Selecting the right people, beat the competition

The interview is a challenging process for employers as well as candidates. But our competitive edge depends heavily on selecting the right people in the right positions.

Write a person specification

You should already have a person specification in your head – that is a list of the essential and desirable qualities you want to see in your candidate.

For example you may want to see specific experience or customer service skills. Make a (short) list of 5 or 6 essential qualities (max) and a similar number of desirable ones. Keep to the minimum because assessing more than 5 or 6 is an overwhelming task.

Plan your assessment

Against each quality that you want to see record how you will assess whether a candidate has those qualities.

For example you might want to assess experience . You can do this from the candidate’s CV as well as from the interview.

Not everything is best assessed by interview. Some qualities can be assessed by means of a test or trial. For example, if you want to someone who can speak polish have someone who can speak polish call them on the phone first.

If qualifications form part of your decision ask candidates to bring their certificates (or to send copies in advance). This can sift out charlatans.

Plan your questions

Plan questions against each of the qualities that you want to test at interview.

These questions should be phrased so as to be open questions, initially. For example: “Tell me how you organise your day”. The interviewee will have little idea what you might be seeking here (apart from some organisational skills) so will have to rely on what they do. You can ask follow up questions to check how close the answer is to reality.

Another example may be: tell me about a situation where something went wrong? Followed by (if necessary); what did you do to remedy the situation? What did you learn from it?

Have a matrix or table

It is important to keep a record of the assessment of each candidate against each of your essential or desired qualities.

You can score each candidate out of, say, 5 for example:

Quality Candidate 1 Candidate 2 Candidate 3
Experience           5          1          3
Technical knowledge etc.           4          5          5


This not only helps you inform your decision but can be a crucial piece of evidence if you are accused subsequently of discriminating on race, gender disability or another protected characteristic.


These are only a few tips. But they alone should help remove the temptation to select on the basis of familiarity rather than on evidence. I’ve known of line managers who made shop-floor selections on the basis of which football team the candidate supported. We can all do better than that!

There is more recruitment and selection advice here:

Bring those applicants in

Saving costs on employee selection

or just search our blogs: Blogs: selection

Contact us for specific feedback on your own selection processes, interview plans and proposed questions.

It is all about having a competitive edge.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice

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