian unfaltering view could be a problem.) Good decision makers openly seek advice.
Good decision makers are prepared to accept responsibility for any outcomes and unequivocally acknowledge failure of earlier decisions.
Good decision makers spot and promote employees who exhibit a socialized need for power (over employees oriented towards personalized power).
A good decision maker, in short, shares a lot of the qualities of an effective leader: clear vision, a sense of mission or purpose; be convinced that it is the right thing to do and that it can be done, etc.
Now that I have analyzed and commented on the recruitment process, I feel a little embarrassed. I reviewed, approved and signed the process! It seemed reasonable at the time, honest. You probably guess what I am going to do now...
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