How selection panel reports insult applicants

It is very easy to insult people by writing low-grade selection reports.

Some insults can stem from rating scales, others from making personal judgements rather than work-related assessments.

To illustrate. Rating scales can be confusing. A scale that includes a distinction like ‘Competent’ and ‘Fully competent’ is ineffective. Either you are competent or you are not. The appropriate alternative to ‘Fully competent’ is ‘Not fully competent’ or perhaps ‘Incompetent’ (also insulting). If the options are ‘Competent’ and ‘Fully competent’ which is to form the baseline for the panel?

Rating scales can also offer options that enable an unskilled panel to slide into judgements about the person rather than their behaviour. The most common is to use terms like ‘Needs development’. While Incompetent is usually not included (although logically consistent) ‘Unsatisfactory’ is used.

Selection reports than state comments like:

‘While Ms X wrote a well written application, she was unable to substantiate the claims at interview and was therefore assessed as needing further development.’

A blunter option is:

‘Ms X was rated as needs development.’

No, it isn’t that Ms X needs developments, particularly if she has demonstrated her ability to perform the role. Personalising the rating is highly insulting, more so if a person has been acting at level for a reasonable period of time and has been told their performance is satisfactory. There is a contradiction here between allowing someone to act in a position and assessing their performance as fine, then allowing poor interview performance to result in the person being judged as unsatisfactory, particularly if members of the panel work with the person.

Five suggestions for improving selection reports.

  1. Train the person who is writing the report. If it is an external scribe ask to see examples of their work. Make it clear what standard of report you expect.
  2. Take a look at your rating scale. Change inconsistencies.
  3. Train panel members to establish assessment standards so reports focus on behavioural expectations not personal judgements.
  4. Train delegates who sign off on reports to reject reports that are insulting.
  5. Rethink how you deal with interviewees who do not present a strong case, but have been acting at level or acting in the job.
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.