Public sector recruitment: ‘cutting red tape’ is not necessarily an improvement

Late last year the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet made a
massive change to its recruitment policies. Out went the traditional
‘selection criteria’ approach to recruitment, including advertising the
pay grade of the position, and in came a ‘one page pitch’.

 


The Age
reported:

 

The head of PM&C’s corporate services division, Ben Neal, said the
main reason the department ditched criteria was that “we don’t want to
let the recruitment process drive who applies for our jobs”.

 

“We think that model, which is very much understood by public
servants but maligned by non-public servants, limits the pool of
available talent we have,” Mr Neal said.

 

“We want to reach much more widely into the private sector and the
not-for-profit sector … instead of just getting public servants in
Canberra applying for jobs.”

 

The department says prospective staff will instead “submit a resume
and a ‘one-page pitch’ telling us why you are the best person for the
job”.

 
No doubt any person who has been on any side
of government recruitment; as a hiring manager, government recruiter/HR,
applicant, or agency recruiter, will have their own views on this move,
coloured by their own experience(s).

 

A couple of Fairfax Media

contributors
have

opined
in the negative.

 

From reading about the PM&C’s decision and the accompanying feedback, it
looks to me like there is more a problem with the construction and
execution of the recruitment process, rather than the concept of
addressing selection criteria.

 

The concept of submitting a resume (very easy and not illegal to

fudge
) and a one-page pitch (dangerously favouring the assertive,

confident
candidate) does not, to me, seem any improvement on the
current way to ensure the best candidates, from the widest pool of
suitable candidates, are selected for interview. Unless your interviews
are with the widest selection of the best talent, you are compromising
your likelihood of hiring the best possible candidate.

 

In the vein of the current Federal Government’s liking for ‘cutting red
tape’ and ‘increasing the flexibility of the public sector workforce’,
there seems to be a very real risk that sound principles, although
subject to inconsistent or poor execution, are to being jettisoned for a
more subjective approach.

 

My view is that the problem is not with the concept of having ‘selection
criteria’, it is with the over-complication of its use, and/or
misunderstanding of what a selection criteria should contain (and not
contain).

 

From 27 years spent researching recruitment, training recruiters and
recruiting thousands of people, I know the following three major things
about selection criteria:

 

1. The ideal number of selection criteria is four to six separate
criteria  . Adding additional selection criteria almost always reduces
the pool of suitable candidates and reduces the

quality
.

 

2. Selection criteria should be stated as competency-specific, rather
than as a broad behavior, a piece of knowledge or a generic skill  .

 

For example: ‘Leadership capability’ is an almost useless selection
criteria. In the same category are; ‘respected leader’, ‘innovative
leader’, ‘inspiring leader’ and any other ‘type’ of leader you care to
name. An example of competency-specific leadership criteria is:
‘Demonstrated capability in significantly improving the performance of a
business-to-business sales team’.

 

An easy way to identify whether the criteria is competency-specific is
to construct an interview question (or selection criteria to be
addressed in writing) that will enable the candidate to know exactly
what example from their background will be relevant to use to
effectively address the question/criteria. If you are gaining irrelevant
answers to your interview questions (or selection criteria), don’t blame
the candidate, improve your criteria/question(s).

 

3. Non-competency selection criteria are still common, and are still
just as ineffective at identifying highly suitable candidates  . For
example, when a selection criteria states a certain amount of experience
(eg 10 years’ experience) there is no guarantee   that a candidate
with ’10 years’ experience’ can deliver the results that the jobs
requires. Just as specific industry experience guarantees no particular
level of competency, just as a certain gender guarantees no particular
level of competency and just as ‘Australian experience’ guarantees no
particular level of competency.

 

Recruitment will always be undertaken using both subjective and
objective criteria. The personal views, feelings and biases of
recruiters and hiring managers will ensure that this is the case until
the end of time.

 

The new approach to recruitment in the PM&C doesn’t, on the surface at
least, seem to provide any evidence that the department’s senior
decision makers understand how an effective recruitment process is
undertaken, and, using more than ‘gut instinct’ where their current
processes fall short.

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