Sense-making for applicants and panels

Sense-making is the process whereby we interpret news and messages about what’s happening around us. We ask questions like:

  • What is happening out there?
  • Why is this taking place?
  • What does it mean?

During this process we choose what information is significant and should be attended to. We form possible, plausible explanations from past experience. These explanations are then stored for future use, when we retrieve and superimpose them on subsequent activities.

Applying for a job is an exercise in sense-making both for both the applicant and the panel.

For the panel, members must:

  • make sense of the job being filled – the context of the job, duties, outcomes expected, key skills, knowledge and abilities needed.
  • understand what selection methods are being used, why, and which criteria are being assessed by each method.
  • share an understanding of the behavioural benchmarks to be used to assess evidence gained from applicants as meeting the rating of ‘suitable’.
  • make sense of each application and be wary of leaping to conclusions based on untested assumptions. For example, ‘this person is over-qualified for the job and therefore would not stay long in this job. Therefore we won’t consider them further’.
  • keep an open mind throughout all selection stages and weigh up all the evidence before reaching a decision.
  • take steps to put applicants at ease, given they will be in varying states of nervousness.
  • be aware of their own beliefs, expectations, assumptions and concerns that they bring to the recruitment and selection process. They should be prepared to share these, and to call others on theirs if it appears that attitudes and beliefs are affecting decision-making.

Applicants must:

  • make sense of the organisation and the job, so that they grasp accurately the context of the work.
  • make sense of the recruitment and selection process. The more knowledge they have the more comfortable they can feel about the process.
  • help the panel make sense of what they have to offer in writing (the application) and then orally (at interview).
  • after the selection process is completed, make sense of the outcome in fruitful ways.

At any of these sense-making points, applicants and selection panel members can slide into unwarranted assumptions, false expectations, narrow, unfair judgements that negatively impact on their mental preparation and decision-making.

The more mindful applicants are, the more they will be able to identify sabotaging thinking and take appropriate action.

The more mindful selection panel members are the more they will be able to identify unfair and false thinking that can result in making the wrong choice.

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.