Dealing With the Selection Process

 

 

We've All Faced It

 

You find yourself sitting in reception waiting to be interviewed, so nervous you can hardly think straight. You have probably taken a day off work and told your employer you were going to the dentist. You may have been up at the crack of dawn and travelled many miles to be there.

 

This interview is going to represent a major event for you and you're feeling as though you don't have a friend in the world. All things considered, you could be forgiven for feeling pretty sorry for yourself.
 

Without  doubt, the selection process is one of the most stressful things you will experience, not least because a major life change is likely to depend on the outcome. Within the selection process the interview is given great weight by both candidates and employers alike and will often form a central part of the procedure. But where does the selection interview fit into  the wider selection procedure and how can you maximise your chances of success when faced with one?

Before you can begin your interview preparation you must have an understanding of why employers use interviews.  Long before you arrive for interview the employer will have decided what exactly they want performance at interview to predict, usually  job performance. Then they will have carried out a thorough analysis of the job in question to identify the key tasks involved in it and identified the personal attributes candidates will need in order to perform them. The final stage in the process is to assess those attributes in the candidates which usually involves interviews but can also include psychometric tests, assessment centres and other methods.

 

Selection Methods

There are many different ways of selecting people for a job. This section will describe the most common methods and give advice on how to deal with them. The important thing to remember is:

IF YOU HAVE BEEN INVITED FOR A SELECTION EVENT, THE EMPLOYER THINKS YOU ARE CAPABLE OF DOING THE JOB BASED ON THE INFORMATION YOU PROVIDED TO THEM. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO NOW IS TO CONVINCE THEM THAT THEY HAVE MADE THE CORRECT CHOICE.

Without doubt the selection process is one of the most stressful things you will experience, not least because a major life change is likely to depend on the outcome. How can you maximise your chances of success when faced with one?

Before you can begin your preparation you must have an understanding of why employers use selection events. Long before you arrive for a selection event the employer will have decided what exactly they want performance at interview to predict, usually job performance. Then they will have carried out a thorough analysis of the job in question to identify the key tasks involved in it and identified the personal attributes candidates will need in order to perform them. The final stage in the process is to assess those attributes in the candidates.

Before arriving for the selection event you will already have done a number of things designed to minimise the amount of work you will have to do (you should really have done them before even applying for the job). Firstly, you will have carried out thorough research into the organisation, this is essential and most interviewers at some time during the interview will ask ‘What do you know about us?’ and often it is one of the first things they ask. Don't fall over yourself in an attempt to demonstrate your knowledge, use it sparingly and only when appropriate to demonstrate that you know enough about the organisation, its structure, its history and where it is going to be able to make a well informed decision about whether or not you want to work there.

Always make sure that you are aware of what is happening in the world at large. It is a good idea to read a quality newspaper every day in the weeks leading up to the interview because interviewers often wish to know how well informed you are on a wide range of issues - you may be applying for the job of management accountant but don't be surprised by questions about the privatisation of British Rail or global warming. You will also have kept a copy of your application as well as information about the job itself and you will have gone through this in your own mind listing the ways that your experience and qualifications relate to the characteristics listed in the person specification.

Make sure you arrive at the interview in plenty of time (something which always needs a good deal of planning) and even if the organisation is liberal in its dress code always dress smartly - this will demonstrate that you have made an effort and are taking the interview seriously.

Present yourself to the people you meet at the organisation in a friendly and relaxed manner which may well serve to relax them as well, interviewers can also be affected by nerves!

There are many types of Selection Events, these are the most widely used and they will be discussed in detail here.
 

  • Traditional Interviews
  • Structured Interviews
  • Psychometric Personality and Ability Tests
  • Work Samples
  • Assessment Centres  

 

The 'Traditional' Interview

In good selection practice each of the tools used are validated by looking at how job related they are i.e. how well they predict  subsequent job performance. The job relatedness of the traditional selection interview  which typically followed no particular pattern and involved each party subjectively tailoring their responses to those of the other is generally regarded as low.

This was because different interviewers often rated the same information differently and features that were irrelevant to the personal attributes required for the job such as  age, race, appearance, sex, experience of interviews and the job market situation introduced bias into how  interviewers evaluated information. Some researchers have found that application forms were used to form hypotheses which the interviewer would then use the interview to confirm. It was also commonly known that in some cases  interviewers made up their minds about an applicant only four minutes into an interview.

