Employee selection is the process by which an organization identifies the candidate(s) in a pool of applicants who is likely to exhibit the highest performance in a specific job. Although selection practices differ widely among organizations, employee selection is one of the most important functions performed by a company because of the influence it has on the success of the organization. If organizations are incapable of attracting and selecting the most competent individuals, they will be unable to compete in an increasingly competitive global market. Because of its potential impact, an organization’s selection system should only be chosen after carefully considering the properties of each selection measure and the legal environment within which the system will operate.
Although the employment interview is the most common method of selecting employees, a number of alternative practices are also available. Among these alternatives are cognitive ability tests, personality tests, work samples (i.e., individuals perform tasks they would perform on the job), and integrity tests. An important concept to understand when choosing a selection measure is predictive validity. The predictive validity of a tool refers to the degree to which the inferences that are drawn from that test are justifiable. As an example, a valid selection test would be a good predictor of performance on the job it is used to select for.
Extensive research has been conducted on the validity of a wide range of selection tools and has generally shown that some predictors are more useful than others for hiring employees. For example, research consistently shows that cognitive ability is one of the best predictors of success for moderate to highly complex positions. The consensus among organizational researchers is that intelligent individuals are more adept at learning to perform work tasks and solving problems that arise in the work environment. However, because even the most capable individual will perform poorly if he or she is not motivated to do well, measures of personality are also commonly used.
A personality trait known as conscientiousness has been shown to be one of the strongest predictors of job performance for a variety of jobs. Conscientiousness refers to an individual’s relatively enduring pattern of dependability, industriousness, and self-control. Despite the validity of conscientiousness for predicting performance in most jobs, other personality traits have been shown to predict performance in jobs where the behavioral manifestation of the trait closely aligns with the requirements of the position. As an example, extraversion (i.e., an individual’s propensity to be outgoing, talkative, and to seek out social interaction) is a good predictor of performance in sales positions.
Another useful concept is the utility or practicality of a tool. Because of the cost and relative efficiency of their use, some tests may be more practical than others. For example, cognitive ability tests cost less and have higher validity than structured (i.e., standardized) interviews. In contrast, although work samples have higher validity than cognitive ability tests, they can be used with only applicants who have prior experience on the job. The testing medium can also influence the utility of an assessment. Because of the increasingly global economy, the use of unproctored internet tests is growing, providing organizations with a cheaper and more efficient method for selecting employees from multiple locations around the world. Despite these advantages, managers are concerned about the potential effects of cheating on these tests.
Choices between selection measures should also be influenced by the legal environment within which the company operates. Although there may be some similarities, each country will have a different set of laws governing hiring practices. In the United States, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevents companies from discriminating against any person on the basis of race, religion, sex, color, or national origin. Subsequent court cases, and modifications to the Act in 1991, have clarified the meaning of discrimination and the responsibilities of the organization. As an example, Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971) required an employer to demonstrate the validity of a selection tool if its use resulted in the disproportionate hiring of majority group members relative to a minority subgroup. With the passing of similar laws in other countries (e.g., South Africa), it is now a requirement for professionals implementing selection systems to be aware of the legal and political context in which they operate.
- Jesus F. Salgado et al., “Predictors Used for Personnel Selection: An Overview of Constructs, Methods and Techniques,” in Handbook of Industrial, Work and Organizational Psychology, Neil Anderson et al., eds. (Sage, 2001);
- Frank L. Schmidt and John E. Hunter, “The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings,” Psychological Bulletin (v.124/2, 1998);
- Ibraiz Tarique and Randall Schuler, “Emerging Issues and Challenges in Global Staffing: A North American Perspective,” International Journal of Human Resource Management (v.19/8, 2008).
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