Using a common standard to judge applicants

The job of a selection panel is made more difficult, and potentially less fair and merit based, when panel members do not share an agreed standard for determining whether an applicant’s evidence matches the work-related qualities of the job.

Common practice is that during shortlisting panel members make their own assessment of applications based on what they think the evidence tells them. They make a judgement about whether a candidate is ‘in’ or not and if this judgement differs from other panel members, there is discussion to ‘thrash it out’.

Similarly, after other selection processes are completed (such as interviews and referee reports), panel members engage in much the same process.

The flaw with this approach is that each panel member is interpreting the evidence using a different ‘score sheet’ – namely what they think the standard for judgement is. These judgements are not based on a shared understanding of what specific evidence is being sought to determine whether a person is ‘suitable’ or ‘competent’.

A fairer and more effective approach is to determine right at the outset, what specific evidence (knowledge, behaviours) that as a minimum, would reflect a ‘suitable’ rating. Anything more, and the person is a stronger candidate. Anything less, and they are below par.

For example, if ‘sound interpersonal skills’ is an important work-related quality, what would applicants need to demonstrate to be judged as meeting a standard of suitable? This will vary, depending on the work and level of the job, but specific evidence might be:

  • some experience in inter-team cooperation on both routine and moderately complex tasks and projects to gain inputs and deliver results (this assumes an understanding of ‘routine’ and ‘moderately complex’)
  • identifies key stakeholders both internal and external
  • experience in building relationships with internal and/or external stakeholders
  • some experience in presenting routine to moderately complex technical information to a range of audiences.

These are specific behaviours that arise out of the work-related qualities, the outcomes sought and what will make a difference on the job.

By sharing this understanding panel members are looking for the same evidence, are using a common basis for judging the suitability of a candidate, can direct selection methods to gaining the relevant evidence and are focused on what is critical to satisfactory performance on 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.