'The Structured Interview'

Given all of these problems, plus the fact that there are numerous other methods of assessing personal characteristics in candidates one might wonder why use an interview at all?

 

Fortunately, in recent years the concept of the Structured Interview  has been developed.

In a structured interview  questions are developed through job analysis,  every candidate is asked each of the questions (or a standardised version of each), and responses are rated using an objective, behaviourally based scoring system.

 

It is not surprising that by removing the subjectivity from the interview, standardising the procedure and introducing a direct link between the interview content and job success we find that structured interviews have high degree of job relatedness. Some structured interviews are so objective that they are almost work sample tests because they involve simply asking candidates how they would behave in certain situations which is conceptually very close to having them actually perform the task. The drawback with structured interviews is  that they remove from the interview situation those interpersonal  aspects which are often valued by interviewers and  interviewees alike. Most organisations nowadays use structured interviews and one finds that the interview may be used by organisations to engage in good public relations, to answer candidates’ questions, to provide an opportunity to add to or clarify missing information about the candidate or to negotiate terms  of employment.

Other Assessment Methods

Very often the interview will be the first contact you will have with the organisation after applying for a job. The interview is generally used  as part of a battery of measures and if all goes well and if both you and the organisation decide to proceed to the next stage there are a number of more rigorously structured and detailed forms of assessment which you may be asked to undergo.

Psychometric tests are becoming more and more widely used, they are standardised methods of eliciting a sample of responses from a candidate which can be used to assess various psychological characteristics by comparing them with a sample of the results obtained by a comparable group of people.

 

Tests can be classified under four headings;  manual ability, mental ability, personality and interests, and motivation. Manual ability tests are  not commonly used in management selection. Mental ability tests can measure general ability and are frequently composed of a battery of sub scales measuring such specific abilities as  verbal reasoning, numerical ability, abstract reasoning and mechanical reasoning. The use of  personality tests in selection is more contentious, however if used correctly by suitably qualified individuals trained in administration and interpretation they can play a valuable role in identifying preferred ways or dealing with the world. Tests of interests reflect the fact that tasks often have their own intrinsic motivation and  a person who finds the work interesting will be happier and more productive. Tests of motivation are used to determine which situations increase and decrease individual motivation and may measures things like a need for power, affiliation or achievement. Generally tests of interest and motivation are little used in selection.

Work Sample Tests

Well designed tests assess those characteristics required  of a candidate to do the job. Sometimes a test may actually ask you to demonstrate behaviour which is different to the ultimate job behaviour, for instance you may be asked to sit an intelligence test rather than a test of your skills as a manager. One approach identifies a representative sample of work behaviour and observes the applicant carrying it out in conditions which are as near to the work environment as possible. These are known as Work Sample Tests and  you are likely to come across one of three types.

Firstly, there are those which are concerned with  job related information where the amount of knowledge you have relevant to a particular job is assessed, strictly speaking this is not a work sample test rather it is a test of achievement or attainment. Professional examinations are attainment tests.
 
Secondly there are those concerned with individual situational decision making where you are asked to take decisions similar to those taken in the job. These can include in-tray exercises which sample the contents of an existing employee's in-tray (memos, letters, reports etc.) which you have to deal with within a set time period. In-tray exercises are often used to assess planning and organising skills, decision making, communication, financial or problem solving skills.
 
Finally, there are those concerned with group discussions/decision making where your  performance in a group setting is evaluated, these are used for positions where team work is important and are used more for managerial jobs than anything else. Popular forms include the leaderless group discussion, or the leader led group discussion where candidates are appointed in turn to act as leader during problem solving exercises (this is commonly used in officer selection in the armed forces). Almost always selectors will be looking for teamwork rather than leadership skills.  Remember that selectors are impressed by people who can generate ideas and encourage others to do the same or persuade the group to adopt theirs. Always try to encourage everybody to participate and never try to hog the limelight.

It is often the case that you may not have been trained in the job in question in which case a  trainability  test may be used to  assess your suitability to undergo a training course. This will typically  incorporate a structured and controlled learning period and may well examine how you perform the task as well as the outcome.

 

The best advice that can be given concerning psychometric tests is to answer questions honestly - some psychometric tools are designed to detect an inconsistent style of answering and if you are offered a job on the basis of your performance on a test in which you have been less than truthful then it is unlikely that you and the job will suit each other.

