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07 May 2009 6:14am

The strong jobs market in recent years means “the rust has gathered” on the core recruitment skill of effectively assessing and selecting candidates, says trainer Ross Clennett.

The challenge for many recruiters working today has rarely been trying to choose from a vast number of quality candidates, he notes.

“It has been the opposite – despairing at how few candidates, who even closely match the client brief, can be found and enticed to attend an interview with the client.”

As a result, Clennett says, “the client market of recent times has reluctantly accepted, or at least not penalised, candidate referrals from recruiters of the ‘looks close enough and there is nobody better to put forward’ type. Roles desperately needed to be filled and almost anyone half decent was worth referring.”

But this means that “rust has gathered” on the core skill of identifying the cream of what may be a strong field of applicants.

Now that the market has changed dramatically, he says, “the spotlight is well and truly on that skill”. Clients now have a very low tolerance for poorly assessed candidates and if they’re paying a recruiter a placement fee, “a very reasonable expectation is that all the wannabe, liar, try-hard, incompetent or unmotivated candidates are not allowed to slip through the net”.

Clennett recommends six steps that recruiters should take to ensure all referrals are of the highest possible standard:

Agree on key selection criteria. “Ensure there is agreement between you and the client as to the key selection criteria for the job being recruited. The selection criteria should be competency based, as using non-competency-based selection criteria (e.g. age, gender, years of experience, ‘Australian’ experience, family status etc) is both illegal and ineffective at identifying the most suitable candidates.”

Screen and interview all candidates against the agreed criteria. “Most interviews last less than one hour so it is pointless spending time on areas of the candidate’s background that are not relevant for this job.

“Gather evidence (not opinions) of the candidate’s capability in each of the key selection criteria. Use a consistent rating system (e.g. ‘significantly exceeds’, ‘exceeds’, ‘meets’, ‘almost meets’, ‘does not meet’), when assessing each candidate against each of the key selection criteria.”

Gather further assessment data before shortlisting. “Answers to properly constructed behavioural interview questions are a very good start in your assessment process. Other steps you could take include (privacy release permitting) reference checking, skills testing, psych profiling, qualification verification, police checks and confirming the candidate’s eligibility to work in the country.”

Shortlist by using the key selection criteria. “Having rated each candidate against each of the key selection criteria, it should now be clear who should be shortlisted. The advantage of using the rating scale system in step two, above, rather than a one-to-five numbering scale is that a ‘lesser’ rating (e.g. ‘meets’ versus ‘significantly exceeds’) does not signify ‘worse’ as a three versus five can do in a numeric system.

“The numeric rating can lead to ‘number inflation’ where candidates are rated more highly than the evidence suggests they should be, in order to ensure the candidate is interviewed.”

Provide a summary page for each shortlisted candidate. “The purpose of a summary front page is to answer all of the client’s front-of-mind questions about the candidate before they turn the page to read the resume (when their in-built biases and generalisations will inevitably kick in).”

Clennett suggests that along with your rating of the candidate against each of the key selection criteria, you might also want to include on this page:
the candidate’s reason for leaving their current/last position;

their current remuneration;

the remuneration sought;

their motivation for applying for the job;

a list of the background checks completed (references, qualifications, work eligibility, etc); and

how you sourced the candidate. This is a good opportunity to “differentiate yourself from the bog-standard job board recruiters, as well as the client’s own processes, by promoting your innovative sourcing methods”, Clennett says.

“The other huge advantage of the summary page is that it assists enormously when a candidate’s details are referred onto another decision maker or influencer. Almost certainly you will have no opportunity to talk to this person before they pass judgement on your candidate(s) so an effective written summary is your ‘insurance policy’ in preventing good candidates being declined for bad reasons by unmet decision makers.

“The summary page is one of the easiest, yet least-used, ways in which you can demonstrate your effectiveness in screening and assessing referred candidates and increase your shortlist-to-interview ratio.”

Rebut any invalid reasons for rejecting a shortlisted candidate. “When you met the client to take in the job brief you will have drawn some conclusions as to where the client was most likely to push back on referred candidates. Anticipate the pushback and be prepared to rebut the client’s decision with your evidence-based response.

“If you passively accept the client’s rejection of the candidate then you immediately demonstrate that your shortlist is more of an ambit claim than a carefully assessed and selected group of candidates. Stand up for your skill as a recruiter!”
“The current climate is one in which every dollar is hard-won and a critical part of that winning is having razor-sharp, water-tight assessment and selection skills,” Clennett says. “I suggest you review your own assessment and selection skills with the purpose of increasing your interview strike rate, your billings and ultimately your annual productivity.”

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