Selection Criteria – Are You Doing It Right?

In the last couple of weeks I have been helping clients answer selection criteria for a number of public sector roles across Australia.  I have been shocked by how poorly selection criteria are written, both by public sector organisations and sometimes, the recruitment consultancies they have employed to do it on their behalf.

So, as my own public service this week, I have decided to address the issue of selection criteria.

Why have selection criteria?

Why do companies have selection criteria?  What is the point of them?

  • To help their recruitment process be transparent and fair.
  • To allow all candidates to be assessed according to the same criteria.
  • To reduce or eliminate discrimination in the recruitment process.

In my own experience, companies I have worked for have used selection criteria in order to make the initial shortlisting process be as fair as possible and to reduce the possibility of discrimination.  That was their purpose.  Each of the criterion we used was scored and the candidates who got the highest scores were invited for interview.  I assumed that every company would do the same.  I was wrong, very wrong and this started to come to light when I noticed a significant increase in the number of people approaching Fremantle HR Consultancy for help.

What We Have Seen:

We started looking closely at the examples we were being presented with.  Examples included:

  1. Good communication skills.
  2. Demonstrated ability to work within a multidisciplinary team environment.
  3. Ability to plan, prioritise and organise work to meet deadlines.

Somebody clearly thought these were a good idea.  However, did anybody actually give these any thought when they wrote them?  Did they actually consider the responses they wanted to receive?  Did they ask themselves what the point of each criterion was?

How many candidates are going to be honest and answer the criteria as follow:

  1. I am a lousy communicator.  Stupid question.
  2. I can’t work in a team, never mind a multi-disciplinary one.  I dislike people intensely, particularly the idiots in other departments.
  3. I love deadlines.  I love the swishing noise as they race by.  I give them a wave as they go.

Realistically, nobody is going to come out with those answers, no matter how true they might be.  As an aside, I think I would probably hire anyone (I'd certainly interview them) who had the guts to come out with those answers! 

What is actually going to happen?

Most candidates are going to answer along the following lines:

  1. I am an excellent communicator with fantastic written and verbal skills.
  2. I have demonstrated experience of working within a multi-disciplinary team.
  3. I am well organised, excellent at prioritising and always hit my deadlines.

Each answer will have an appropriate example which naturally shows how wonderful the candidate is, and allows the company to learn exactly nothing about their actual skills and abilities.

Is there really any point in putting these down as selection criteria?  What exactly do you, as an employer, gain from them?  How exactly do you shortlist fairly when you get answers like these?

A Real Life Example We Dealt With:

One of our consultants recently helped a client who was applying for a job as a cleaner.  The job involved anti-social hours (a 4 hour night shift), cleaning an empty office, on their own.  The selection criteria included “Good written skills” and “Ability to work as part of a team”. 

Why?  Who advised them on this?  Why did they need good written skills when no writing was included in the job?  Why did they need to be able to work as part of a team when actually they would be working alone for 4 hours a day?  Who actually thought this was a good idea?  Did the person who wrote them actually think about what the requirements of the job were?

As a follow up, not a single criterion mentioned the ability to clean.

Is it any wonder candidates get frustrated and employers end up with unsuitable staff?

What should good selection criteria look like?

They should be specific and relevant to the job.  Ideally, companies should be able to grade the responses and give them point scores, meaning that the most qualified candidates are shortlisted for the role.

Our Research

We’ve done some research recently on public sector roles in Australia.  We have looked at Universities and Local Government roles across all of the territories and have evaluated how they write and use selection criteria in recruitment.  We picked one or two jobs at random from each of the organisations we looked at.  Whilst we have not seen who they have recruited (we have only looked at it from a candidate’s point of view), we have ranked the organisations we looked at from best to worst.  We then compared these rankings to the number of clients who have approached us for help with answering the selection criteria.

It is no surprise that we are approached most for help by clients applying for the companies with the worst designed selection criteria, and we get fewest calls from clients applying to those who have the best designed selection criteria.

So, who came out on top?

Our top public sector organization for writing effective selection criteria was the University of Sydney!  We were thrilled to see how well thought out your selection criteria were and we felt that candidates who applied to your roles had an excellent chance of showing you their skills and experience.

This is what a couple of good selection criteria look like.  These were included in the selection criteria for an IT role:

  • Experience developing object-oriented Javascript, particularly using intermediate languages such as CoffeeScript and frameworks such as JQuery.
  • Tertiary qualifications in computer science, IT, engineering or multimedia design or demonstrated equivalent relevant professional experience.

And the worst? 

Discretion prevents us from saying.

The Good News

If you suspect that your company could be in the worst 10 in Australia, we can help you.  We can write them for you, or we can provide training materials to your HR teams or line managers showing them how to write selection criteria effectively.  We can also help if you are not based in Australia as we have consultants based in a number of countries.  Contact us now for a free informal discussion.

However, if you are applying for a job that has lousy selection criteria, we have just dropped the prices of our selection criteria packages, and included more criteria in our basic packages so you get more for less.  Contact us now and we will help you differentiate yourself from the other candidates!