The Interview Itself

Preparation 

Before arriving for the interview you will already have done a number of things designed to minimise the amount of work you will have to do during the interview (you should really have done them before even applying for the job). Firstly, you will have carried out thorough research into the organisation, this is essential and most interviewers at some time during the interview will ask ‘What do you know about us?’ and often it is one of the first things they ask. Don't fall over yourself in an attempt to demonstrate your knowledge, use it sparingly and only when appropriate to demonstrate that you   know enough about the organisation, its structure, its history and where it is going to be able to make a well informed decision about whether or not you want to work there. Always make sure that you are aware of what is happening in the world at large. It is a good idea to read a quality newspaper  every day in the weeks leading up to the interview because interviewers often wish to know how well informed you are on a wide range of issues - you may be applying for the job of management accountant but don't be surprised by questions about the privatisation of British Rail or BSE in cows. You will also have kept a copy of your application as well as information about the job itself and you will have gone through this in your own mind listing the ways that your experience and qualifications relate to  the characteristics listed in the person specification.

 

Arrival

Make sure you arrive at the interview in plenty of time (something which always needs a good deal of planning) and even if the organisation is liberal in its dress code always dress smartly - this will demonstrate that you have made an effort and are taking the interview seriously. Despite the fact that the interviewers are likely to use a structured interview and will refrain from making judgements based on first impressions you should still present yourself to them in a friendly and relaxed manner which may well serve to relax them as well, rare indeed is the interviewer who is not affected by nerves at some point.

What Do Interviewers Want?

It is not uncommon for candidates to view  the interview as the selection procedure but remember that many more applicants are likely to have been rejected at the application stage. You should congratulate yourself because the very fact that you have been invited to interview means  that the organisation regards you as potentially suitable employee and will want to  look for evidence to support this.

 

When the interview starts the interviewers will be aware that their organisation is on show and will be trying to give you a good impression of them but don't let this lull you into a false sense of security - they will be observing you very carefully so always be polite, sit up straight in your chair and  maintain good eye contact particularly when listening to or responding to questions. You should also be aware of the interviewers’ non verbal behaviour and do not be afraid to ask if you feel that they have misunderstood a point, interviewers want a true picture of you and will generally appreciate you clarifying something when it is unclear.

 

An employer is primarily concerned with whether you can do the job or can be trained to, whether you are motivated enough to stay with the job and the organisation, and whether you will you fit into the existing workforce. Their questions will be designed to elicit this information from you. Sometimes they will use the application form as a framework for the interview (which is why you should be familiar with what you have written) or sometimes they will use a structure of their own. Always think carefully before answering questions - if you have done your preparation well then you may well have little difficulty in making your responses but you should still show that you are giving careful thought to what you are being asked.

 

Interviewers are likely to be interested in situations where you took the initiative, worked as part of a team, used communication skills, had to influence others, motivated yourself or others, marshalled your resources effectively to achieve results, designed and executed some form of plan, adapted to change, made a decision or solved a problem. Before you go into the interview you should have at least two examples of where you did each of these things in your life, as always back up what you say with evidence - ‘When I was working on a project last year with some colleagues I learned the importance of communicating quickly and effectively and really developed my skills in doing so’ is much better than - ‘I have good communication skills’.
 

A common technique interviewers use is to ask you to explain why you took certain decisions in your life. The rationale  behind this is that your life decisions are in fact a post mortem view of your development. The critical incidents the interviewers will be concerned with are those which you have told them about in your application and they will want to know why you made decisions in the way you did so make sure you do know and can clearly express the reasons why. Common questions can include:

 

  • Why did you choose this University?

  • Why did you choose this degree subject?

  • Why do you want this career?

  • Why do you want to work for us?

 

Interviewers will look for inconsistencies in your choices - for instance why you want to do a job different to the one for which you are best qualified, or why you failed to achieve certain things  and had to re-adjust as a consequence e.g. changing a course subject half way through a semester.  When you answer these questions don't just give your reasons but also the consequences of the decisions you took and what you gained as a result. For instance  ‘Yes, the University I chose was a long way from home but I decided that I wanted to be completely independent and over the last four years I do believe that I have matured and developed my life skills as a result.  I am happy that I made the right decision’.  If you have made a poor decision then don't try to hide the fact but emphasise what you learned from it - this can often do you more credit than reeling off a list of good decisions.

