HR clinic: Don't base appointments on instinct

We have a senior post to fill. The trustees say they will trust their instincts at interview to appoint the best person. Are they right?

In a word, no. Maybe they are oblivious to all the old evils of unplanned interviewing, which fails to consider candidates from a rounded perspective, and produces the unconscious appointment of candidates in the interviewer's image. Relying on instinct is going back to recruitment before we understood about equal opportunities and diversity.

The best-laid plans

Even if the trustees intend to plan structured interviews carefully, there's only a limited amount of objective information they can get from them. One simple example illustrates this: if you want someone who is highly numerate, the only question you can really ask candidates in interviews is: can you count? Which candidate would say no? It's far better to use a numeracy test to measure their real ability.

It doesn't stop there. Many candidates train themselves to be good at interviews, but that doesn't mean they'll be good at the job. In fact, even well-structured interviews are very poor predictors of future job success. Yes, I know that everyone - employer and candidates alike - expect to have an interview, and it's a good way of meeting people and exchanging information. But if you've got a demanding person specification, you should be identifying other ways of effectively measuring your requirements to complement any subjective evaluation you get from meeting a candidate face-to-face.

Objective measures

Presentations, observed group exercises, in-trays, personality profiling, tests of numeracy and verbal ability, problem-solving activities, measures of creativity - they all have their place in the modern selection armoury. They're all far more objective than interviews alone and will offer you a substantial defence against any accusations of discrimination.

So do analyse the real requirements of the job carefully and try to persuade your trustees that they need to consider objective measures for each one.

Make sure you choose ones that measure the right things at the right level - there's no point in choosing tests where everyone scores very high or very low.

But don't rely on tests that you can get hold of and use without any training - they're unlikely to have any real predictive value. Ask an expert to help you choose what will work for you.

After all, what works for you will be a choice of candidate who will succeed in the job for years to come. That's unlikely to be someone the trustees liked simply because their instincts told them so.

- Send your HR questions to

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