 

Before you enter the selection process you should decide on some clear goals and render them explicit. If you set yourself objectives you will be able to gauge your own  success or failure and you will be able to identify a focal point for the organisation of your  resources. The fact that you have objectives  will demonstrate to a  potential employer that you know where you are going, you have a coherent plan to get there and are motivated to succeed. Do not be afraid to admit to having applied to other organisations that may be in competition with the one interviewing you - it displays motivation, a clear plan, commitment to a course of action and most of all honesty. Be prepared to discuss your objectives in short, medium and long range terms. Short term goals (6 months or less) may include; getting the job and completing the training or orientation  period; a medium term goal (up to two years) might be to put your training into practice, learn how the organisation works, consolidate you knowledge and continue your development; a long term goal (up to five years and often more) might include promotion or specialisation.

 

When you are asked an open question (one that does not require a simple yes or no answer) remember that because you are the main source of information the interviewer has you should make your answer reasonably detailed. If you do not provide the interviewer with the information they require then they will continue to question you until you do. You can avoid this problem by first giving a general response and then justifying or elaborating on it as necessary. Do not be afraid to volunteer as much information as you think necessary to answer the question because if you consistently provide too little information then the interviewer may think that you are either unsure of the answer or unsure of yourself. A good practice technique is to role-play an interview with a friend (or better still not a friend!), if the thought of doing this makes you feel uncomfortable think of how uncomfortable you will feel in an interview when you are struggling to explain why you want the job.

 

Try to plan for every eventuality - the interview is not the place to find out that you don't know what you have to offer the organisation or that you don't really know what you want to do with your life.

Other common questions include:

 

Where do you see yourself in five years time?  

You must at all costs avoid not having an answer to this one or having an answer that is inconsistent with the organisation’s own goals. The answer may well be I haven't a clue but you should demonstrate that you have some ideas about the issues that are involved and have considered them carefully. This is to do with your personal objectives but you should discuss your answer in terms of the organisation’s own goals e.g. ‘With the training I would receive I would hope to be a successful Management  Accountant looking for my first managerial position’ and a useful way in might be ‘In order to place where I see myself in five years time into context I  would first briefly like to describe my short and medium term objectives’.  This shows that you want to develop personally and professionally, that you want to tie your goals and your success to those of the organisation and that you see the job as means of doing that. Under no circumstances should you give the impression that you view the job as being  just a short term fix until you find something better.

 

What are your strengths?  

You should prepare these beforehand, give no more than three and always back them up with evidence and relate them to how they can satisfy the organisation’s needs. e.g. ‘I enjoy working as part of a team, that was why I took up hockey at University. I did have to work very hard to bring myself up to standards of the other players but once I did we worked really well together. The experience of being the most junior member of the team stood me in good stead in my final year when  I took on some responsibility for coaching freshers because I could remember how I felt when I first started.’

 

What are your weaknesses?  

Never try to underplay your answer to this question. Many organisations are now stressing the role of the individual in their own development and they want to see that you can realistically appraise your own development needs. Often what you do about your weaknesses is more important than what they actually are. Don't give standard answers such as  ‘Sometimes I work too much at the expense of my social life’ which is an old chestnut that interviewers are tired of hearing. Instead tell the truth, but stress why you think it is  a weakness, what steps you have taken to overcome it and what you are learning in the process e.g. ‘When I am working in a group I sometimes try to do everything myself which gives the impression that I don't trust the other team members which isn't true - it is just because I want to help. When I was working on a joint project last year I worked hard on developing my communication skills so that I didn't try to help unless it was needed and everything ran much more smoothly’. An interviewer may sometimes remain silent so don't talk yourself out of a job, and give no more than two or at the most three weaknesses.

 

At the conclusion of the interview you will almost certainly be asked if you have any questions. You should have some but it is a good idea to have asked questions as the interview has gone along firstly because the interview is meant to be an interaction but also because it shows you are interested and are paying attention, although you must avoid making the interviewer feel that you are interviewing them. Do keep a few salient questions until the end, make them relevant and link them to your research e.g. don't say ‘would I get a chance to work in Europe?’ instead say ‘I read that you are expanding into Northern Europe, I've always been interested in working in Europe later in my career,  what would be the chances of me having an opportunity to do so?’. One question you should always ask is ‘What will happen next?’.
 

We can provide a Career Development Report  based on a detailed online personality assessment to enable you to gain an insight into your own strengths and weaknesses.